Bears

Hicks is better than advertised

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Hicks is better than advertised

OK, it's a foregone conclusion. Case closed. Everybody agrees. No debate whatsoever. All precincts have reported. Let the post-election party begin. No, this has nothing to do with the presidential race. It's all about Mr. Basketball and the winner is...Simeon's Jabari Parker.

Parker will be the first junior chosen since Illinois' player of the year award was introduced in 1981.

But what about Tony Hicks?

"Nobody in the state has had a better season than Tony Hicks, with the exception of Jabari Parker," St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare said. "He has meant so much to our team. He has kept our team together with all the injuries we had this year.

DeCesare may be biased, of course, but he might be right. Hicks is averaging 26 points per game against a bone-crusher schedule that includes four nationally ranked teams. He has had five 30-point games, eight 20-point games, is shooting 49-percent from the floor and 44.3 from beyond the three-point line.

In St. Rita's toughest games, the 6-foot-2 senior scored 26 points against New York's Christ the King, 31 and 17 in two victories over Catholic League rival De La Salle and 22 against St. Ignatius. On Saturday, the Mustangs (14-8) will test highly regarded New Trier.

Hicks is a good human-interest story, too. He has a 3.6 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, scored 27 on his ACT, ranks No. 60 in a class of 165 and is committed to the University of Pennsylvania.

"I have had a lot of coaches from BCS conferences who have watched our games and said to me that they missed the boat on Hicks, that they should have recruited him," DeCesare said. "If he continues his growth, he'll have a great career in the Ivy League. He could play in the Big 10. But Penn did their homework and Tony has no regrets. He'll get a chance to play great basketball and get a great education, too."

DeCesare said Division I colleges aren't the only ones who "missed the boat" on Hicks. "Scouting services didn't do their homework, either. The system isn't right. People listen to people who don't know anything about the game. Tony still is vastly underrated. He hasn't got his props for this year," the coach said.

One scouting service doesn't rank Hicks among the top 20 seniors in Illinois. But the same service ranks Hicks' teammate, A.J. Avery, who hasn't played this season because of a broken wrist, at No. 18. Go figure.

Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye rank Hicks among the top 15 players in the state in the class of 2012. "He is our choice as Player of the Year in the Catholic League. In our minds, he is an ideal mid-major recruit and a perfect fit for Penn. He has great scoring capability, is a tough-as-nails defender, a leader on the floor and a super young man to boot," they said.

Hicks was determined to rank among the best players in the state this season. He averaged 12 points per game as a sophomore and 16 as a junior. His goal was 20 as a senior. He didn't dream about averaging 26. But he was totally focused on basketball.

"He wanted to be one of the best players in the state this year--and he has done that," DeCesare said.

"I'm not surprised," Hicks said. "The coach preaches hard work and it is paying off. I never thought he would have as much faith in me to take as many shots as I take and get as many minutes as I have played.

"But I still think I am underrated. I try not to focus on it. But I feel if I am playing as I am, people will notice. I guess some people don't think I'm that good, until they see the statistics sheet.

"It is kind of funny to me. I know the local players real well and they give me respect. But the coaches and scouting services don't. I don't think about it. It is more important that the players think I am good and give me respect."

Hicks, who recently surpassed the 1,000-point milestone for his career, worked hard over the summer and accumulated 10 scholarship offers, including Penn, Loyola, South Florida, George Mason, Ohio and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In October, he chose Penn.

"I knew that was where I wanted to go after my first visit to the campus," he said. "The atmosphere felt like St. Rita. There was a lot of support, history and a great education."

He had a choice because more than a few college recruiters recognized his talent. "I am a completely different player from last year. Some people took me out of my game real easy last year. Now I have a feeling that no one can stop me offensively," he said.

"I took the game more seriously over the summer, knowing what I had to do to be better. I went to the recreation gym around the corner from my house every day, for 3-4 hours every day, all by myself, shooting, working on my ball-handling, working on my moves.

"I didn't have a set routine. I just picked up the ball and started working out. I didn't make any changes in my shot, just more repetitions. Everything has gotten that much better, including my pull-up jumper from 15 feet. I never worked so hard. I have a lot more confidence than last year."

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