Cole seeks to prove how good he is

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Cole seeks to prove how good he is

Monday is a very big day in the life of Elliott Cole.

How big?

"Five or six Division I coaches said they want to see him play against Orr," said Jermaine Johnson, Cole's coach at Henry Ford Academy's Power House High School. "They are waiting to see what he does in the Red-West, how he plays against good competition."

Cole, a 5-foot-10 senior point guard at the tiny charter school in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago's West Side, is the third leading scorer in the nation and the No. 1 scorer in Illinois. In 18 games, he has scored 675 points, an average of 37.5 per game.

Only one player in state history has recorded a higher average. In 1977-78, Metro's Mitchell Anderson averaged 43.5 in 22 games.

Power House, which opened in 2008, is a Class 2A school. For some unexplained reason, it is a member of the Public League's powerful Red-West Division. That means Cole's team is matched against Whitney Young, Marshall, Crane, Orr and Farragut.

The competition hasn't bothered Cole. He scored 24 points against Whitney Young, a season low. He scored 47 against Farragut and impressed coach William Nelson so much that he nominated him for the McDonald's All-America team. He scored a season high of 64 against Little Village.

But he knows Monday's game at Orr is something special and he is eager to accept the challenge. All he has ever wanted, since he enrolled at St. Joseph of Westchester as a freshman, was a chance to prove how good he is.

Is a kid who is averaging 37.5 points per game the real deal?

"It is very important for me to play well, to be myself," Cole said. "I don't want to do anything that I would do normally. It isn't me to show off. It's not about what I have done lately. I don't want to think about putting up a lot of points. If I score 10 points and we win or if I score 30 and we win, as long as we win, that's what matters.

"But I want to play my game ... show I can lead a team, be a true point guard, not just be a shooter. I like to pass and get in the lane and create shots for my teammates. I also can attack the basket and play defense. I want to show that I'm not reckless or out of control, that I play smart. I'm an all-around player, not just a shooter."

Cole plays with a chip on both shoulders. He wishes he was 6-foot-3, but he isn't.

"I have to prove somebody wrong every time I go on the floor, someone who hasn't seen me before. I'm 5-foot-10. That's the hand I was dealt. But I can still be effective like a 6-foot-3 player with my body frame," he said.

"It isn't me to show off. It's not about what I have done lately. I don't want to think about putting up a lot of points. If I score 10 points and we win or if I score 30 and we win, as long as we win, that's what matters."-- Elliott Cole on Power House's upcoming game against Orr"He reminds me of former Crane and Kansas star Sherron Collins and Ahmad Starks former Whitney Young star now at Oregon State," Johnson said. "On the court, he is the most humble, well-rounded and respectful kid you would care to meet. Through it all, he doesn't brag about it. He has his own little swagger. He'll do anything he has to do to win. He is one of the best shooting guards we've ever had in this city."

Cole lives in Oak Park. He enrolled at St. Joseph of Westchester as a freshman because he wanted to play for legendary coach Gene Pingatore and one of the most high-profile programs in the country. But he never got a chance. As a junior, he sat on the end of the bench and never saw the playing floor. He was told he didn't fit into the system.

So he opted to transfer to Power House. One of Johnson's friends tipped him off about Cole, who had been working out at his training camp in the suburbs. Johnson, 30, a graduate of Collins in 2001, runs a similar camp, Skills Athletics, in the city. With only one year of eligibility remaining for their son, Cole's parents thought Power House represented a good opportunity for him to experience instant success and gain exposure to college coaches.

Cole has a scholarship offer from Chicago State and interest from more than 30 mid-major schools, including Northern Illinois, Illinois State and Illinois-Chicago. He also has interest from Kansas State, Purdue and Wyoming.

"I would like to play at a high Division I level but I want to play at a school that fits me, not a situation like St. Joseph where I didn't get a chance," he said. "I want to make the right decision, mid-major or high-major. I like an up-tempo style. That's where I'm more effective because of my speed.

"I have their attention. I have an opportunity. The eyes are on my team. I have a chance to prove what I can do. I feel I have to perform at a certain level every night. I want people to say that he is the player they hoped he would be, not that he is overrated.

"It's an advantage to play in the Red-West. The great competition brings out the best in great players. It brings out a different level of intensity. It makes players step up their games. You can tell a good player from a great player. You can tell who really wants it."

Playing at Power House, which is located in an old Sears Roebuck power plant, isn't without its disadvantages, however. The school plays its home games across the street at Homan Square Park. The players don't get a lot of practice time, usually once a week at a church around the corner from the school at Homan and Arlington.

It doesn't detract Cole. He is always at the school gym or at the LA Fitness facility with his brother Felton and personal trainer Justin Brim. In the summer, he took 1,000 shots a day. During the school year, he is limited to 500 a day. He is ambidextrous and shoots 30-footers with both hands. He is a 70-percent shooter from three-point range. When he scored 64 against Little Village, he converted 8-of-11 three-point attempts.

But Monday is his biggest challenge to date. He knows he will be under a microscope with college coaches evaluating every move, every shot. Orr, led by Tyquone Greer, is one of the best teams in the state.

Oh, there will be other challenges to come, like games against Collins on Wednesday and North Lawndale on Friday. On Jan. 25, Power House will play Sunrise Christian Academy in Wichita, Kan. Sunrise is ranked No. 8 in the nation.

But Monday is Orr. That's his focus. Cole hopes to fare better than he did last Wednesday when Power House lost to Westinghouse, 69-68, in overtime. He was limited to 24 points and missed a shot from the free throw line at the buzzer that would have won the game.

"It's a big game. It would be a big win for us. But I can't get into the hype," he said. "Sure, it's very important to play well. I know coaches will be watching. I just want to play hard, play my game and do what it takes to get a win."

And he wants to prove something to Anthony Manuel, the dean of students at Power House and a former All-State guard at Crane in 1985.

"He gives it to me every day," Cole said. "He says to me, 'Back in my day, I could beat you.' But he also reminds me to stay humble."

And keep playing with that chip on his shoulder.

Simeon beats rival Morgan Park for city championship

Simeon beats rival Morgan Park for city championship

The Battle of Vincennes is one of the best high school basketball rivalries in Illinois. But for as often as storied rivals Morgan Park and Simeon play, the two Red-South titans had never met for the city title.

That changed on Sunday. 

In an epic clash of top-five teams that might go down as the season's best game, No. 4 Simeon held on for a 68-64 win over No. 3 Morgan Park in the Public League Playoff finale at Chicago State.

The city title is the eighth for the Wolverines as they've won this event in back-to-back years -- the first time a team has done that since the Derrick Rose-led Simeon teams in 2006 and 2007. 

Simeon (24-3) was led by junior Kezo Brown, as he finished with 26 points while senior Evan Gilyard added 18 points. Simeon also had 13 points from junior Talen Horton-Tucker while role players like Messiah Jones (six points, seven rebounds) and Madison Lowery (three points, five rebounds) made winning plays down the stretch by grabbing key rebounds in a tight game. 

After going six consecutive quarters without a made three-pointer after going 0-for-6 in the first half on Sunday, the Wolverines finally heated up from the perimeter in the second half thanks to Brown's three triples and a key bucket from Gilyard.

The Mustangs (19-6) had a chance to tie this game down by three with 11 seconds left but junior Ayo Dosunmu missed a contested pull-up three that was rebounded by Lowery. 

Lowery made one of two free throws at the other end to ice the game after getting fouled.

Dosumnu finished with 16 points despite battling foul trouble for Morgan Park while big man Lenell Henry continued a strong recent stretch with 15 points. Melo Burrell added a double-double for the Mustangs with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. 

Simeon and Morgan Park split the regular-season series in Red-South conference play during the season as the road team won both games. Sunday's clash at Chicago State was a fitting conclusion to three great games between the two rivals this season as both schools enter their respective classes as potential title favorites.

Both Simeon and Morgan Park were clearly focused on Sunday's city championship game on Saturday as the two teams both lost in the annual City-Suburban Showdown. Playing a lot of reserves and not going their hardest, the Wolverines lost to Evanston and Morgan Park fell in overtime to Stevenson. 

While Morgan Park has a far easier path to Peoria in Class 3A, Simeon is still a major contender in Class 4A as the Wolverines are playing very balanced ball entering the final stretch of the season.

Tyler Ulis returns to Marian Catholic for jersey retirement

Tyler Ulis returns to Marian Catholic for jersey retirement

As the NBA world convenes in New Orleans for All-Star festivities, one point guard in the league returned to Chicago for his own celebration. 

Friday night, Tyler Ulis was the guest of honor at Marian Catholic, the school where he put on a four-year clinic despite being one of the smallest players on the roster. The school honored his tremendous career by retiring his No. 3 jersey.

  

Well under six feet, Ulis thrived for the Spartans by accentuating his unreal ballhandling, shooting and floor management skills. He was named to the 2014 McDonald's All-American team and went on to play for Coach Calipari at Kentucky. 

Ulis, now with the Phoenix Suns, currently averages 3.1 points in nine minutes per game. Similar to his time at Kentucky, the rookie's game is improving the more he plays. Following a tough January when he shot under 30 percent, Ulis has connected on 44 percent in February. More impressively, though, he's logging an assist to turnover ratio of 6:1 for the month. 

As for Friday, the homecoming king's best gift may have been the Spartans' 38-point win over rival Marian Central Catholic. Check out the highlights and the ceremony in the video above.