High school basketball: 20 questions and answers on the upcoming season

Twenty questions and answers on the upcoming season.

1. Who is the best player in the Chicago area?

Opinions are split between Joliet West’s Jeremy Fears Jr. and Cameron Christie of Rolling Meadows. The senior guards have very different styles. Fears is a pass-first point guard and lockdown defender. Christie is a top-notch scorer.

Fears has a higher national ranking and his experience with the US national team gives him the edge in the preseason.

2. Which players are on the preseason All-State team?

Fears, Christie, Kenwood guard Darrin Ames, East St. Louis forward Macaleab Rich and Simeon’s Miles Rubin.

3. Which teams are the favorites to win Class 4A?

St. Rita, Kenwood and Joliet West are the top contenders. Each team has a significant weakness that keeps them from being the clear choice. The Mustangs have some questions in the backcourt and Kenwood and Joliet West are inexperienced. Young and Curie start the season just a notch below that trio but can’t be overlooked.

4. Is there a team that could make a Cinderella run?

Rolling Meadows is the one to watch. Christie is surrounded by good size with 6-7 Mark Nikolich-Wilson, 6-7 Tsvet Sotirov and 6-6 Ian Miletic.

5. Who are the favorites in Class 3A?

Three of the final four teams in Champaign return the bulk of their starting lineups. Sacred Heart-Griffin, the defending champs, returns all five starters. Simeon is the favorite, but Metamora has a ton back and beat the Wolverines last season in the semifinals.

6. What’s the most interesting development for this season?

The shot clock has arrived. Sort of. The Illinois High School Association is allowing a 35-second shot clock to be used at shootouts and tournaments. It will still be at least a couple years until we see it implemented everywhere and in the state playoffs.

7. Which players have improved the most since last season?

Lyons senior Niklas Polonowski went from almost a total unknown to a Penn recruit over the summer. A trio of big men, Hillcrest’s 6-9 Darrion Baker and Simeon’s 6-9 Rubin twins, Miles and Wes, have taken major steps forward as well.

8. Which players are worth traveling to see?

St. Rita’s junior big man duo of James Brown and Illinois recruit Morez Johnson are highly regarded nationally and can put on a show. Joliet West sophomore Jeremiah Fears has as much potential as any player in the state and has a crowd-pleasing, flashy style.

9. What are the top teams from outside the area?

Sacred Heart-Griffin, Metamora and East St. Louis are all serious contenders for the Class 3A state title. It’s a strong year outside the area. Moline is a powerhouse in Class 4A. The Maroons return Iowa recruit Brock Harding, a talented guard. And they picked up a major transfer from Bradley-Bourbonnais, 6-9 Owen Freeman, also an Iowa signee.

10. Who is the most important transfer?

So many to choose from, but Fears’ return to Joliet West slightly edges out Nojus Indrusaitis’ move from Lemont to St. Rita. Fears turned the Tigers into instant state championship contenders. The Mustangs would have been with or without Indrusaitis.

11. Who is the most under-appreciated player in the area?

Momence senior James Stevenson Jr. is virtually unknown but was a dominant force last season. He’s a 6-6 point guard with great court vision and scoring ability.

12. Which teams were overlooked in the preseason Super 25?

Riverside-Brookfield, Downers Grove North, Glenbrook South and North Lawndale should all crack the rankings this season.

13. What is the must-see game of the year?

There’s no clear cut top game at this point, but the first two weeks of the season are loaded. Joliet West faces St. Rita in Washington. Simeon plays the Mustangs at the Chicago Elite Classic and Kenwood faces Joliet West at the event as well.

14. What is the strongest conference in the area?

The Red-South/Central retains the crown. Simeon, Kenwood, Curie, Hyde Park and Perspectives-Leadership are all in the preseason Super 25.

15. Who are the top freshmen?

The early buzz is around Rich’s Jamson Coulter Jr., Kenwood’s Noah Mister, Andre Tyler of St. Rita and Marist’s Stephen Brown.

16. Who are the top shooters?

Lake Forest’s Asa Thomas, Christie, Ames, New Trier’s Jake Fiegen and Glenbrook North’s Ryan Cohen.

17. Who are the new coaches to watch?

Hyde Park’s Jerrel Oliver is making his head coaching debut. There are two established veterans at new spots: Lou Adams at Rich, Conte Stamas at Brother Rice. Also keep an eye on Jamere Dismukes, who takes over at Homewood-Flossmoor.

18. Which sophomores will emerge as stars?

Jeremiah Fears and St. Rita’s Melvin Bell established themselves last season. Expect Young’s Antonio Munoz, St. Ignatius guard Phoenix Gill and Kenwood’s Aleks Alston to emerge.

19. Who are the area’s best big men?

It’s a solid year for bigs. The Rubin twins, Brown, Hillcrest’s Darrion Baker and Rolling Meadows senior Mark Nikolich-Wilson are all difference makers under the basket.

20. Will the scheduling calm down?

No. It’s a new world due to the IHSA’s rule changes that kicked in just before COVID. Expect teams to continue to schedule games on the fly to replace games they don’t play in tournaments.

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