Nix sets hot pace for Niles North

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Nix sets hot pace for Niles North

Malachi Nix is 5-foot-6 going on 7 feet tall, at least if you measure leadership and determination and guts by the size of your Michael Jordans. Hey, he remembers when he was 5-foot-3, 125-pound running back on the freshman football team. By those standards, today he looks like Paul Bunyan.

Nix grew up playing baseball and football. He gave up baseball in seventh grade and stopped playing football after his freshman year. While working out with the varsity basketball team, however, he was inspired by coach Glenn Olson, who also was struggling to make a name for himself.

"He is a great motivator," Nix said. "He said to me: 'I know you are undersized but what I look foris how you lead on the basketball court.' That inspired me. It showed he had genuine care for me. I bought into his philosophy. He was all about winning and getting better every day. I wanted to be part of something special."

In their fourth year together, Olson and Nix are on track to accomplish something that the Skokie school has never experienced--qualify for the Sweet Sixteen. Since its first varsity season in 1964-65, Niles North has won only three regional championships and one sectional title. And three of the four were claimed by Olson in the last two years.

"There is no reason why this team can't be the best I have coached," Olson said. "Our slogan is: 'Put we before the me.' We have the ability to play good pressure defense. And we go nine or 10 deep with not much drop-off. We also have some very skilled guards who are good with the ball in their hands. They make you look good as a coach."

Niles North is 13-3 going into Friday night's game against Glenbrook North. The Vikings lost to highly rated Notre Dame by two points in the final of the Wheeling Hardwood Classic, snapping a seven-game winning streak.

In last Friday's 67-55 victory over Deerfield, Nix scored 18 points while B.J. Beckford and J.J. Myles each tallied 14, Lorenzo Dillard 10. The Vikings converted 12 three-point shots along the way.

On Tuesday, in a match-up of conference leaders, Niles North of the Central Suburban North smashed Prospect of the Mid-Suburban East 82-57 as Dillard scored 22 points, Beckford 21 and Billy Voitik 15. The Vikings show 11-of-13, scored 27 points in the first quarter and built a 41-25 halftime lead. Nix left with a knee injury in the first half but is expected to return on Friday night.

"It was a blessing in disguise," said Olson, explaining why and how depth is the strength of his team. "Two of our four returning starters (from a 21-9 sectional finalist) missed the first seven games and another missed the first four games for disciplinary reasons. The other guys got opportunities to step up and get more experience.

"It gave us some depth and an ability to play good pressure defense. Lack of size is a problem so we must rely on pressure defense and speed and quickness and play with pace. We force 20 turnovers a game. We get into trouble when we allow teams to run their offense and dictate pace. The key to success is to maintain tempo and keep opponents off the boards."

The lineup features Nix (19 ppg, 4.5 assists), a four-year starter; Dillard (12 ppg, 5.5 assists), a 6-foot-1 senior who missed the first 22 games last season because he was academically ineligible; Myles (5 ppg), a 5-foot-8 junior; Beckford (13 ppg), a 6-foot-3 senior; and 6-foot-4 senior Billy Voitik (8 ppg, 7 rpg). The team's tallest player, 6-foot-5 sophomore Danilo Ranger, comes off the bench.

Each player has a role. Nix defends the opponent's best scoring guard. Dillard, a pure passer and outstanding defender, shares the point guard duties with Nix. Olson said Myles is the best on-ball defender he has coached. "He sets the tone for what we do defensively," Olson said.

Olson has made great strides in a short time. A Rolling Meadows graduate of 1994, he studied at Western Illinois and Northeastern Illinois, then coached at Maine East before being hired at Niles North.

"I loved Maine East," he said. "But it was time for a change, another challenge. It was the right time to make a move. It was a huge push athletically."

His first team was 12-15 but progress was swift and rewarding. His second team was 24-7 and lost to Warren in the supersectional. Last year's 21-9 squad lost to Evanston in the sectional final.

"I felt we advanced farther than we should have last year," Olson said. "The good news is we have winning expectations now."

Beating Notre Dame would have been a signature victory. Nix and his teammates will remember that disappointing experience as they brace for the remainder of the season, as they seek to make history.

"We were really stoked to play Notre Dame but we came up short," Nix said. "We didn't rebound well enough. They got too many offensive rebounds. I fumbled the ball with four seconds left when I tried to call a timeout. I don't know if the referee saw me. Dillard had to take a half-court shot at the buzzer but it hit the rim and bounced off.

"What did it show us? We have to be a better rebounding team. We can't take any plays off or take anything for granted. We could have won if we executed throughout the game. But we made too many mental mistakes. It showed we can be a really good team.

"Notre Dame is a top 10 team and we didn't play our best basketball but we still were there with them. We have a lot of potential and we can go pretty far this year. This team is really talented. I look at it as this is my last year. It is time to do it, time to make history."

Nix describes last year's sectional loss to Evanston as "our worst night of the year...attitude, shooting, defense, every aspect of the game. The seniors have to lead, starting with me. We've all been there. The juniors and sophomores have to buy into it and be ready to play every night. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody has the same goal, the same dream. We want to be the first team in school history to get to the state finals," he said.

Meanwhile, Nix has a personal goal. He wants to play in Division I. He has no scholarship offers. But he has attracted interest from Northern Illinois, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Chicago State from Division I, Wayne State from Division II and Augustana and North Central from Division III.

Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye describe Nix as "one of the ore unheralded guards in the class of 2013."

"Above everything else, we label him as a scoring point guard. He has strong leadership qualities, plays hard and can be a possible low Division I prospect. It is important for him to find the right fit. A lot of people overlook him because of his size and because he doesn't play at a high profile basketball school," the Schmidt brothers said.

"Every night, I feel I have to prove something to some people. Some don't think I can play at the Division I level," Nix said. "I want them to know I can play with Division I players. I want to play in Division I. But I will play at the best situation I can.

"I want to show college coaches that I can lead a team, play defense, shoot well and pass, that I'm a good playmaker. I am a point guard. I know coaches are asking: 'Can a 5-foot-6 kid play at our level?' So I play with a chip on my shoulder. People don't think I can play so I have to show them.

"I wanted to be part of something special. We talk about it every day in practice. Not many kids are winning like we are now."

IHSA Class 3A Boys Basketball Playoff Preview

IHSA Class 3A Boys Basketball Playoff Preview

The IHSA Class 3A and Class 4A boys basketball state playoffs begin this week. While this Class 3A group of teams doesn't have nearly as much talent as Class 4A with regards to the Chicagoland area, there are still a few ranked teams like Morgan Park, Fenwick and North Lawndale who are all hoping to make a run down to Peoria. 

We'll have plenty of Class 3A playoff updates throughout the state playoffs on High School Lites and CSNChicago.com. Also be sure to follow our Twitter page @CSNPreps for the latest scores and highlights.

Here's a preview of the Chicago-area teams to track in the Class 3A playoffs over the next few weeks.

Antioch Sectional

Favorite: North Chicago (17-8, 13-1) is the No. 1 seed here as they've won 13 of their last 15 games. With a home draw in regional play and a difficult, pressing style to prepare for in a tournament setting, North Chicago is hoping to win a sectional for the first time since winning four straight from 2011 through 2014. 

Other Contenders: Ridgewood (16-10, 7-5) finished third in the Metro Suburban Red as they come in as the No. 2 seed. Senior Zach Rzewnicki is perhaps the best player in the sectional and is a player to watch here. 

Darkhorse: St. Viator (11-16, 6-3) had an underwhelming regular season but they managed to go 6-3 in the loaded East Suburban Catholic Conference -- including wins over Marian Catholic, Benet and St. Patrick. 

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If No. 2 seed Ridgewood has to face No. 7 Elmwood Park then it could get interesting because these two teams had a six-point game less than a week ago. Ridgewood won the season series 2-0 over Elmwood Park but it is always difficult to beat any team for the third time.

Fenwick Sectional

Favorite: Catholic League champion Fenwick (24-4, 9-0) is hungry after falling short of Peoria last season as they're playing good ball down the stretch. After winning the Catholic League Tournament, the Friars have many options, including seniors Jacob Keller and Jamal Nixon and emerging freshman D.J. Steward. 

Other Contenders: North Lawndale (20-7, 7-3) and Farragut (12-9, 4-6) both went through the very tough Public League Red-West and should be prepared to face against a team as talented Fenwick. The Phoenix have been in the CSN Preps Power Rankings all season while Farragut pulled off a huge road upset at Uplift in the second round of the Public League Playoffs.  

Darkhorse: Westinghouse (10-14, 1-9) has a very talented senior in Coreyoun Rushin and they also played a lot of close games in the Red-West despite that bad conference record. After a solid Public League Playoff win over Hyde Park, Westinghouse could be dangerous.

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: We could see a Red-West clash at Nazareth Academy as No. 4 seed Westinghouse and No. 5 seed Marshall could meet. The only Red-West win for Westinghouse this season came against the Commandos as these two teams split the season series. 

St. Rita Sectional

Favorite: Morgan Park (19-6, 9-1) just missed on winning the Public League Playoffs as the Mustangs could be the favorite to win the whole thing in Class 3A. The Mustangs don't have nearly as tough of competition in the class this season and they also have strong interior play with seniors Melo Burrell and Lenell Henry. Junior Ayo Dosunmu and senior Cam Irvin make for a talented perimeter and Morgan Park has a lot of talent to make a state title run.

Other Contenders: Bogan (17-7, 7-3) has been the toughest competitor for Morgan Park in this sectional the last few years but the Bengals aren't quite the top-25 mainstay like we've come to expect. Still talented, Bogan lost to Morgan Park twice during the season but beat Simeon.  

Darkhorse: St. Rita (16-10, 4-3) is a bit young, and they rely a lot on three-pointers, but the Mustangs are also talented enough to surprise some people and make it to sectional play if the deep ball is working.

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If the Mustangs play No. 3 seed Hyde Park (14-9, 6-4) then it could get really interesting. St. Rita has won four consecutive games and beaten teams like Marist and Loyola this season while Hyde Park is the home team in this one. The Thunderbirds also own some quality wins, including one over Bloom, but they've been a bit sluggish late in the season. 

Plano Sectional

Favorite: Hillcrest saw its 28-year conference title streak get snapped but the Hawks are still a talented team that was in the preseason CSN Preps Power Rankings. As the No. 1 seed in a weaker sectional. the Hawks have a chance to make a run here. Senior Marcus Garrett is one of the best guards in the Class 3A field. 

Other Contenders: Plano (21-6, 10-1) is the Interstate Eight champion but they piled up a lot of wins against smaller schools during the year and it'll be interesting to see if they can hang with the schools from higher-profile conference. The Reapers did beat No. 2 seed Sandwich last Friday for a solid road win so they are coming in with confidence.

Darkhorse: Streator (16-11, 9-2) came in second place in the Interstate Eight as they've been playing better ball lately than some other higher seeds in this sectional. Winners of four of their last five, Streator is the No. 3 seed in their subregional. 

(Potential) Matchup to Watch For in Regionals: If Sandwich and Streator matchup in Coal City it will be a rematch of when they met on Feb. 17. Streator took that matchup with a 54-43 win. 

Solorio QB Quincy Patterson commits to Virginia Tech

Solorio QB Quincy Patterson commits to Virginia Tech

Chicago Solorio three star ranked junior quarterback recruit Quincy Patterson (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) gave Virginia Tech his verbal commitment today. Patterson announced his decision via his Twitter account Monday.

Patterson last week made an East Coast road trip and visited Virginia Tech along with Virginia, North Carolina and North Carolina State and told Rivals.com's The Wolfpacker last week of  his impressions of Virginia Tech.

"Virginia Tech probably had the best engineering department I’ve ever seen," Patterson said. "The facilities are just amazing. The coaches were amazing, too."

Patterson chose Virginia Tech over 20 separate scholarship offers, several from Power 5 schools including Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Iowa.