Posted On: 11/19/18 6:00 AM
Believe it or not the high school basketball season in the state of Illinois is here! Today is the first day of the four month IHSA high school basketball journey. Let’s dive into 10 questions about this upcoming year!
Who is the best team in Illinois?
In our eyes this comes down to Whitney Young and Belleville West heading into the season. Sound familiar? Those are the two teams that matchup up in a thriller for the 4A state championship last year. Whitney Young returns the majority of their runner up squad. They are pushed by a backcourt trio of Myles Baker, DJ Steward, and Tyler Beard. All three are ranked in the top 10 of their respective classes. They also have depth with Elliot Sieger, Sangolay Njie, Keenan Jones, Justin Warren, and sophomore stud Grant Newell. With Belleville West they have the most dominating force in high school basketball this season in EJ Liddell. He is a beast on the interior scoring at will and mauling opponents on the glass. He will be joined inside by Keith Randolph who is a football recruit but a legit D2 prospect if he chose to play college basketball. Lawrence Brazil had the key play in this match up last year. He will run the show as their senior point guard. The x-factor will be Tommie Williams a sophomore transfer that moved into the top 20 in 2021.
Can anyone challenge EJ Liddell for Mr. Basketball?
The Ohio State commit from Belleville West is the clear cut favorite to repeat for Mr. Basketball. He won it as a junior and should again as a senior. He will probably post a 20/10/3 slash line throughout the season. So who can even compete here and put themselves in the top tier of contenders and if things fall right make a run? We would start with Uplift point guard Markese Jacobs. He can really score it and plays an exciting style of basketball. Other names to monitor that we could see a path would include Adam Miller (Morgan Park), Marquise Kennedy (Brother Rice), Chris Payton (Bloomington), DJ Steward (Whitney Young), Fred Cleveland (Leo), Ray J Dennis (Oswego East), Jeremiah Hernandez (St. Viator), and Dajuan Gordon (Curie). It will be an uphill battle for any of them with Liddell as the overwhelming favorite!
What seniors see their recruitment explode?
Heading into the early signing period there were 23 D1 commits along with 5 at the D2 level. The 2019 class isn’t a great class as a whole. Only three high-major commits with Liddell, Jacobs, and Gordon. The depth just never emerged during the spring and summer in this class. So who are some guys to watch during the season that could see their recruitments blow up? For me it starts with Gibson City small forward Ryland Holt. He broke out in the July live period and fits the traditional Illinois Irish senior that sees his stock rise against small high school competition. He is a floor spacer with athleticism that can play and guard multiple positions. Holds double digit D2 offers, but just Chicago State at the D1 level. I still believe he will end up with his choice of multiple D1 programs. Tujautae Williams from Orr is an intriguing name. Size on the perimeter and a lot of potential. Played as a role guy last year, but now it is his team. A couple of other CPS guys to watch are Simeon’s Antonio Reeves with the way he shoots it and Bogan’s Rashaun Agee who is a rebounding force inside in a class that lacks post prospects. A pair of Quad City Elite prospects Deonte Billups (Moline) and Jermaine Hamlin (Lincoln) are poised to boost their recruitments as well.
Juniors to give “Big Three” a run in 2020 and Join National Top 100?
The big three in the junior class is clearly Adam Miller (Morgan Park), DJ Steward (Whitney Young), and Tyler Beard (Whitney Young). All three are top 100 prospects nationally. So who could join them as national names? Isaiah Rivera (Geneseo) is our current #4 prospect and we can’t wait to see how his game has evolved since July. Ramean Hinton (Curie) and Ahron Ulis (Marian Catholic) are two Chicago area guards that are primed to breakout. My candidate for the guy who could emerge in that group is Kenwood big man Seryee Lewis. He has gotten better every single time we have seen him over the last year. Freaky athlete that can swat shots, play above the rim, and has a face up game as well.
Does the sophomore class continue to trend upwards?
Right now the sophomore class is an intriguing class. There were quite a few 2021 prospects that proved to be worthy of D1 consideration over the summer. The group is led by stud Max Christie of Rolling Meadows. The top prospect in the state is a big time shooter with a skilled offensive game. The battle for the next spot is a close one between Lake Forest Academy’s Brandon Weston and Simeon’s Ahamad Bynum. Both two guards that are wired to score! The Illinois Wolves group of Isaiah Barnes (OPRF), Anthony Sayles (Niles Notre Dame), Bryce Hopkins (Fenwick), and Chris Hodges (Schaumburg) all made noise. Grant Newell from Whitney Young is a super intriguing prospect at 6’6” with face up scoring pop. The depth continued with the emergence of guys like John Poulakidas (Neuqua Valley), Troy D’Amico (Niles Notre Dame), Tevin Smith (Danville), Kimahri Wilson (Carmel), and Scotty Ebube (Mundelien). If this class can continue to add depth along the way this season we might have the best crop of prospects in the last few years here.
What freshmen emerge?
One of the most fun parts of the early season is finding new freshman names to track. Sometimes they pan out long term and others they don’t. It is all about finding players and tracking their progress from there on out. Right now the Simeon duo of AJ Casey and Jaylen Drane are the top two in the class. They have both been to USA Basketball before even playing a high school game. They have five-star potential nationally. Yorkville Christian shooting guard Jaden Schutt is a smooth scorer that posted monster grammar school numbers. Kyle Thomas from St. Joseph’s is an intriguing post with legit size already. Who else will breakout?
How will the CPS shake out at the top?
For us Whitney Young is the clear team to beat in the CPS for reasons mentioned above. The group after them is closely packed. It is the usual names that we have come accustomed to seeing at the top. Morgan Park has a great trio of guards in Adam Miller, Marcus Watson, and Chris Roberts. Bogan counters with Jeremiah Washington, Jordan Booker, and Rashaun Agree. Curie has two prospects ranked in their respective classes top five in Dajuan Gordon and Ramean Hinton. Simeon is young, but if their seniors Kejuan Clements and Antonio Reeves can step up this could be a group to watch. Orr is another talented group led by a pair of super athletic wings in Tujautae Williams and Greg Outlaw. It will be fun to see how this group comes around as the season progresses.
Best teams from Chicago suburbs/Catholic League?
Evanston is coming off a run to the state final four last season and returns the majority of that team. Lance Jones is a senior leader along with his backcourt mate Jaheim Holden. They have a couple young sophomores that can produce in Blake Peters and Jaylin Gibson. New Trier is another to watch in that conference with their twin towers of Spencer Boehm and Ciaran Brayboy. In the Catholic League DePaul Prep has been pointing toward this year for a while with senior Perry Cowan along with Pavle Pantovic. Leo is right there with their star Fred Cleveland and beast undersized posts Kendale and Dachaun Anderson. Geneva is a sneaky team with skilled depth led by Mitch Mascari. St. Viator has a dynamic senior duo in Jeremiah Hernandez and Trey Calvin. Waukegan looks to bounce back after disappointing last year. What can Brown do for you? They have three of them in Jordan, Ja’Dyn, and Bryant. Bryant Brown will post monster numbers. Oswego East has their best team in years with star power in the backcourt with Ray J Dennis and transfer Demari Grant. Sam Schultz brings versatility inside. Bolingbrook is always on this list. This year their senior backcourt of Joseph Yesufu and Tyler Cochran is one of the best in the state. Oak Park River Forest features four rock solid seniors in Dashon Enoch, Charlie Hoehne, Anthony Roberts, and Chase Robinson. Sophomore Isaiah Barnes is primed to breakout!
Who are the contenders from central Illinois?
Central Illinois isn’t quite as loaded as it was last year. Losing Francis Okoro a year early at Normal West hurt. Springfield Southeast is the team to beat! They have experience making it to the 3A state title game last year. Seniors Anthony Fairlee, Terrion Murdix, and Michael Tyler all return. Bloomington has the best player in central Illinois with Chris Payton. His supporting cast isn’t quite what it was last season, but he is a dominant force. Rock Island and Moline are the groups to watch from Quad Cities. Rock Island has Bradley commit Jamir Price along with exciting young point guard Jordan Rice. Moline is pushed by scoring guard Deonte Billups.
Beyond Belleville West what teams are ones to watch in southern Illinois?
After Belleville West the metro east isn’t quite what it has been the past two seasons. East St. Louis is probably the top contender. They have a star in SLU commit Terrence Hargrove who brings athleticism, scoring, and rebounding. Brought in some transfers as well as two juniors to watch in Lashawn Johnson and Armond Williams. Collinsville is an up and coming team with their strong junior class. It is led by Ray’Sean Taylor who is a scoring point guard and Keydrian Jones a wide bodied post. Alton has a strong senior wing duo in Donovan Clay and Malik Smith. Out of the South Seven, Mt. Vernon is primed to take their next step behind juniors Amir Spann and Simon Wilson. Centralia is always a tough out with one of the best coached teams in the state. Althoff has some talent too with big man Patrick Readye, Ethyn Brown, and Daulton Burgner. Nashville is a team we will be watching closely with a pair of the best players in the area in Bryce Bultman and Carson Parker. Breese Mater Dei has a strong group led by junior Caleb Zurliene. Don’t overlook Effingham either with their senior standout Landon Wolfe.