Posted On: 12/13/20 6:00 AM
A lot of people that know me are aware I am a fan of college football, The Big Bang Theory, and music including Taylor Swift. With today being her 31st birthday and the release of her latest album this week I thought it would be fun to take some of her song titles over the years and relate them to high school basketball in the state of Illinois. Check out Taylor Swift Songs Related to Illinois HS Hoops Part 1!
Cold As You
This song title makes me think of the upcoming holiday tournament season and shootouts we would be going to now. Yes sometimes it is cold and snowing, but there is nowhere I would rather be.
I’m Only Me When I’m With You
Who would have been the top 1-2 senior duos in Illinois this season if we had a season? Ahamad Bynum/Isaiah Barnes (Simeon), Scottie EbubeScottieEbube6'7" | CMundelein | 2021State#247NationIL/Conor EnrightConorEnright6'1" | PGMundelein | 2021StateIL (Mundelein), Louis Lesmond/Anthony Sayles/Louis Lesmond (Niles Notre Dame), TY Johnson/Brian Mathews (DePaul Prep), Julius Rollins/Jakobi Heady (Hillcrest), Blake Peters/Ola Ajiboye (Evanston), and Jaehshon Thomas/Grant Newell (Whitney Young) all immediately jump to mind. They compliment each other and make each other better on the court.
Which guards are absolutely fearless on the floor playing with tremendous toughness in the paint? Every time I watch Niles Notre Dame’s Anthony Sayles I think of the toughness he brings from his lead guard spot. Kimahri Wilson of Carmel also gets in the lane despite his lack of ideal size. Jordan Rice from Rock Island is a tiny guard that isn’t afraid to go in among the trees. Bolingbrook’s Kyonte Thomas is tough as nails as is Effingham’s Parker Wolfe.
Which “fifteen” year olds are the top sophomores in the state? It is a deep class overall. Kenwood forward Javonte Taylor sets at the top of the 2023 class with his elite skill and athleticism combination. Teammates Darrin Ames and Davius Loury are right there as well. Bryce Coleman (St. Joseph’s), Owen Freeman (Bradley Bourbonnais), Donaven Younger (Bolingbrook), Asa Thomas (Lake Forest) all have positional size. Two smaller point guards we are high on are Dalen Davis (Whitney Young) and Jaylin Griffith (Simeon).
Top players in state from Stevenson over the years? Have to start out with Villanova two time national champ Jalen Brunson. He and his teammate Connor Cashaw were one of the best tandems of the decade. Justin Smith was a top 5 recruit in 2017. Recently it has been the Ambrose show with Matt Ambrose and Evan AmbroseEvanAmbrose5'10" | PGStevenson | 2021StateIL running the show for their dad.
My favorite day of the high school basketball calendar? Probably the Highland Shootout. I went to it as a kid and now am lucky enough to help director Matt Powers with the event. It is so much fun to see elite talent from St. Louis, Illinois, and surrounding states play in an incredible atmosphere. Also fun to bring my high school friends to see the talent I cover year round.
Play on words here, but wow did Spartz Fly this fall! My guy Christopher Spartz ran a great series of open runs and events during the fall showcasing prospects for scouts and college coaches during a time when it was much needed. Plus I know he is a big Taylor fan too!
What were the most anticipated announcements of the last decade? I attended the Jabari Parker announcement at Simeon. Most thought he would go to Duke, but there was some last minute buzz for Florida and Michigan State. On the exact same day within minutes Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor selected Duke and Curie’s Cliff Alexander picked Kansas. Alexander’s hat trick is a moment that will live in infamy. Jalen Brunson’s press conference announcing between Illinois and Villanova was a big one. Who can forget the Talen Horton-Tucker one where he picked Iowa State in lets say an unexpected decision from the day before.
Never Grow Up
Who are the top 2024s we have seen so far? It is always fun to get your first look at incoming freshman prospects. The top ones we have seen so far are St. Rita quartet James Brown, Morez Johnson, Josh Pickett, and Jaedin Reyna. Others include Taevion Collier (Curie), Jaheem Webber (Normal Community), JJ Hernandez (Glenbard North), Sean Brown-Coley (Whitney Young), Chris Riddle (Kenwood), and Payton Kamin (DePaul Prep).
Back to December
Well we are in December right now. Must attend December events? Chicago Elite Classic and Team Rose Shootout. Also holiday tournaments Pontiac, Proviso, Hinsdale Central, Collinsville, Centralia, Pekin, State Farm, Wheeling, etc.
Best team I ever covered? For me its pretty easy. The Simeon 2013 team which completed their four peat. That team started five D1 and nationally ranked prospects in Jabari Parker (Duke), Kendrick Nunn (Illinois/Oakland), Kendall Pollard (Dayton), Jaylon Tate (Illinois), and Russell Woods (John A Logan/Mizzou). Also that group had future D1 guys coming off the bench in DJ Williams, Zach Norvell, Donte Ingram, Josh Thomas, and Ben Coupet. I covered this group their entire careers and built close relationships with all. After the title game media availability when they were going to the locker room and security was kicking everyone out myself and friend Ryan Easterling were personally invited in the locker room to cover the story even further where they shot a music video “Simeon Shake” and we ended up walking out of the building with Jabari, Kendrick, and the state title trophy down the street. It was surreal.
If This Was a Movie
There have been two major documentaries about Illinois high school basketball in my lifetime. They are Hoop Dreams and Shot In the Dark. The later one was a documentary on Orr which was produced by my friend Dan Poneman.
It was pretty ironic for a short period of time that Jabari Parker, Jayson Tatum, and Jahlil Okafor all wore the #22 as the top player in the Midwest. Andrew Wiggins wore that same number as well. Was 22 becoming the new 23?
We Are Never Getting Back Together
You know where I’m going here with the transfers. Tons of out of state transfers this season. Some of the highest ranked ones include Amar AugillardAmarAugillard6'5" | SFZion Benton | 2021FL (Victory Rock), Matas BuzelisMatasBuzelis6'8" | SFHinsdale Central | 2023 (Brewster Academy), Danny WolfDannyWolf6'10" | PFLake Forest Academy | 2022 (Northfield Mount Hermon), Isaiah StaffordIsaiahStafford6'1" | PGBolingbrook | 2021IN (Cirspus Attucks), Jeremy FearsJeremyFears6'0" | PGJoliet West | 2022#47NationIN (La Lumiere), Kai Evans (Trinity Prep), Ismail Habib (Bishop Walsh), Braxton Stacker (Cardinal Ritter), Jaylin Gibson (Legacy School), AJ StorrAJStorr6'3" | SGKankakee | 2021IL (AZ Compass), Nigel HyltonNigelHylton6'8" | PFLake Forest Academy | 2022#179NationIL (Thornlea), and Trey PettigrewTreyPettigrew6'2" | PGFenwick | 2022#56NationIL (Eduprize).
Stay, Stay, Stay
On that same theme there has been a ton of talk not just this season, but over the last several of elite high-major prospects leaving the state that haven’t. They include Max Christie (Rolling Meadows), Bryce Hopkins (Fenwick), AJ Casey (Whitney Young), and Javonte Taylor (Kenwood).