St. Mel aims for rematch with Seton

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St. Mel aims for rematch with Seton

Khalil Small, Kevin King, Teadric Anderson and their Providence-St. Mel teammates were looking forward to this week's trip to the State Farm Classic in Bloomington as a "good test," a chance to measure themselves against the likes of state-rated Quincy Notre Dame, St. Joseph or Rockford Lutheran.

They opened in impressive fashion on Wednesday by storming to a 31-17 halftime lead and coasting to a 62-37 victory over Cissna Park. Small led a balanced attack by scoring 17 points.

But, to a man, they have circled Jan. 15 on their calendars. That is when Providence-St. Mel hosts Seton Academy in what is being described as a prelude to the Class 2A championship.

"That will be a signature game," St. Mel coach Tim Irvin said. "It will tell us how good we are."

A year ago, St. Mel finished 23-7, losing to Seton in the supersectional.

"We can't wait for the Seton game," King said. "Last year, I tried to prove as a sophomore that I can put a team on the map by being the best player I can be. But I was too young last year. I have another chance to prove it this year. I wasn't focused last year. My attitude was score, score, score. I wasn't focused on defense, the best part of my game."

Anderson said he still remembers the feeling in the locker room after the 61-51 loss to Seton. "We remember that supersectional every time we step on the floor. I remember the feeling of the seniors. I feel we owe it to pay them back. We felt we could have been a contender for the state title. But we didn't get it done because of small things," he said.

"It was a terrible feeling...loose balls, rebounds, mental breakdowns here and there. I'm the team leader. My job is easy. We're all on the same page. We all realize our goal is to win the state title. I just have to keep them motivated, to make sure we are having fun and have a love for the game."

St. Mel could be 11-0. The Knights, who handed highly rated North Chicago its only setback two weeks ago, lost to Hyde Park by two on a last-second tip and to Indiana power Indianapolis Brebeuf by four in overtime when King, who scored 19 points, was sidelined for the last six minutes with a knee injury.

"This is my best team in terms of how hard they play," said Ervin, noting that the top six players have returned. "They enjoy playing with each other. They have bought into the system in playing defense and being unselfish. We lack size so our two big kids have to play big for us. We must continue to be humble and hungry and not take anyone for granted."

The lineup features Small (20 ppg), a 6-foot-2 senior; King (18 ppg), a 6-foot-2 junior; Anderson (8 ppg, 5 assists), a 6-foot senior point guard; Anthony Mosley (9 ppg), a 6-foot-1 sophomore; and Donald Morgan (7 ppg), a 6-foot-2 senior.

There is plenty of punch off the bench with 6-foot-2 junior Bernard Lilly and the two bigs, 6-foot-4 sophomore Tyler Turner and 6-foot-4 junior Joshuan McNeal. Turner is a transfer from Fenwick. McNeal was academically ineligible last season.

"This year we are more hungry," Anderson said. "Our edge this year is defensive intensity. We preach defense this year. Everyone has stepped up on the defensive end. We're boxing out more and putting more pressure on the ball and talking more. It is a team effort."

Anderson said every player has improved in at least one facet of the game...King on offense, Anderson on defense, Mosley is more aggressive, McNeal and Morgan and Turner are boxing out more, Small is passing better.

Ervin, a 1991 graduate of St. Mel, has made quite a comeback at his alma mater. After playing for Gene Keady and graduating from Purdue in 1995, he worked at a financial company while serving as an assistant coach at St. Mel from 1995 to 2000.

He was named head coach in 2001 and took St. Mel to the Elite Eight in 2002. A year later, however, he went 0-26 and was fired. He was out of coaching for six years, then was rehired at St. Mel only 10 days before the 2009-10 season began.

"There was no bitterness over being fired," Ervin said. "I understood. It all worked out."

He has reminded his players of Tom Shields' 1985 state championship team that was led by Lowell Hamilton, Fernando Bunch and Joe Jackson. Small, King, Anderson and their teammates were born well after that glorious season but they have heard the stories of how it used to be and the way it was at the West Side school. And they want to write another chapter.

"Kids don't relate to the 1980s but they know about it," Ervin said. "They see the trophies in the trophy case. They want to restore that feeling in the school. Today, kids have a short shelf life. But they know the importance of tradition. They are excited about the progress we have made."

St. Mel's 1985 team might have been the best ever to compete at the small-school level in Illinois. Better than the unbeaten Lawrenceville teams of 1982 and 1983 with Marty Simmons? Better than the 1979 Providence team with Walter Downing? Maybe.

"We are aware of the state championship team of 1985," Anderson said.
"We want to bring back that winning tradition and the reputation we had. We have met the players. They were very good and played hard. They were dominant. We want to renew that."

King, who chose St. Mel over Whitney Young, Marshall and Crane "because it gave me a better opportunity to prove that I didn't have to go to a powerhouse school to make a name for myself and also academically prepare me of for life," learned about the 1985 team after he enrolled.

"We think about going back and doing what the 1985 team did," King said. "A lot of people hadn't thought about our basketball team for a while. Now there is a lot of support. When I was growing up on the West Side, I didn't know about St. Mel, only Marshall and Crane and Whitney Young. But now we know we can be something special.

"This team is more mature and more disciplined and more focused than last year. We have got in our minds that we really want to win state. Last year, we got caught up in the hype. We got too big-headed. But we got into the gym over the summer and worked together. We got to know each other better."

And they circled Jan. 15 on their calendars.

2017 CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area Team

2017 CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area Team

The 2016-17 high school basketball season is finally in the books as the Chicagoland area saw a lot of star performances from throughout the year.

So it's time to unveil the 15-man, three-team, CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area team.

While other awards might only count regular-season accomplishments, the CSN Preps All-Area team is unique because we also include postseason accomplishments and titles when considering the three teams.

Only players from the Chicagoland area are consisdered for the All-Area teams as factors such as strength of schedule, final statistics, team accomplishments and personal awards are all weighed in the final decision.

Here's a look at the three All-Area teams and the CSN Preps Player of the Year. 

First Team

Alonzo Verge, Thornton senior guard (Player of the Year) -- The choice for Player of the Year is Verge after he burst back on the local scene after a year away. Leading the Wildcats back to a Class 4A sectional title game, Verge averaged 26 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals per game as he was the most unstoppable player in the area this season. Verge helped Thornton to a Southwest Suburban Red title while he earned MVP honors at the Big Dipper for leading the Wildcats to victory. 

Ayo Dosunmu, Morgan Park junior guard -- The only junior to make the All-Area team, Dosunmu averaged 18.3 points per game while helping the Mustangs win the Public League Red-South and Class 3A state championship. Although Dosunmu didn't play much in Peoria when the Mustangs won state, they definitely needed him to get there as the junior had some big-time playoff performances. 

Cameron Krutwig, Jacobs senior center -- One of the best players ever to come out of the Fox Valley Conference, Krutwig finishes his career with 1,528 points and ninth in state history with 1,258 career rebounds. A monster senior season saw Krutwig put up 15.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.4 assists per game entering regional finals as he was the area's best post player this season. Led Jacobs to three straight Fox Valley titles, three regional titles in four seasons and a sectional title this season.

Nojel Eastern, Evanston senior guard -- Another prolific four-year player, Eastern was a third-team CSN All-Area selection last season. After a solid regular season that saw him average 18 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks per game, Eastern elevated his play to an elite level in the state playoffs in helping the Wildkits to a Class 4A sectional title. Eastern put up 31 points, 10 rebounds and six steals in the Super-sectional loss to Whitney Young and 29 points and 17 rebounds in a win over Waukegan for the sectional title. 

Lucas Williamson, Whitney Young senior guard -- The unsigned senior had a final year to remember as Williamson helped the Dolphins to a Class 4A state title. The 6-foot-4 Williamson averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line. Also the MVP of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Williamson improved dramatically as a perimeter shooter over his four-year high school career.

Second Team

Nana Akenten, Bolingbrook senior forward -- The Nebraska commit was able to combine high-flying above-the-rim plays along with a lethal perimeter jumper. The 6-foot-6 Akenten shot 49 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range during the season. Akenten put up 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game for the Raiders, as they finished third in Class 4A. The MVP of the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, Akenten has as much upside as anyone on this list. 

Evan Gilyard, Simeon senior guard -- After a four-year varsity career, Gilyard will go down as one of the better floor leaders that Simeon has ever had. The senior led the Wolverines to back-to-back city titles and back-to-back trips to Peoria as he averaged 15.9 points, 3.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the free-throw line. The A.C. Williamson award winner at Pontiac, Gilyard is committed to UTEP. 

Elijah Joiner, Curie senior guard -- After helping Curie win a Class 4A state title last year, Joiner had a very strong senior season as he averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. Joiner helped the Condors win a Red-Central conference title while he had a 40-point game on rival Kenwood. An all-tournament selection at Pontiac, Joiner is committed to Tulsa. 

Teyvion Kirk, Joliet West senior guard -- This uncommitted senior had a tremendous season on both ends of the floor for the Southwest Prairie champion Tigers. The 6-foot-3 Kirk averaged 19 points, four rebounds and three assists per game this season as he recently set his final four schools to Arkansas, Middle Tennessee, Ohio and St. Bonaventure. Kirk helped Joliet West to a sectional title last season and a regional title this season while earning all-tournament honors at Pontiac.

Justin Smith, Stevenson senior forward -- A CSN third-team All-Area selection as a junior, Smith is back on the list after a stellar senior season. Smith put up 21 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in the regular season for the Patriots as he put down some of the best dunks in the area over the last three years. Smith won a state title as a sophomore starter alongside Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw and emerged as a star in his own right this season. Smith is currently committed to Indiana.

Third Team

Kyle Sliwa, Fremd senior guard -- One of the area's most efficient shooters, Sliwa hit some of the biggest clutch shots of the season. Sliwa twice helped Fremd beat rival Conant with game-winning three-pointers, including a buzzer-beater to win a sectional title. The 6-foot-1 Sliwa averaged 16.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. Named MVP of the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament, the Wheeling Hardwood Classic and the Mid-Suburban West, Sliwa helped Fremd to a 31-0 start and fourth-place finish in Class 4A. 

Dillon Durrett, Wheaton-Warrenville South senior forward -- The area's most improved player was the DuPage Valley Conference's best player after only averaging 2.3 points per game as a junior. Durrett was versatile on both ends of the floor for the Tigers as he averaged 17 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-3 Durrett often had to play bigger for a small team that won multiple in-season tournaments and went unbeaten in conference play.  

Jack Nolan, Benet senior guard -- Clutch players are tough to come by and Benet had a good one in this senior point guard. After Nolan helped lead the Redwings to a second-place finish in Class 4A last season he averaged 18 points per game and made 40 percent of his three-pointers. Also averaging three assists and two rebounds per game, Nolan was all-Tournament at Pontiac, MVP of the Loyola-New Trier Thanksgiving Tournament and an all-conference in the ESCC.

Tai Bibbs, West Chicago senior guard -- It wasn't quite the season that West Chicago hoped for but Bibbs still put up huge numbers, averaging 26 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while drawing a lot of Division I offers. The 6-foot-3 Bibbs was a two-time all-Upstate Eight Valley selection and he was the Valley's Player of the Year this season. Bibbs won MVP of the West Chicago Thanksgiving tournament and also was all-tournament at Dayton as he put up a tournament-best 32.8 points per game.

Demarius Jacobs, Uplift senior guard -- The best player in the Public League Red-North, the 6-foot-3 Jacobs was one of the premier two-way guards in the city. Jacobs helped the Titans win the Red-North and stay in the CSN Preps Power Rankings for most of the season as he averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. An All-Tournament selection at Proviso West, Jacobs signed with Southern Illinois in the fall. 

Stagg quarterback Kyle Neputy goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Stagg quarterback Kyle Neputy goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Student first, then athlete.

Stagg junior quarterback Kyle Neputy has unquestionably taken the student portion of student-athlete to heart. Neputy, who is a high-honors student and touts an impressive 4.73 GPA, has drawn steady recruiting interest from college programs on several levels, including multiple Ivy League schools. Cornell has already extended Neputy an offer.

Neputy, a big, strong and athletic quarterback who measures in at 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, has the overall size and physical upside to draw looks at multiple positions this spring and summer.

I caught up with Neputy at the fifth annual Franklin Dodgeball Madness Tournament at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton. Proceeds from the tournament benefited the school, the DuPage Hundred Club, Team Red, White and Blue and The Pat Tillman Foundation.

Watch the interview in the video above.