Whitney Young's Harper could be Prep POTY

699748.png

Whitney Young's Harper could be Prep POTY

How good is Whitney Young's Linnae Harper?

There are five female finalists for the Dr. James Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award for 2012. Four of them are seniors. Harper is the only junior.

Since the male and female awards were first presented in 1987, only one Chicago area player has been honored. Naperville Central's Candace Parker won in 2003 and 2004.

Now Harper, a 5-foot-7 guard, is being touted as the No. 1 player in the nation in the girls' class of 2013. Just as Simeon's Jabari Parker is being acclaimed as the nation's No. 1 player in the boys' class of 2013.

Would you believe they used to be teammates?

Linnae and Jabari were classmates from first through eighth grades. In eighth grade, they played together on a black elementary school team that almost won a city championship. But Linnae was forced to play in two tournaments in one day, one for girls and one for boys.

"I had a girls tournament at Montini in Lombard. Then I went to the boys tournament at Whitney Young," she recalled. "We were behind 28-9 when I got there. We were playing Beasley, the No. 1 team in the city, with Tommy Hamilton. I did whatever I could do to get us back in the game. We lost by three points."

Competing against boys is what toughened her resolve, sharpened her skills and gave her an edge. Her mother wanted her to be a dancer but it wasn't a fit for her. At 6, she decided she liked basketball. In those days, there was only one way to play the game.

"I used to watch the boys play at Avalon Park. I went there every day after school. When I was little, there were no girls teams around. I had to play with the boys or I couldn't play at all," she said.

"Playing with the boys taught me how to play the game, how to become a better player. Then when I played with the girls, it eased the pressure on me. At first, the boys didn't care if I was there and didn't guard me. But then they realized I had an impact on my team."

Harper has had an impact ever since. She had 14 points and 14 rebounds as Whitney Young defeated Edwardsville 63-51 for the Class 4A championship. The Dolphins (34-0) became the first large school to complete an unbeaten season since Peoria Richwoods in 2005.

"She does a lot of things. She isn't one-dimensional. She can score, rebound, defend, pass and steal. She fills an entire stat sheet. No guard in the country in her class can do that," said Whitney Young coach Corry Irvin.

"She is so physically strong. She can post and rebound. Her 15-foot range game is better than anyone else. She will figure out a way to get anything done the team needs to win, something that is very rare."

For the record, Harper averaged 19 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two steals per game. With a year to play -- and to get even better -- she already has accumulated scholarship offers from many major Division I programs, including Notre Dame, Connecticut, DePaul, Kentucky, Ohio State, Miami, Louisville, UCLA and South Carolina.

Steve Tucker, the former high school sports editor of the Chicago Sun-Times who knows more about girls basketball than anyone you know, said Harper could be the No. 1 player in the nation in 2012-13 and could be better than Bolingbrook's Ariel Massengale, last year's Ms. Basketball in Illinois who currently is a starter at Tennessee.

"I never remember seeing a guard of her size as strong as she is and with the ability to rebound," Tucker said. "Is she better than Massengale? She does more things. She can run a team, play inside or outside, defend, handle the ball, rebound and pass. She knows the game better than any young kid I have seen. She has such a high basketball IQ for knowing what to do and when to do it. She is physically mature."

Harper is flattered by comparisons to Massengale but she is quick to remind everyone that their games are different. "I'm just trying to be the best player I can be. I'm not trying to compare myself to anyone else," she said.

Irvin knew of Harper early on because Linnae's mother attended Julian High School with Corry's husband. Irvin saw the youngster play for the first time as a sixth grader and was immediately impressed by her toughness on the court. "She played post on her grade school team. She was stronger than everyone else," the coach said.

It didn't take her long to realize she had a special talent. As a freshman, she had a career high of 25 points and 17 rebounds as Whitney Young ousted Marian Catholic in the supersectional.

"That's when the light went off. It didn't hit me until then," she said. "I realized I wasn't an ordinary freshman. I had something more. After that game, I came in with an entirely different attitude. It made me realize I could play at an elite level. But I had to play hard in every game. I had to think I had a junior or senior mentality to survive."

The last two years were especially frustrating, however. Whitney Young qualified for the Final Four but had to settle for second and fourth. The Dolphins lost to Bolingbrook in the 2010 state final, then lost to Bolingbrook in overtime in the semifinals in 2011. So it was particularly satisfying to beat Bolingbrook in four overtimes in this year's supersectional.

"It hurt a lot to lose as a freshman but I realized I had three more years to get better and get a ring. But it hurt really bad last year. It took a few days to get over the pain. But I knew it couldn't hold us back," Harper said.

"This year, a lot of people doubted us. We wanted to prove we could win. A majority of the players had played together in the summer for four or five years. But they had never played together as a team before. In the beginning, there were some differences but we sorted them out at the end. It feels good this year to know that we worked hard every day I practice and sacrificed so much to win state."

Harper isn't done yet. Her resume, which already includes a gold-medal winning performance on USA Basketball's Under-16 team last summer, will add more glowing evaluations. Her stock will continue to rise during AAU competition this summer and more major colleges will express interest.

"I still have to complete my game," she said. "I never would have thought I would get this far. It puts more pressure on me. When you get to the top, you have to keep working harder to keep your spot because other players are working as hard and trying to replace you or get to the top."

How much better can she get? She plans to work on her ball-handling to handle more point guard duties, extend her jump shot range, improve her three-point shooting and her mid-range jumper. Oh, and don't forget to work on her footwork and improve her defensive skills.

"I want to add something to my game so when scouts see me, they'll have something else to worry about," she said. "I am very competitive. I like to play when it is tough and be in different situations and pull through. I like to compete all the time. Every time I'm on the court I try to give my all.

It sure beats dancing.

AP Preps boys basketball poll: Week 13

AP Preps boys basketball poll: Week 13

Here are the latest rankings of Illinois high school basketball teams in each class, according to an Associated Press panel of sportswriters.

Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Edwardsville (8) 25-1 97 2
2 Bolingbrook (1) 23-1 75 1
3 Simeon 24-3 71 4
4 Evanston Township 23-3 66 T8
5 Fremd (1) 25-0 65 5
6 Curie 23-3 50 3
7 Wheaton Warrenville South 26-1 39 7
8 Whitney Young 20-7 27 6
9 Joliet West 22-3 21 10
10 East Moline United 22-6 9 NR

Others receiving votes: Rockford Boylan 7, East St. Louis 7, Geneva 6, Willowbrook 4, Algonquin (Jacobs) 2, Lincoln Way East 2, Lisle (Benet Academy) 1, Danville 1.

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Morgan Park (6) 19-6 94 1
2 Fenwick (2) 23-4 90 2
3 Springfield Lanphier (2) 21-3 84 3
4 Bloomington 20-4 67 4
5 North Lawndale 20-6 58 5
6 Benton 27-2 43 6
7 Effingham 23-3 35 8
8 Washington 21-5 30 9
9 Breese Central 23-4 14 7
10 Bogan 16-7 12 10

Others receiving votes: Springfield Southeast 11, Cahokia 6, Farragut 3, Burlington Central 2, Aurora Central Catholic 1.

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Quincy Notre Dame (7) 24-2 104 1
2 Chicago Uplift (2) 21-5 96 2
3 Orr (2) 16-5 93 3
4 Teutopolis 25-3 78 4
5 Alton Marquette 26-3 59 5
6 Pinckneyville 26-2 38 8
7 Tremont 23-3 34 6
8 Rockridge 19-5 31 10
9 Mt. Carmel 22-4 18 7
10 Pittsfield 24-2 14 NR

Other receiving votes: DePaul College Prep 9, Illini Bluffs 6, Pleasant Plains 5, Eldorado 5, Waterloo Gibault 3, Hoopeston 3, Sterling Newman 3, Petersburg PORTA 3, Williamsville 2, Chicago-University 1.

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1 Colfax Ridgeview (7) 26-1 96 1
2 Okawville (2) 26-3 91 2
3 Chicago Hope Academy 23-4 71 4
4 Quest Academy (1) 25-4 67 3
5 Newark 23-3 57 5
6 Annawan 27-3 50 7
7 East Dubuque 27-2 45 6
8 DePue 24-3 27 9
9 Harvest Christian Academy 23-4 20 10
10 Effingham St. Anthony 23-5 9 8

Others receiving votes: Patoka 5, Nokomis 4, Freeport (Aquin) 3, Crab Orchard 2, Mendon Unity 2, Elverado 1.

Cubs: Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon finally make peace

Cubs: Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon finally make peace

MESA, Ariz. – Over red wine, Miguel Montero and Joe Maddon ended their cold war on Monday night, dining at Andreoli Italian Grocer and vowing to work together as the Cubs try to defend their World Series title.  
 
The Montero-Maddon dynamic had been one of the awkward, lingering storylines in a feel-good camp after the veteran catcher questioned the star manager's communication skills and in-game decisions during a WMVP-AM 1000 interview – on the same day as the championship parade and Grant Park rally.

"I got a lot off my chest," Montero said Tuesday. "I care so much for the game. I care so much for the team. I'm here to win. And it's hard when you have that (weight) on your shoulders.
 
"I've never been a cancer (anywhere) that I played for all these years. And I'm not planning to be one of those guys."
 
Maddon requested the dinner meeting – quality assurance coach/ex-player Henry Blanco joined the peace summit as a neutral third party – while Montero picked the Scottsdale restaurant and suggested posting a photo of them toasting drinks on his Twitter account.  
 
"I want to let the people know that it's going to be a great year," Montero said.  

[SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here] 
 
Montero said he slept so much better that night and showed up for work at the Sloan Park complex the next morning with a new energy level. Montero, a two-time All-Star, stressed that he understands his role as a $14 million backup and a mentor to young catcher Willson Contreras. Montero offered to continue helping police the clubhouse – in exchange for Maddon keeping him more in the loop.   
 
"Whatever it takes me to help him," Montero said. "I was true with him when I said: ‘If you feel Willson needs a break and it's (Clayton) Kershaw pitching for the other team, put me in, I'm fine.'
 
"That's my job and I accept it. Just count on me for whatever. If we need to send a message out there to the players, I'm here for you, too. I can help you on that.
 
"If I do something that you don't like, just let me know. Just chew me out, whatever, I don't care. I'll take it like a man. It was a great time."
 
Montero had already told reporters that his comments on the radio weren't simply complaining about his own individual situation. Montero also spoke up for teammates frustrated by a perceived lack of communication and uncertainty over roles, though those behind-the-scenes issues appear to be cooling for now.
 
"We have a special team," Montero said. "We have a legitimate chance to win another championship. So in order to do that, we need to be together here. And I think we are now – and we're going to stay that way."