Who are the five best high school basketball players in the Chicago area this season?
Let's see...Simeon's Jabari Parker, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander are no-brainers, right?
Parker, slowed by a broken foot early in the season, has come on strong and played like the No. 2 player in the class of 2013 nationally, as he is projected by most recruiting analysts and scouting services.
Okafor has been consistent from start to finish, making a bid to become the No. 1 player in the class of 2014 nationally. Not counting Kevin Garnett, he is the best big man produced in Chicago since Russell Cross.
Alexander hasn't been surrounded with the talent that Parker and Okafor have enjoyed this season. But he has carried Curie on his back and confirmed his ranking as one of the top five players in the class of 2014 nationally.
But Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis is the Player of the Year in the Chicago area. He has played as well or better than Parker, Okafor and Alexander. The 5-foot-9 senior point guard has kept his team rated among the top 10 in the Chicago area for most of the season. He is the epitome of a player who gets his teammates involved and makes them better. Simply put, he has done more with less.
"There is no other player in the state who means more to the success of his team," said recruiting analyst Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye. "And everyone has seen the results. Marian Catholic is near the top of the East Suburban Catholic, the best basketball conference in the state, and the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A Thornton sectional."
But Roy and Harv Schmidt agree that Okafor and Parker are in the running for Illinois' Mr. Basketball award. While they give the nod to Ulis, they concede that he won't be acclaimed Mr. Basketball because he doesn't have the state-wide reputations that Okafor and Parker enjoy.
"Unlike Okafor and Parker, Ulis hasn't played a high-profile game outside the Chicago area and thus isn't as widely known throughout the entire state. That is a factor that will prove to be highly influential when the final votes are counted," Roy Schmidt said.
Who is the other first-team selection?
Hmmmmm. Don't you have to consider Benet's Sean O'Mara? Morgan Park's Billy Garrett and Kyle Davis? Bogan's Luwane Pipkins? Orr's Tyquone Greer?
Oswego's Miles Simelton? Proviso East's Sterling Brown and Paris Lee?
Stevenson's Jalen Brunson? St. Viator's Ore Arogundade? Mundelein's Sean O'Brien?
Or how about Brother Rice's Alex Majewski? York's David Cohn? Joliet West's Morris Dunnigan? West Aurora's Josh McAuley? St. Rita's Victor Law?
Zion-Benton's Milik Yarbrough? Lemont's Juozas Balciunas? Niles North's Malachi Nix? Hillcrest's Jovan Mooring? Notre Dame's Matt Mooney?
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The Schmidt brothers cast a vote for De La Salle's Alvin Ellis, who is committed to Minnesota. "He has got to be on there somewhere. He has put up big numbers all season long and is just as good as, if not better than, Sterling Brown," they said.
What about Simeon's Illinois-bound backcourt of Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn?
"Nunn isn't the same player as he was a year ago when he was considered the undisputed No. 2 player in Illinois in the senior class behind Jabari Parker," Roy Schmidt said. "He hasn't fully recovered from a hip pointer he suffered before the Pontiac tournament. He isn't the impact player he is supposed to be."
The Schmidts claim Tate is the key to Simeon's top-rated team. "They are looking for his defense, which he gives them. But he must run the offense and show leadership and have the team under control and that is what he hasn't always done. He and Nunn have to step up and play better if they are to repeat and play at the highest level," Harv Schmidt said.
They also argue that Simeon and Whitney Young and perhaps Morgan Park probably deserve two players on the 20-man All-Area squad. They lean toward 6-foot-4 junior L.J. Peak over 6-foot-9 junior Paul White as Young's other candidate based on Peak's overall and consistent play this season. Peak made an instant impact after transferring from South Carolina last summer.
In the end, the nod for the fifth spot goes to...ruffles and flourishes, trumpets and coronets...Billy Garrett Jr. Morgan Park's 6-foot-4 DePaul-bound point guard demonstrated his extensive arsenal of skills and his masterful leadership qualities while leading his team to an upset victory over three-time defending state champion Simeon in the Public League semifinals.
At his best, Garrett is a combo guard. He is more effective when not having to play point guard for 32 minutes. In Morgan Park's system, he is free to do more things because of the presence of teammates Kyle Davis and Markee Williams, who also are very efficient ball-handlers.
"It's a great list and shows how difficult it is to narrow things down," Roy Schmidt concluded. "There just aren't enough spots for everyone. In fact, it would be more challenging to pick a second team than the first team."
Second team: Sean O'Mara, Benet; Kyle Davis, Morgan Park; Alvin Ellis, De La Salle; Jalen Brunson, Stevenson; Miles Simelton, Oswego.
Third team: Victor Law, St. Rita; Malachi Nix, Niles North; David Cohn, York; L.J. Peak, Whitney Young; Kendall Pollard, Simeon.
Fourth team: Kendrick Nunn, Simeon; Paul White, Whitney Young; Alex Majewski, Brother Rice; Paris Lee, Proviso East; Ore Arogundade, St. Viator.
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