To hear Louis Adams tell it, his Orr basketball team has more talent and potential than USA Basketball. That's right, Orr, which has never seriously contended for a Public League championship and never has qualified for the Sweet Sixteen in the state tournament.
But Adams might be right, after all. At least give him the benefit of a doubt. His Spartans are 16-3 going into the Public League playoffs, which includes victories over Red-West rivals Whitney Young and Marshall, highly rated Seton and perennial power Detroit Country Day. They defeated Hales Franciscan 51-36 on Saturday night.
"This is the best team I have ever had, even better than Englewood (which was 27-5 in 2007 and lost to North Lawndale in the regional final)," Adams said. "We have four Division I players. Our goal is to win the city. We know we have to get by Simeon. We know they are good but we are pretty good, too. Our guard play gives us an edge."
Adams acknowledges that Simeon's Jabari Parker and Marshall's Milton Doyle are the two best players in the Public League. But he insists he has four players who are as good or better than any comparable foursome on any other team in the state.
And Adams knows something about guards. Born and raised in Tunica, Mississippi, he was a Division III All-America point guard at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter was his roommate. He was invited to the U.S. Olympic trials in 1984.
"The strength of our team is guard play. They play with toughness and intelligence and make good decisions," Adams said. "You can go a long way if you make good decisions, who to pass to, knowing your personnel on the floor, when to slow down and when to fast break, when to pull back and when to speed it up. Good guards make the difference in the state tournament."
Competing in the Red-West, generally recognized as the most competitive basketball conference in the state, Adams believes weekly battles against the likes of Marshall, Crane, Farragut and Whitney Young will prepare his young squad for the Class 3A sectional at Glenbard South, which also includes Crane, Marshall, Farragut, North Lawndale, St. Joseph and Riverside-Brookfield.
What kind of a statement did Orr's recent 68-50 victory over Marshall mean? Durell Williams, a 6-foot-2 junior, came off the bench to lead the Spartans with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Marquise Pryor, a 6-foot-7 junior, contributed 12 points and 15 rebounds while 5-foot-9 junior point guard Jamal McDowell had 8 points and 12 assists. McDowell also limited Marshall star Milton Doyle to 10 points, 14 below his average.
"It tells us we can play with anybody in the city," Adams said. "The guards played well, like I know they can play. You have to have good guard play to succeed in the state tournament."
Adams describes Pryor as the leading rebounder in the state. He is averaging 17 points and 19 rebounds per game. "He has a knack for the ball, a Dennis Rodman type, like (former North Lawndale star) Jonathan Mills but more offense, He is relentless," the coach said.
Pryor is being recruited by Illinois, Baylor, Kansas State, Marquette and Colorado State, according to Adams. With a summer and another high school season remaining before graduation, he likely will receive much more attention from Division I programs.
So will 6-foot-7 sophomore Tyquone Greer, who is averaging 13 points per game. Greer is very versatile. He plays four positions. "He has great potential. He is just beginning to realize how good he can be," Adams said.
Adams describes McDowell (8 ppg, 7 assists) as "the toughest defender in Illinois, a better defender than I was."
And he reminds college recruiters to pay attention to 6-foot-8 sophomore Marlon Johnson, a transfer from Crane who is expected to gain eligibility for the second semester. Adams predicts Johnson will be better than former Orr star Mycheal Henry, now at Illinois. "He can be a top 25 player in the nation," Adams said.
The other starters are 5-foot-8 senior Devontay Jones (12 ppg) and 5-foot-11 senior Deshaun King, who averages 20 points per game and is the team's leading scorer. "King is the best three-point shooter in the state," Adams said. King scored 19 to lead Orr's victory over Hales Franciscan.
There is more talent on the bench with Durell Williams, 5-foot-10 senior Trashaun Jones and 6-foot-5 freshman Darnell Williams, whom Adams projects as a future star.
Adams came to Orr via a round-about route. He opted not to attend the U.S. Olympic trials. "I was a momma's boy. I didn't want to go far away from home. I thought Colorado Springs, Colorado (site of the trials) was too far," he said.
But he moved to Montana to work for the U.S. Forest Service, fighting fires in Yellowstone National Park, for five years. Then his old college roommate, Tyrone Slaughter, persuaded him to come to Chicago, where his family was from.
He worked for Slaughter at a Dominick's grocery store in Melrose Park, then went to work for Marshall Field's (now Macy's) department store. But he wanted to get into the coaching profession. He wanted to work with coach Robert Smith at Simeon. So he applied for a job with the Board of Education.
"I felt I could get my own team," said Adams, who was hired at Englewood in 1996. He spent eight years at Englewood and sent a dozen players to college. His last team almost qualified for the state finals. When Englewood closed, he moved to Orr. He was eager to plant is own roots, build his own program and establish his own identity.
His teams have gotten better each year. His first team was 10-15. Two years ago, he was 18-10. Last year's 22-8 team lost to Riverside-Brookfield in the sectional final. This year?
"We're looking to go as far as we can," Adams said.