Big things ahead for Waukegan’s tiny guardDeerfield-10/2/11, Sun./Joy of the Game
Devonte Taylor, of Waukegan, playing for the Bucks Sunday during fall league.
| Joe Shuman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 3, 2011 10:00PM
Spend a Sunday afternoon watching this group of Waukegan High School basketball players compete in the fall prep league at the Joy of the Game facility in Deerfield, and you’ll quickly realize that Mark Twain was right when he wrote the following:
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
In this once-a-week league, the high-school teams are not allowed to be called by their school names and they coach themselves while their real coaches can watch from the stands.
And so, last Sunday, while the Bears were surviving against Carolina, the Waukegan entry in the league that features teams from throughout the Chicago area — the “Bucks” — knocked off the Zion-Benton entry — The “Heat” — 50-47 to improve to 4-0 on the season. Zion’s team is 2-2.
But back to the size thing.
It was the smallest guy on the court — Waukegan junior Jordan Johnson — who made the biggest difference in the game. The point guard is a distributor and also a scorer, and he plays with intensity at both ends (Waukegan fans: Think recent graduate Mike Springs here).
He had 16 points in the game, with 12 coming from the free-throw line.
He also drew rave revues from the team’s best player — four-year varsity player and NCAA Division I talent Akeem Springs.
Johnson got varsity minutes last year as a sophomore, but too often he looked and played like a sophomore. Now, he looks and plays like a budding star.
“It’s like night and day. We always knew he could be the point guard for our team,” said Springs. “Last year, there were some games where we tried to put the ball in his hands. I think playing over the summer and getting more comfortable playing with us, he’s gotten a lot better and a lot more confident.
“He’s also gotten a lot stronger. He can protect the ball and his jump shot has really improved. He’s a scorer, but he’s also a floor general out there for us.”
Johnson gives the Bulldogs three-fifths of a ready-to-take-on-superpower-Warren” team, along with Springs and high-flying Devonte Taylor.
“Because we don’t have a lot of size, the chemistry is the thing that is going to have to carry us,” said Springs. “We have the talent to be pretty good. Last year, we had the talent, but the leadership and the chemistry wasn’t always there. We had a lot of games where we didn’t play together.
“I really believe that if we can come together and play the way we’re capable of, there’s no limit to what we can do this year.”
Sitting in the stands watching was Waukegan’s respected coach Ron Ashlaw. He noted that Springs and Johnson have taken leadership of the program, running the off-season workouts and making sure everyone knows when they’re playing.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the court, potential superstar Milik Yarbrough is learning to play without his sophomore classmate and teammate, Javairius Amos-Mays, who transferred to North Chicago last month after playing on the Z-B varsity team as a freshman and playing with the 6-4 Yarbrough all summer.
“I just have to keep on playing. There’s nothing I can do about somebody transferring. I hope he’ll be back next year, but as far as this year, there’s nothing else to really say about it,” Yarbrough said. “We have to adjust as a crew, and that means everybody has to learn their role.
“Everybody has some changes in their roles. We have to find a new scorer. We have to find somebody to rebound. Our guard play has to get better, as you saw today. We can’t throw the ball away. That’s something we really have to work on. I’m moving down to the ‘2.’ We’re pretty big but we have to take advantage of it.”
One player who looked Sunday like he’s ready for prime time is Mario Burt, a 6-3 senior forward.
Action continues at the Joy of the Game (Waukegan Road, just north of the tollway spur) next Sunday. And next week, the Bears don’t play until Monday night.