With the exception of the Fenwick girls basketball team, none of the local high school hoops squads advanced past regional play in the state playoffs. That’s unfortunate and surprising considering the talent level on the teams.
In recognition of so many outstanding players, the All-Wednesday Journal first-team and second-team members for boys and girls have been chosen.
Fenwick sophomore DJ Steward leads an excellent first-team group in boys basketball. The 6-foot-2 swingman, ranked by ESPN as one of the top 25 players nationally in the Class of 2020, averaged 19.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals this season. The Chicago Catholic League Player of the Year also shot 52 percent from the field and 41 percent from the 3-point arc.
Joining Steward in the backcourt is OPRF senior Isaiah Fuller (14.5 ppg, 4 apg). A three-year varsity player, Fuller excelled at both ends of the floor with his versatility and athleticism. He also emerged as the team’s unquestioned leader.
“My role this year as the point guard is to lead defensively and offensively. The team goes as I go,” Fuller said during the season. “I have to set the tempo on both ends of the court. I have to be a vocal leader and lead by example.”
Fenwick senior forward Michael O’Laughlin and OPRF juniors Chase Robinson (11 ppg, 5 rpg) and Anthony Roberts (10 ppg, 5 rpg) compose the remainder of the first team. O’Laughlin, a West Virginia football recruit, provided the Friars’ toughness and leadership, not to mention scoring and defense in the paint. Roberts and Robinson both emerged as key contributors for OPRF.
The second-team picks are the Friars’ Billy Bruce, Sam Daniels and Damari Nixon along with Huskies upperclassmen Dashon Enoch and Malachi Ross.
Fuller and Ross will be missed by OPRF.
“Isaiah was obviously our leading scorer and playmaker,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “Malachi was the heart and soul of our squad.”
Enoch’s game is similar to Nixon’s, while Ross is the consummate team player. Nixon is a prolific playmaking guard who blends well with Steward to form a potent 1-2 punch.
Steward earned Wednesday Journal Player of the Year honors. He already has scholarship offers from Illinois, DePaul and Georgia Tech.
“This summer will be another big one for me,” Steward said. “I’ll be playing with MeanStreets for AAU and grinding all summer with them. I’ve got to work out, get stronger and continue to develop an aggressive mentality. The key is staying in the gym and being a gym rat.”
On the girls’ side, Fenwick seniors Kate Moore (1,332 career points) and McKenzie Blaze (1,120 career points) are Co-Wednesday Journal Player of the Year recipients. In the estimation of their legendary head coach Dave Power, the tandem is as good as it gets on the court.
“Kate and McKenzie were one of the best duos in the state,” Power said. “Every night they played against some of the top teams in the state and finished with well over 1,000 points scored each at Fenwick. They really had awesome careers and we will have to absorb their potential 40 points a night by committee next season.”
Blaze, a four-year varsity player who averaged 15.5 points and 8.7 rebounds her senior year, certainly cherished her time as a Friar.
“I have so many memories playing here, going back to my freshman year,” she said. “This team has been a great experience for me.”
OPRF junior Ahsha Spencer is another obvious selection due to her all-around game. She led the Huskies in multiple categories offensively. The Trinity tandem of seniors Lauren Lee and Alex Fanning also earned first-team honors.
Lee, from River Forest, will play college basketball at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“Lauren is a rock,” Trinity coach Mike Valente said. “She does a little of everything. She guards the best player, shoots the ball well, controls the tempo, and her length gives teams a lot of trouble.”
Darse Sanchez (17 ppg) and Maeve Nelson (OPRF), Kelcie Leyden and Makiyah Williams (Trinity), and Sheila Hogan (Fenwick) are the second-team selections.
Star recognition extended beyond this season’s group of top players. On Jan. 18, former Fenwick players Erin Lawless, Tricia Liston and Devereux Peters had their jerseys retired before the Friars’ game against Stevenson.
The ceremony, which included video clips from all three players, was emotional for both Dave Power and his daughter Erin, a current assistant coach.
“Oh my gosh, so many great memories,” said Power of Lawless, Liston and Peters. “I can’t even begin. … I got emotional watching the video presentation. It was awesome.”
-Melvin Tate contributed to this story