Four reasons why you need to follow boys hoops this season

Fenwick, OPRF among elite programs in the state

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By James Kay

Sports Editor

After taking two days last week to observe OPRF and Fenwick's practices and with high expectations for the two programs expected this season, here are four reasons why you need to pay attention to boys hoops in 2019-20.

State contenders on East Avenue

OPRF and Fenwick are widely considered two of the top-20 basketball programs in the state of Illinois. OPRF has won three straight conference championships and if it wins conference again, it will be the first time in school history the program has done it four times in a row. Fenwick has the star power and depth to make noise at state this year.

"The talent is so deep this year," said head coach Matt Maloney. "To be honest, I think there are one maybe two teams in the state that clearly have a great chance of getting down to [the state finals]. After that, I don't see a lot of differences between the teams ranked 3 through 40."

Even with a competitive schedule this season, OPRF and Fenwick pose a threat to any top-ranked team in the state. They will be in every game they play in 2019-20.

The Bryce Hopkins Show

There aren't many things the Friars' Bryce Hopkins can't do on a basketball court. The 6-6 junior (who verbally committed to Louisville two weeks ago) possesses the ability to score at three levels; he had six 30-point games for the Friars and averaged 23 points per game.

What makes Hopkins a dynamic offensive player outside of his obvious scoring prowess is his natural feel as a facilitator. His height allows him to see over defenders and he can pick apart defenses from the post and perimeter.

Fenwick head coach Staunton Peck has already seen his star take it up a notch.

"I think he's gotten more athletic but more than anything else he has made the guys around him better," said Peck. "He's more confident and has matured in the sense that he knows he doesn't always need to drive and beat guys one on five."

No matter who the Friars play this season, Hopkins is going to stuff the stat sheet and be opposing defenses' main priority. The Bryce Hopkins show should be must-see entertainment in 2019-20.

OPRF's Collegiate Level Talent

Fenwick has stars in Hopkins and sophomore Trey Pettigrew (who started as the Friars' point guard as a freshman last year), but OPRF has players who will play college basketball in the near future. Junior wing Isaiah Barnes is a D-I prospect (with offers from Illinois and DePaul) and, like Hopkins, can score from anywhere on the court.

"He has really expanded his game," said Maloney. "We are excited about what he brings to the table. This season, we are going to take advantage of some mismatches using some of our bigger guards and wings that aren't traditional. Isaiah can create some of those opportunities for us."

But Barnes isn't the only one who can take over for the Huskies. Junior Josh Smith is an under-the-radar prospect who can get to the rim. Sophomore guard Demetrius Dortch grew 4 inches in the last year and is a player that Maloney said can be a difference-maker on this team. Add Justin Cross and Rashaad Trice to the mix and the Huskies become one of the most versatile teams in the state with their length and quickness in the front and back courts.

 Chicago Elite Classic rematch

On Dec. 6, OPRF and Fenwick will contend at Wintrust Arena (home of the WNBA's Chicago Sky) for the annual Chicago Elite Classic meeting between the two programs. Last year, Hopkins put up 30 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and hit the game-winning layup to give Fenwick a 66-65 win in overtime.

Hopkins has improved and OPRF has the depth to combat any team's star power. Expect another close matchup between two local juggernauts.

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