Local college hoops 2016-17 preview: Chicago State


Local college hoops 2016-17 preview: Chicago State

2015-16 Results: Last season was a tough one for Chicago State as it finished 4-28 and 0-14 in the WAC. The Cougars only mustered one win against a Division I opponent when they beat Western Illinois. With eight different players making double-digit starts, the team never found a rhythm as they lost 19 straight games to end the season.

Players to Watch: The good news for Chicago State is that some talent is returning. Leading scorer Fred Sims Jr., a former North Lawndale star, is back for his sophomore season after a promising freshman season. Sims averaged 10.9 points in only 20.7 minutes per game. Sims has to improve his shooting efficiency, but he's capable of scoring in bunches. Senior wing Trayvon Palmer is also back after putting up 9.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Palmer is Chicago State's most productive player and a proven rebounder.

Key Storylines: Chicago State doesn't play a home game against a Division I opponent until Jan. 5 -- which is nearly two full months into the college basketball season. The Cougars start with 14 Division I games at road or neutral sites and finally begin the home slate with WAC conference opponent UT Rio Grand Valley. Chicago State still has two games against non-Division I opponents before 2017 but that schedule could prove to be very difficult. 

Newcomers to Track: Help is on the way this season in the form of junior college transfers as point guard Glen Burns and forward Deionte Simmons. The two juniors were teammates at Danville Area Community College last season and helped that team to a 24-8 record. Burns is a defensive-minded point guard who provides athleticism while Simmons shot 69 percent from the floor and was second-team all-conference, averaging 11.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Both figure to be rotation guys at Chicago State right away.

Season Outlook: Between the difficult schedule and last season's losing streak, just putting together wins and being competitive is the main goal for this team. Sims and Palmer were both productive last season and have a chance to be a decent duo to build around and the hope is that some of the newcomers step up. This is a rebuilding year for Chicago State but it at least has some players that will be in the program to play together the next few years.

Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment


Say it ain't so: DePaul commit Tyger Campbell reopens recruitment

It looks like it was too good to be true.

Tyger Campbell shocked the recruiting world when he committed to DePaul on May 8.

Less than four months later, Campbell has reopened his recruitment.

The four-star point guard out of La Lumiere High School in Indiana, who is the No. 66 prospect in the 2018 Class, took to Twitter Friday night to explain his decision.

One of Campbell's original draws to the Blue Demons was DePaul hiring Shane Heirman as an assistant coach. Heirman coached Campbell for two seasons at La Lumiere.

"I like DePaul and honestly my coach (Shane Heirman) just went there and we have a great connection and he's always had my back," Campbell told when he committed to the Blue Demons. "I like [DePaul] coach Dave Leitao, too. I like his program and he's an intelligent guy."

Campbell currently has offers from a handful of D1 schools, including Illinois, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Purdue, SMU, Memphis and Tennessee.

Upset alert? Why a confident UIC is challenging juggernaut Kentucky


Upset alert? Why a confident UIC is challenging juggernaut Kentucky

On the heels of a 12-win improvement, UIC basketball is riding confidently into the new season. 

And why shouldn't they be? Head coach Steve McClain returns a young, talented nucleus that's expected to challenge for a Horizon League championship and NCAA Tournament berth. 

In fact, the program is in such good shape that they thought: Let's play Kentucky. 

Yup, that's right. The UIC Flames will match up with the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena on Nov. 26, a necessary stage in development, according to McClain. 

“Every year you build your program, there’s steps you have to take," McClain said. "When we got the opportunity to go to Kentucky, I think that’s the next level of exposure for our program.

"When you're chasing trying to be great, you gotta show your kids and show people what greatness looks like. I don't think anyone can argue what Kentucky has done, so I want to put our kids in that environment so they see what it is." 

The contrast between programs is severe. UIC hasn't made an NCAA Tournament since 2004. The Wildcats have made 11 since then. UIC has never advanced out of the first round at the Big Dance. Kentucky has eight National Championships. 

Even this upcoming season, as the Flames boast one of their most skilled teams in school history, none of them were ever touted like Kentucky's freshman class, which ranks No. 2 in the nation per ESPN. 

But the disparities in past successes don't seem to bother UIC. Instead, players, who were likely snubbed by bigger schools in recruitment, are excited about the opportunity to compete on a national stage that the Flames rarely see. 

“First I was like, ‘It’s about time we got someone like (Kentucky) on our schedule,’" said center Tai Odiase, one of the few seniors on the roster. "We’ve been trying to play bigger teams to showcase what we’re made of."

“I don’t see why you go into a place like that without a chip on your shoulder. You don’t go in there just to play basketball, we’re trying to win."

UIC will be heavy, heavy underdogs. There's no way around that. But there are certain spots where they may not be at such a disadvantage. 

On the defensive end, Odiase continued to terrorize guards and big men alike, finishing fifth in the NCAA with 2.9 blocks per game. The dynamic guard duo from "The Six," Godwin Boahen and Marcus Ottey, are quick enough to hang and both took a huge step down the stretch last season. Then there's the return of 2015-2016 Horizon League Newcomer of the Year Dikembe Dixson, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

"The doctors at times thought he was a freak of nature because he was back as quick as he was," McClain said.  

Still, it's a tune-up game for Kentucky, who also scheduled Kansas, UCLA and Louisville on their non-conference slate. But one team's expected walk through is another team's vital experience. 

"Our guys can walk in and see that on a given night, you can compete with anyone," McClain said. 

Given new athletic director Garrett Klassy's comments at his introductory press conference, it doesn't seem as if games like this are a one-hit wonder for UIC. 

“I am an aggressive scheduler," Klassy said. "I helped with the scheduling at George Washington. We’ll play anyone, anytime, anywhere.

"You want to measure yourself against the best. We have a lot of returning starters. It’ll be nice to go on the road, play a tough game and maybe sneak out an upset."