By Marty Farmer
Since the Chicago Bulls own a 7-25 record (worst record in the NBA) and an apparently bleak future, it's been slim pickings lately for basketball fans in the Chicago area. Sure the DePaul University men's team has won 8 of 10 games after years of doldrums; however, last year's NCAA tourney darling Loyola University Chicago and the University of Illinois, collectively, are 11-12.
Thankfully the local high school hoops scene never disappoints, especially during the holidays. Here's a preview of where the Fenwick, OPRF and Trinity teams will be playing during Christmas break.
The Friars return to the 58th Annual Proviso West Holiday Basketball Tournament, which will be held Dec. 26-29 in Hillside.
"This tournament has the most tradition of any holiday tournament in Illinois and we are honored to be part of it," coach Staunton Peck said. "We are matched up against an undefeated Dunbar team in the first round (Dec. 26 at 4 p.m.).
"The tournament also has eight ranked teams in its field. Our goal is always to get to play in the last day and at night of any tournament we enter. That will mean winning two games at Proviso which is always a challenge."
This year's field of teams includes Whitney Young, Bogan, Uplift, Hillcrest, Morton and the Friars. Throw in St. Joseph and the Proviso schools (East and West), and it's a stacked bracket.
Led by the terrific trio of guards DJ Steward, Tyler Beard and Myles Baker, Young is the favorite, but the competition will be ready. Bogan is led by 5-foot-9 guards Jordan Booker and Jeremiah Washington and 6-8 senior Rashaun Agee, while Uplift guard Markese Jacobs (DePaul commit) is a great playmaker and scorer.
Led by breakout sophomore Bryce Hopkins, Fenwick's (6-3, 2-2 Chicago Catholic League) signature win came against OPRF at the Chicago Elite Classic. Hopkins, who finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds against the Huskies, scored the game-winning basket in overtime as the Fenwick prevailed 66-65. The 6-5 forward is averaging 24 points, seven rebounds and two steals per game.
Fellow Friars Solomon Oraegbu (15 points, 6 rebounds per game), Lucas Kolovitz, and Trey Pettigrew have also led the team. The bench is solid with senior Charlie Westerman, juniors Sean Walsh and Ryan Planek, plus freshman Kaden Cobb.
"Offensively we are playing and sharing the ball well," Peck said. "Defense and rebounding are areas that we need to improve. We are young so we are getting better every day."
Competing at Proviso West 35 times, Fenwick has a 45-57 record at the tourney with a pair of runner-up showings in 2015 and 1977. Regardless of how the Friars fare this year, they always benefit from facing long, athletic teams with standout players in a pressure environment.
This group has created probably the best story on the hardwood this winter. Fresh off a season in which the team graduated a pair of 1,000-point career scorers in Kate Moore and MacKenzie Blaze, the Friars have somewhat surprisingly not skipped a beat at 12-3. After dropping two of three games to open the season, Fenwick reeled off 11 wins in a row, highlighted by a 33-point victory against Trinity.
The Friars are winning with balance, depth and chemistry. Senior Maggie Van Ermen and freshman Audrey Hinrichs exemplify the team's talent that spreads out over all four classes. Lily Reardon, Lauren Hall, Audrey Hetzer, Sheila Hogan, Elise Heneghan, Gianni Ortiz, Gianna Amundsen, MK Kapsch and Katie Schneider are all playing well for Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall-of-Famer Dave Power.
The girls will also play in a high-profile tourney at the Komaromy Classic Dundee-Crown. The prohibitive favorite in the 16-team field is two-time defending tourney champ Maine West. The host Chargers, New Trier, Prospect and Fenwick, among others, could be in the mix as notable contenders.
The Huskies make their annual trek to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Per usual, the field is filled with state title contenders like Simeon, Curie, Bloom, Benet Academy and Bloomington.
OPRF seniors Dashon Enoch, Charlie Hoehne (10.5 points, 6 rebounds per game), Chase Robinson (13.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 4.5 apg) and Anthony Roberts (13.5, 6.5 rpg) are all capable of making the all-tournament team at Pontiac. Robinson and Roberts also shoot close to 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc, while Hoehne is an 82 percent free throw shooter.
The key for the Huskies the rest of the season is blending their considerable individual talent into a smooth-running unit.
At 6-3, the Huskies have notched victories against Morton, St. Rita and Orr. On the flip side, area rivals Fenwick, Lyons Township and Riverside-Brookfield each knocked off OPRF. The LTHS 70-57 win over OPRF snapped a record 24-game winning streak in conference for the Huskies.
Of course like all teams at this time of the season, the Huskies are a work in progress. Head coach Matt Maloney is keenly aware of that reality.
"We have employed the journey as a marathon and not a sprint," he said. "We have shown our potential in big wins against St. Rita and Orr; however, we have not been consistent to start the season. We have to maintain a sense of urgency for four quarters and respect every team we play as we clearly have a target on our back. I still strongly believe our best basketball is ahead of us, but we need to make necessary changes now in order to maximize our potential for the stretch run."
Pontiac has often served as a springboard for the Huskies to have strong performances in the second half of seasons.
"Pontiac is by far the best tournament in the state and possibly the Midwest," Maloney said. "We play a strong West Aurora team. If we are able to get by them, we would play Bloom, who is ranked number one in several publications.
While the OPRF boys team is known for its "Huskie Havoc" style of play, the girls arguably play at an even more manic rate. They have no choice with an undersized roster.
Do-it-all senior guard Ahsha Spencer and a healthy Darse Sanchez have led the Huskies this season.
"We're tiny so we've got to pressure the ball quite a bit," OPRF coach J.P. Coughlin said. "This group plays together and for each other. That goes a long way. Having two dynamic senior guards like Ahsha and Darse goes a long way too."
Spencer averages 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, while Sanchez is another stat-sheet stuffer with 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals per game.
Other top contributors include Karly Cantrell, Faith Smith, Tatym Coe, Lilah Gery and Katie Sisler. The Huskies have had four players score over 20 points in a game at least twice or more. Defensively, Coughlin cites Sisler as the team's best stopper.
"I'm very happy with the team's play so far," Coughlin said. "We are learning to play with each other on the fly, but the girls have bought into each other and the system we are trying to put in place. Our various presses have been very effective and we have had some outstanding individual offensive performances."
OPRF (8-5) has been playing well lately, with four wins in five games. More importantly, the victories have come against area rival Trinity and conference opponents Hinsdale Central, Proviso West and Lyons Township. With a 3-1 record in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division, the Huskies are well-positioned for a second-half run at the league title.
During the Christmas break, OPRF turns its attention to the Montini Christmas Tournament. The event features 16 teams and 32 games in four days. The host Broncos edged Geneva 52-50 in the 2017 final, while OPRF finished 1-3.
The Huskies' first game is against Benet on Dec. 26. Tip-off is 3 p.m. OPRF is 11th seed.
"Montini is the best tournament around," Coughlin said. "We play against preseason No. 1 Benet, which should be a great challenge for us. We are excited about the opportunity to play in front of packed crowds and a throng of college coaches."
Along with Spencer and Sanchez, Nazareth's Annie Stritzel, Lyons Township's Lily Courier, Montini's Tatiana Thomas and Zoe Zacker and Mother McAuley's Grace Hynes are players to watch. Batavia's Geddy Rerko, Ava Sergio and Erin Golden comprise perhaps the best trio at the tourney.
The only more impressive component of the tourney other than several standout players is the actual teams. Fremd is No. 3 in the Class 4A rankings, while other teams such as Nazareth Academy, Benet Academy, Mother McAuley, Marian Catholic, Geneva and Hersey are all viable threats to go deep in the bracket.
Under new head coach Kim Coleman, Trinity is learning on the fly with a relatively young team. The loss of Dayjah Chmielewski to injury (ACL) was a costly blow for the Blazers. However, 5-11 sophomore Makiyah Williams has stepped up as one of the best players in the 2021 Class. She's averaging 16.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
Junior captains Zyerra Stafford (7.1 ppg, 4.4 apg, 2.7spg) and Claire Hanley stabilize the backcourt and Lauren Saleh provides a presence in the paint. Savanna Childress (8.3 ppg) adds scoring punch.
"Makiyah has been huge for us to start the season," Coleman said. "Zee Stafford is our floor general. She is a key component in keeping the flow of our offense, and she has the ability to shoot the ball at a high level. Savanna Childress is our high energy player who has the ability to attack the basket and set other players up."
Trinity (7-6) has placed an emphasis on rebounding in order to improve. Despite a lopsided loss against OPRF, the team won the battle on the boards which pleased Coleman.
"We learned a few games back that we had to rebound," Coleman said after the OPRF game. "Moving forward, that's the number one responsibility. Everyone needs to rebound. You can't win games if you don't. I was proud with how we handled ourselves on the boards (against OPRF), and I'm sure we'll continue to do that as the season goes along.
Moving forward, I'd like to see our kids play more consistent," she added. "This team has some nice pieces. When at the top of their game, I think our players challenge some experienced teams."
The Blazers will join Fenwick at Dundee-Crown tourney.
"The tournament is a good challenge for us," Coleman said. "It will force us to rise to the occasion."
Answer Book 2019
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