Whitney Young and Co. draw national acclaim


Whitney Young and Co. draw national acclaim

Whitney Young, one of the top five high school basketball teams in the nation, showcased its enormous talent on the national stage over the holidays. And 6-foot-11 junior Jahlil Okafor and 6-foot-9 junior Paul White demonstrated why they are two of the headliners in the class of 2014.

The venues were the City of Palms tournament in Fort Myers, Florida, and the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Veteran recruiting analysts Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports and Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops had front row seats for all of the jousting.

In Florida, recruiting analyst Eric Bossi of Rivals.com said Okafor and 6-foot-7 senior Andrew Wiggins of Huntington, West Virginia, clearly demonstrated why they are the top-rated players in their classes.

"In Okafor, we are witnessing the type of player who for the most part has been going the way of the dinosaurs," Bossi said. "He is a true back-to-the-basket center who has serious game and skill when it comes to scoring in the low post.

"He has tremendous feet, strong hands, passes well out of double teams and is comfortable making strong moves to either his right or left shoulder. Additionally, he is a good one-on-one post defender against other big men."

Whitney Young lost to the nation's top-ranked team, Montverde (Florida) Academy, in overtime, then crushed Omaha, Neb., Central as Okafor shot 11-of-14 and had 23 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

In South Carolina, Okafor, White, L.J. Peak, Miles Reynolds and Ausar Madison led coach Tyrone Slaughter's team to the championship with an impressive 58-37 victory over previously unbeaten Bishop O'Connell of Arlington, Virg.

Okafor, White and St. Rita's Charles Matthews were named to the 10-man all-tournament team, White was tournament MVP and Peak was singled out as the leading defensive player.

Last Saturday, Whitney Young (11-1) crushed Neumann-Goretti of Philadelphia 78-49 in the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, West Virginia. Okafor scored 32 points on 14-of-18 shooting and also had six rebounds and three blocks. White had 19 points and seven rebounds. Peak had 10 points and six rebounds.

The Dolphins' road show will resume in Memphis, Tenn. and Springfield, Mass. during the next two weekends. They have a season-defining duel with three-time defending Class 4A champion Simeon on Jan. 26. The two city powers could meet again in the sectional tournament at Argo.

"Young is the best team I have seen this year," Gibbons said. "They have talent at every position and they are well-coached. (Slaughter) gets his kids pumped up to play hard and play good defense."

Coleman agrees. "Whitney Young has a starting five that can compete with Simeon for the Class 4A championship. They are without a doubt a real threat to stop Simeon in its drive for four straight titles," he said.

"Unlike former Whitney Young teams, this group plays as a team and if they can develop some depth, look out. Their only loss was to Montverde (Florida) Academy, the No. 1 team in the nation, in overtime. They are capable of playing with any of the nationally rated teams."

Gibbons and Coleman have been impressed with Slaughter's ability to make adjustments on offense and defense to control tempo, manage the clock and keep in check the egos of a squad filled with Division I players.

"He has always taken on a national schedule and sometimes in the past his players weren't ready for that kind of competition," Coleman said. "But he has learned from those challenging schedules and currently has a team that allows him to use that knowledge to win against other nationally ranked teams. When you beat nationally ranked teams, your coaching abilities become more noticeable."

While Gibbons and Coleman agree that Okafor is the No. 1 player in the class of 2014, they differ on how they perceive his approach to each and every game. In fact, Gibbons said if Curie's 6-foot-9 junior Cliff Alexander continues to develop, he could be better than Okafor because he competes harder and is more athletic.

"Okafor could be like Kevin Garnett and Alonzo Mourning," Gibbons said. "But one thing I have noticed in all the times I have watched him is he doesn't consistently play to the maximum. Maybe that will change with maturity.

"When he gets after it, he can dominate when he wants to. Against Bishop Gorman's 7-foot sophomore, he controlled him and physically dominated him and blocked shots. But he played with a laid-back attitude in other games. He didn't play with a maximum effort.

"Maybe he isn't challenged all the time. When he is challenged, he plays with more intensity. But when opponents aren't within four inches of him, he doesn't feel he has to play hard all the time. He has all the size and skills to dominate when he wants to. If he played hard all the time, he could rank with the Garnetts and Mournings of the past."

Coleman has another view. "Okafor uses his basketball IQ and knowledge of positioning more to accomplish what he wants and to get results. Maybe that was the case a year ago before he streamlined his body and improved his bounce. But on numerous occasions in Myrtle Beach and Fort Myers, he was the first big man down the court in transition, many times running with the guards," he said.

"Make no mistake about it. Okafor is the best low post talent in high school basketball at this point. He dominates offensively with a variety of moves on the blocks that he finishes with a dunk or jump hook. He has developed the ability to pop and either knock down a 15-17 footer of attack the hoop off the dribble against bigs, then finish with highlights at the rim."

If that isn't praise enough, Howard Garfinkel of Five-Star, one of the pioneers of evaluating high school talent, said of Okafor's 12-point, 6-rebound performance in the final at the Beach Ball Classic: "That was the most dominant 12-point performance in the history of high school hoops."

Gibbons was most impressed with White. "He does play hard all the time. He is Whitney Young's glue guy. He can score in a variety of ways. He is versatile and handles the ball well. Over the summer, he gave a maximum effort all the time," he said.

"White has been one of the major surprises in the junior class with the development of his perimeter shot and tough to stop face-up game," Coleman said. "He gets after it on defense, too. He is a main reason why Whitney Young won the Beach Ball title and is a serious threat to Simeon's run for four straight state titles."

Gibbons said Peak, a 6-foot-4 junior transfer from South Carolina, could emerge as a McDonald's All-American. "He is very athletic, a top perimeter guy," he said.

"When Peak made the move to Chicago last summer, it was kept on the low key. But that is no longer the case after his December performances," Coleman said. "We knew from a year ago that he can make shots but it is the improved overall structure of his game that makes him special. He has handle to create a shot or drive, he has become a solid passer and is a playmaker on defense."

If that isn't enough, Gibbons and Coleman also were impressed with Whitney Young's underrated but solid backcourt of Madison and Reynolds. "They seem to be happy to play their roles," Coleman said.

Finally, Coleman also was impressed with Matthews, St. Rita's 6-foot-5 sophomore.

"This long and athletic wing man showed he can get to the rim off the dribble and finish with bounce at the rim," Coleman said. "He is an excellent passer who runs the break with confidence. He is developing a solid perimeter jumper and once his three-point jumper becomes a strength to go with his dribble drive, look for him to rate among the best players in the class of 2015."

High School Lites Week 2 basketball capsules

High School Lites Week 2 basketball capsules

CSN Chicago will have cameras covering the biggest high school basketball games across Chicagoland for another basketball edition of High School Lites. Catch the show live at 11 p.m. Friday on CSN and streaming at CSNChicago.com

The show will feature numerous teams in the CSN Preps Power Rankings. The best game on Friday night could be No. 16 Benet traveling to No. 15 Notre Dame in a clash of unbeatens in the ESCC but there will be plenty of other highlights to check for.

The Red-West, North Suburban and Southland are all prominently featured on the show this week while High School Lites will also have highlights from the SouthWest Suburban.

This week's Viewers' Choice Game of the Week generated over 5,000 votes as Von Steuben will travel to Taft to represent the Red-North.

We'll also have a Getting to Know feature on Conant senior guard Jimmy Sotos.

Thursday's Game

Hyde Park at No. 7 Kenwood, 4:30 p.m. -- Kenwood will try to keep its momentum going as they host Hyde Park in a Red-Central battle. Kenwood (5-1, 1-0) is coming off of a Red-Central win over Dunbar earlier this week while Hyde Park (3-1, 1-0) defeated Lindblom for a conference victory as well. The Broncos are still unbeaten in Illinois as they're relying on senior big man Manny Patterson and his talented group of teammates. Hyde Park is trying to figure things out in head coach Jevon Mamon's first season as Andrew Anderson had a nice game against U-High at the Chicago Elite Classic.

Friday's Games

No. 11 North Lawndale at Westinghouse, 4:30 p.m. -- The Red-West is going to be a lot of fun to watch this season as this should be an interesting game. The Phoenix (5-1, 1-0) knocked off Marshall for a Red-West win on Wednesday while Westinghouse (3-3, 0-1) is coming off of a tough double-overtime loss to Farragut. Westinghouse is going to have to slow down Carlos Hines and Martrell Barnes but they can counter with a talented senior of their own in Coreyoun Rushin.  

Kankakee at Crete-Monee, 6:00 p.m. -- We also head to the Southland on Friday night as Kankakee (1-3, 0-1) travels to Crete-Monee (3-2, 1-0). The Warriors survived a high-scoring, double-overtime win over Rich East on Wednesday as they're led by senior and Toledo commit Dwayne Rose, the nephew of Derrick Rose. Kankakee is off to a sluggish start as they've lost some close games and they could use a conference road win here.

Rich East at No. 19 Bloom, 7:00 p.m. -- Keeping it in the Southland, Rich East (2-4, 0-1) will try to shake off a double-overtime loss this week as they travel to face No. 19 Bloom. Rich East has two one-point losses and the double-OT loss to Crete-Monee this year, so they could be better than the 2-4 record indicates. Bloom (4-1, 1-0) was impressive during Thanksgiving week at the Chicago Heights Classic as they look like one of the premier teams in the South Suburbs this year.

No. 24 Thornton at Lincoln-Way West, 7:00 p.m. -- These two teams battled in the SouthWest Suburban Red last season and both programs return some key pieces. Lincoln-Way West (2-4, 1-0) is led by senior Marco Pettinato as he's an All-Area candidate and big-time scorer. Thornton (3-2) will counter with a big scorer of its own with senior Alonzo Verge.

No. 16 Benet at No. 15 Notre Dame, 7:00 p.m. -- This could be the best matchup of Friday night as two unbeatens clash in the ESCC. Benet (5-0) is coming off of a runner-up finish in Class 4A as they bring back some talented players like Jack Nolan, Liam Lyman and Justin Enochs. The Redwings have looked very good early this season as they've piled up a lot of double-digit wins. Notre Dame (6-0) is also off to a hot start as they picked up an overtime win over Loyola and another victory over Bartlett last weekend. The Dons have a lot of size on the inside as Chris Heinichen, Jeameril Wilson and Sean Johnson are all 6-foot-5 or bigger.

No. 12 Stevenson at Mundelein, 7:00 p.m. -- Stevenson is off to a great start as they try to carry that into Mundelein in this North Suburban contest. The Patriots (6-0, 2-0) are led by Indiana commit and senior Justin Smith as he's one of the best players in the state this season. Mundelein (2-4, 0-1) dropped one to Zion-Benton earlier this week as they try to get back on track in the North Suburban race.

Lake Zurich at Zion Benton, 7:00 p.m. -- Two team with high expectations in the North Suburban face each other in this one. Zion-Benton (2-1, 1-1) dropped a conference game to leader Stevenson last weekend but recovered with a double-digit win over Mundelein during the week. Lake Zurich (4-1, 0-1) dropped its conference opener to Waukegan after a 4-0 start to the season.

Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Von Steuben at Taft, 6:30 p.m. -- This week's poll was a tight one as over 5,000 people voted and this game barely beat Lane at Uplift. The Panthers (0-2, 0-1) are trying to pick up their first win of the season after losing to an out-of-state opponent and No. 9 Uplift. Senior Rafael Cruz put up monster numbers last season as he's the player to watch for Von Steuben. Taft opened its Red-North slate at home against Lincoln Park as they're facing two tough opponents right out of the gate at home. They'll try to capitalize on those early conference home games with a win here.

Recruiting News and Notes: Mitch Lewis' recruiting stock soaring

Recruiting News and Notes: Mitch Lewis' recruiting stock soaring

Mitch Lewis (TE), Naperville North

Naperville North senior three-star ranked tight end Mitch Lewis (6-foot-6, 215 pounds) has seen his overall recruiting stock soar over the past month, as he's now touting 10 verbal scholarship offers and has more interest growing by the day.

"It's been a pretty wild last week or two," Lewis said. "It just seems like a lot of schools decided to offer me. It all came out of nowhere to be honest and it feels pretty amazing."

Lewis has added several of his 10 offers over the past few weeks and ran down his list of offers.

"I have offers now from Hawaii, Wyoming, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, South Dakota, Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Illinois State and Northern Iowa," Lewis said. "Also Iowa, Penn State and Purdue have also been in touch weekly, and both Iowa and Penn State are coming to watch one of my basketball games this week. I have a feeling some of the Big Ten schools are getting closer to offering me."

Lewis, who made his first official visit to Wyoming back in November is planning to set more official visits in January.

Joshua Maize (DE), Deerfield

Deerfield senior three-star ranked defensive end Joshua Maize (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) has switched up his planned official visit schedule, and he will make his first official visit this weekend.

"I'm making my first official visit to UConn this weekend," Maize said. "I was suppose to go to Miami of Ohio last weekend but they wanted me to reschedule. I was suppose to go to Miami of Ohio last weekend but they wanted me to reschedule since I was the only recruit scheduled to visit."

So what is Maize looking for when he visits UConn?

"I'm just looking forward to seeing the campus and the surrounding area," Maize said. "I've never been out East before so I want to see what UConn has to offer. I'm also looking forward to getting to know the coaches and the guys on the team. UConn also is supposed to have great facilities and I'm excited to see the different facilities along with the overall environment at UConn."

Maize has also drawn late recruiting interest from a handful of schools.

"Syracuse has been showing a lot more interest," Maize said. "They have a few offers out to Juco kids so they are waiting to see what happens. Syracuse wants me to make an official visit in January. I'm also talking weekly with Toledo and Central Michigan. I'm sure I'll set more visits in January but for now my focus is on UConn this weekend."

[MORE: The 2016 Edgy Tim All-State Team]

Nick Marozas (OL), Brother Rice

Brother Rice junior offensive linemen Nick Marozas (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) added his first scholarship on Monday from Minnesota.

"Getting my first offer from Minnesota feels great," Marozas said. "It was a bit of a surprise. I talked to one of the coaches on Monday morning and then later in the day they called my coaches at school then they offered me a scholarship."

Marozas visited Minnesota earlier this fall and came away impressed with the Gophers.

"I visited Minnesota last month for the Homecoming game against Purdue," Marozas said. "I had a chance to talk to the coaches at Minnesota on that visit and that went well. I liked the campus, the facilities and the stadium. Minnesota is just a great program and school and it's pretty exciting to get my first offer from a great Big Ten program."

Marozas has drawn interest from Minnesota along with Syracuse, Illinois, Indiana, Northern Illinois and Navy. Marozas plans to make a mid January unofficial visit to Syracuse.

Alec Palczewski (OT), Prospect

Prospect senior offensive tackle Alec Palczewski (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) has seen his recruiting stock soar late this fall. Palczewski, who added his first offer from Illinois a few weeks ago, now has added offers from the Fighting Illini along with Vanderbilt and Syracuse. Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana have also started to take interest in Palczewski.