St. Rita, Law looking for their props

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St. Rita, Law looking for their props

St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare says he likes to "stay under the radar." But he admits he wants his team to earn its just desserts and bristles when it doesn't. Like now. Some polls rate the Mustangs, some don't. And DeCesare can't understand why.

"Guys who do polls don't understand ratings. They don't understand the value of playing against top competition," he said. "We have played a national schedule. We can play against anyone on any given night."

St. Rita is 13-5 after crushing Bishop McNamara 90-66 on Friday night. The Mustangs have a date against Curie and 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander on Tuesday and meet Hales Franciscan on Friday.

"Potentially, this is the best team I've had at St. Rita," said DeCesare, in his fourth season. "We're still young. We start two sophomores and two juniors. But we have four starters back from last year's 16-11 team (that lost to Whitney Young in the sectional). We have a lot of experience and the kids are battle-tested."

In an attempt to prepare for the rugged Catholic League grind and the postseason tournament, DeCesare arranged for a schedule that to date has featured five highly rated out-of-state opponents, including Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas, Scott County of Kentucky and St. Raymond's of New York.

"We have seen every style of basketball from fast pace to slowdown and we have had a great deal of experience playing against the shot clock," he said. "We have a lot of versatility. We play together as a team. The kids understand the value of finding the open man and sharing the ball.

"We have four guys averaging in double figures. When we do that, we are tough to beat. When we don't, we have lost. We're trying to find our edge. I don't think they understand how good they can be. Once they do, the sky is the limit. The key is to bring the same intensity every night. We will win as a team, not as individuals."

Which is in sharp contrast to a year ago when St. Rita was led by one of the most prolific scorers in the state, 6-foot-2 do-everything Tony Hicks, who averaged 25 points per game. Hicks, an All-Stater and the recipient of the Tony Lawless Award as the most outstanding player in the Catholic League, is at the University of Pennsylvania.

This year's leader is 6-foot-6 junior Victor Law, who was an All-Catholic League selection last season. He is averaging 13 points and nine rebounds per game. He had 19 rebounds in a recent game. Against McNamara, he had 18 points and 10 rebounds while Dominique Matthews scored 21 points.

"He is one of the most versatile players in the state," DeCesare said of Law. "He has a great work ethic. His ceiling is very high. If he continues to stay the course, he will be a Division I player. He also has great leadership skills."

Law began honing his game as a second grader by playing against his older sister, Simone, who played at Marian Catholic and now is a sophomore at Loyola. A McDonald's All-America candidate, she constantly beat her younger sibling in one-on-one match-ups in the drive-way of the family's home in South Holland.

"We worked out together. It was like Reggie and Cheryl Miller. It was always embarrassing to lose to my older sister," Victor said. "But she was a good player and showed me how to be good. She pushed me to be better. Finally, in seventh grade, when I was 6-foot-2, she stopped playing me. I was too good for her. One of my goals always was to beat her."

He wasn't sure which school he wanted to attend. His original choices were De La Salle or Homewood-Flossmoor. However, after attending a tournament at St. Rita with his grammar school team, he changed his mind.

"I really liked it," he said. "It had a family feel. The love I got here was different than any other school. People knew who I was as a student and as a basketball player."

Law, a three-year starter, lines up with 6-foot-2 junior Dominique Matthews (15 ppg), 6-foot-3 junior Scott Kingsley (10 ppg), 6-foot-4 sophomore point guard Charles Matthews (11 ppg, 5 assists) and 6-foot-8 sophomore Myles Carter (6 ppg).

DeCesare said Dominique Matthews is "the most underrated guard in the city." Charles Matthews, Dominique's brother, is one of the leading prospects in the class of 2015 in Illinois.

Top reserves are 6-foot-2 junior Treston Forbes, 5-foot-9 sophomore Armani Chaney and 6-foot-4 sophomore Brandon McRoy.

"Our style hasn't changed," Law said. "The guy (Hicks) was hot all last year. We didn't want to go away from him. If he's hot, give him the ball.

"But I thought we could have gone farther in the state tournament. Some things we could have done better, small things that could be corrected. This year we've seen every type of basketball team and style of basketball. We all want to come together for one goal--win the state title."

The formula for success, DeCesare and Law agree, is try to get better every day and go undefeated in March.

"I want to be known as an all-around player," Law said. "Basketball isn't a one-dimensional game. I'll do whatever it takes to win...score, rebound, defend, take a charge, block out, steal the ball. My goal is to get a double-double or triple-double in every game.

"I want to keep pushing myself every day, one day at a time. I want to rise to the occasion every day and step up. How far can we go? We can go all the way. We're doing great things right now, even though we are young. We're playing at a high level. The key is not to waste opportunities. The coach is putting us in the right position to take advantage of our opportunities."

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.