Boys Basketball preview: 20 questions

Story Image St. Charles East sophomore guard Kendall Stephens puts in a layup in the second quarter. Stephens' 15 points paced the Saints in their 49-47 win over Dekalb. Jeff Cagle / For Sun-Times Media

Updated: November 21, 2011 11:51AM

This year’s senior class doesn’t have a star. That means a talented group of juniors and sophomores across the area will spend the next five months competing for headlines. He’s a primer on what to look for:

1. Who is the area’s best player?

Simeon junior Jabari Parker, who is considered to be the best player in the country, regardless of class, by some national talent scouts.

2. Who is the best player not in the Chicago area?

Rockford Auburn guard Fred Van Vleet, a Wichita State recruit.

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

Parker, Simeon’s Steve Taylor, Downers South’s Jerron Wilbut, Farragut’s Rashaun Stimage and Crete-Monee’s Michael Orris.

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

Simeon is the heavy favorite, with Warren and Young as the top challengers. The Blue Devils have the experience, size and depth to get back to the state final after finishing second last season. The Dolphins have a loaded front court (Jahlil Okafor, Tommy Hamilton, Jermaine Morgan) but have to find a point guard. Proviso East has a deep, solid, athletic lineup and will contend. At this point, it’s hard to imagine another team stepping up and challenging those four.

5. Who are the favorites in 3A?

The four-class system still doesn’t make any sense. Here is your list of good local teams that are 3A: Crane, North Chicago, Orr, Burlington Central, St. Joseph, Rich East, Hillcrest, Riverside-Brookfield, Morgan Park and Farragut. Outside the area, Peoria Manual and Peoria Central should be very good.

6. Who is the favorite in 2A?

Three Catholic League teams: Hales, Seton and Leo. Hales was significantly hurt by transfers over the summer, but Eddie Alcantera is back. Seton doesn’t have a star, but is deep and talented. Leo features Russell Woods, one of the area’s best big men.

7. Which players improved the most since last season?

Over the summer, Joliet West’s Marlon Johnson went from a total unknown to garnering raves as one of the best seniors in the state. He’s a lanky 6-9 that is totally raw skill-wise, but is a dunking and shot-blocking machine. Orr sophomore Tyquane Greer, a 6-5 forward and Marshall’s Milton Doyle, a 6-4 senior, also emerged from obscurity and should be major factors this season.

8. Which are the top teams outside the area?

Rockford Auburn, with Van Vleet and Ball State recruit Marcus Posley, should be a major threat in Class 4A. Peoria Manual and Peoria Central will be major forces in Class 3A.

9. Who are the key transfers?

It’s a long list. Jaylon Tate from De La Salle to Simeon, Paris Burns from Curie to Proviso East, Malcolm Hill-Bey from Mount Carmel to Curie, Marcus Smith from Mount Carmel to Hyde Park, Moshawn Thomas and Jawan Savage from Bogan to Hyde Park. Markee Williams from Morgan Park to Crane. Javairius Amos-Mays from Zion-Benton to North Chicago.

10. What are the weaknesses of the top five teams?

Simeon doesn’t have a true post threat and will rely on two 6-7 forwards, Parker and Taylor; Warren doesn’t have a superstar; Young doesn’t have a true point guard; Proviso East is talented, but hasn’t really been tested yet and might not be ready for the big stage; Curie is young.

11. Who are the most underappreciated players in the area?

Hope Academy junior Jalen James, an Illinois recruit, hasn’t received much attention since he doesn’t play for a well-known school. Yes, it’s Hope Academy, not Hope from the Public League. David Cohn at York can score as well as anyone in the state. Ronnell Bucker will have a huge year for Bogan and don’t forget about Joliet West junior Morris Dunnigan, who led the Tigers to the supersectionals as a freshman, but missed most of last season with an injury.

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

Rich East, Metea Valley, Huntley, Orr, Plainfield South, Plainfield East, Marist, Seton, Hales, Riverside-Brookfield, Barrington, Joliet West, Marshall and Morton should all make appearances in the rankings at some point this season.

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

The top regular season scheduled game is Simeon vs. Young at UIC on December 23. The can’t-miss event is the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, which could feature a title game of Simeon vs. Warren. Pontiac is loaded overall this season with a field that also includes West Aurora, Curie, Oak Park, Joliet West, Lockport, Plainfield North, St. Charles North, Waukegan, Peoria Manual, Niles West, United Township, Danville and Bloomington.

14. Who’s a dark horse to reach the state finals?

Downers South should have a good shot. Wilbut and Jamall Millison may be the state’s best backcourt.

15. What is the area’s strongest conference?

The Red-West is deep and loaded with Young, Crane, Farragut, Marshall and Orr. The Red-South and Catholic League North are just a spot below. It should also be a special season for the Southwest Prairie with talented teams at Oswego, Plainfield South, Plainfield East, Plainfield North and Oswego East.

16. Who are the area’s top shooters?

Simeon’s Parker and St. Charles East junior Kendall Stephens.

17. Who are the area’s top freshmen?

Simeon’s DJ Williams, Morgan Park’s Kain Harris, St. Rita’s Charles Matthews, St. Joseph’s Jordan Ash and Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson.

18. Who are the area’s top five point guards?

Crete-Monee’s Orris, Proviso East’s Keith Carter, Simeon’s Jaleni Neely, Hope Academy’s Jalen James, Morgan Park’s Billy Garrett Jr.

19. Who are the best big men?

Young’s Okafor and Hamilton, Curie’s Cliff Alexander, Farragut’s Stimage and Joliet West’s Johnson.

20. Who are the coaches to watch?

New Proviso East coach Donnie Boyce will be under a lot of pressure to produce immediate results at his alma mater. It will be interesting to see Chris Head back on the West Side at Crane. And will New York City coaching legend Gary DeCesare get his first taste of success in Chicago this season with St. Rita?

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