Preps Talk

Will Williams choose to stay at Bloom?

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Will Williams choose to stay at Bloom?

This is Jasper Williams' 10th year as head basketball coach at Bloom in Chicago Heights. And it could be his last...unless someone or something comes along to persuade him to remain on the job.

"I'm retiring from teaching after 35 years. This is it," Williams said. "I probably won't coach next year. I just want to do other things, spend time with my family, do some traveling. If the administration asks me to stick around, I might consider another year or two."

Williams is a 1972 graduate of Parker (now Robeson), where he played with Bo Ellis and Steve Washington. He joined Bob Sullivan's staff at Thornridge in 1982, then served as Mike Flaherty's assistant for 20 years before moving to Bloom.

Last year, his 28-5 team finished fourth in Class 4A. This year's team might be better. And next year? Williams describes 6-foot-3 junior Jared Johnson as "the next great player at Bloom."

That might be enough to persuade Williams to stick around for a year or two.

The Blazing Trojans, led by 6-foot-4 senior Johnny Griffin and 6-foot senior Dejahown Freeman, are 13-3 going into Friday night's game against Kankakee.

Last Friday, they crushed highly regarded Crete-Monee 61-45 in a game that Williams said "will show us how good we are." Griffin scored 22 points and 6-foot-3 senior Nhyree Mitchell had 12. "For four quarters, this was our best game. We just need to keep building on this," the coach said.

On Tuesday, they dismantled Joliet Central 55-34 as Zerrell Jackson had 11 points and four steals, James Coleman had 10 points and five rebounds and Griffin had eight points and nine rebounds.

"This team has the potential to be as good or better than last year," Williams said. "We only have one starter back but four kids saw quality playing time. If we come together and accept our roles. We could do well like last year. We had no ego problems last year. We haven't got to that point yet this season but I see improvement.

"I expected us to be further along this year at this point. The strength of this team is we defend well and we have the potential to be an exceptional rebounding team with no one taller than 6-foot-5. This team has more guys who can score quality points. Last year, only three guys scored."

Last year's powerhouse was led by Donald Moore and Lejavius Johnson, who combined for 25 points per game. This year's squad features Griffin (12 ppg, 9 rpg), Freeman (14 ppg), Mitchell (7 ppg), 5-foot-10 junior point guard Zerrell Jackson (7 ppg, 5 assists) and 6-foot-3 junior center James Coleman (5 ppg, 5 rpg). Johnson (5 ppg) and 6-foot-3 senior Jateryn Dejareaux come off the bench.

"Freeman should have more assists and Jackson must be better on defense," Williams said. "I knew they would be Johnson and Moore offensively but I thought they'd be better on defense."

At tradition-rich Bloom, there is always someone waiting to step up. Job security always is at stake. Freeman backed up Moore and Johnson last year Dejareaux was the starting center a year go but struggled early this season and Coleman took his spot.

"At Bloom, we like to keep underclassmen in the starting lineup to build for next year," Williams said.

Griffin knows all about the tradition. "What I think about is the earlier teams and how good they used to be, the great players they used to have and the conference and Thornton," he said.

As the leader of this year's team, he thinks last year's experience will be a big plus as they prepare to make a return trip to Peoria.

"Last year, everybody had a role on the team and knew what it was," Griffin said. "We jelled, had good chemistry and started 13-0. Everyone knew who the scorers were and who to get the ball to at the end of a game. And the main thing was to play defense.

"It was a good experience at Peoria. Now we know what it takes to get back down there. I'm the leader this year and I have to push my teammates.

"We know our roles now. It took this team some time to find them out. But in the second half of the season, we know what is expected of everyone."

Bloom has some advantages that give Griffin & Co. an edge over most opponents. "We have the most athletic team in the suburbs and one of the best rebounding teams in the suburbs. Everyone is over 6-foot tall and everyone plays hard and defends," Griffin said.

The leadership role isn't new to Griffin. A year ago, he was the team captain. But he said he was ready to handle it when Williams approached him with the important assignment which is usually given to a point guard.

"As the leader, I have to be the finisher. I have to be aggressive and rebound on both ends of the court," he said. "I have to keep my teammates going and be an example for the team by working hard every day."

Previewing and predicting the IHSA State Football Championship games

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USA TODAY

Previewing and predicting the IHSA State Football Championship games

NBC Sports Chicago will have complete recaps and highlights from this weekend's IHSA State Football Championship games on High School Lites, Saturday at 11 p.m. Can anyone score when Lincoln-Way East takes on Loyola in Class 8A?  So who you got between Batavia and Lake Zurich? Can Nazareth Academy stun the defending Class 6A state champs in Prairie Ridge? Can Phillips bring home another state title trophy and beat Dunlap in 5A? Can Morris derail 4A state power Rochester? Can IC make the Cinderella story come to an end for 16 seeded Pleasant Plains in 3A? Who comes away with a win on Friday between Maroa-Forsyth and GCMS? Will it be the ground and pound Le-Win in 1A or are you more of a balanced offense fan of Tuscola?

Class 8A

Lincoln-Way East (13-0) vs. Loyola Academy (12-1) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium) Sat., Nov. 25, 7:00 pm

EDGY's Take: Both Lincoln-Way East and Loyola feature two of the state's top defenses along with strong quarterback play. QB Brendan Morrissey (2,458 yards of total offense with 29 combined TD's) leads a balanced offensive attack that also features senior RB Ryan Scianna (696 yards rushing) plus big-play ability from sophomore WR AJ Henning. Loyola has gotten a huge senior year from QB Quinn Boyle (2,695 yards of total offense 27 combined TD's) along with a committee of running backs plus senior WR James Joyce (50 catches for 621 yards 4TD's) and senior WR Rory Boos (37 catches 743 yards 10 TD's). So whose defense rises to the occasion? How healthy is East QB Brendan Morrissey? How healthy is Loyola overall? I fully expect a very tight and one turnover or big play could be a difference maker.

EDGY's Pick: Lincoln-Way East 17 Loyola 10

Class 7A

Batavia (12-1) vs. Lake Zurich (13-0) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium)  Sat., Nov. 25, 4:00 pm

EDGY's Take: Batavia and head coach Dennis Piron are in search of the Bulldogs' second state football title on Saturday. The Bulldogs will look toward a balanced offensive attack led by senior QB Riley Cooper (2,001 yards passing 27 touchdowns) along with a steady group of running backs along with a good sized offensive line including senior OT Nolan Eike (Central Michigan). The Batavia defense is also a big reason why they are in DeKalb on Saturday. Keep an eye on senior SS Michael Niemiec (120 tackles) along with junior ILB Luke Weerts plus junior OLB Michael Jansey. Lake Zurich and first year head coach Luke Mertens have been able to steer this football program past last year's hazing scandal and into the state title game led by a revamped offense and the always strong Bears defense. The Bears offense has opened up the passing game behind senior QB Evan Lewandowski (2,572 yards passing 26 TD's) plus a steady dose of the running game led by senior RB/LB Joey Stutzman (1,094 yards rushing 15 TD's) while the Lake Zurich defense has speed. Keep an eye on senior LB Jack Sanborn (Wisconsin commit). Can the Batavia defense lock down the Lake Zurich multi-threat offense? Can the Lake Zurich defense contain Batavia's QB Riley Cooper? 

EDGY's Pick: Lake Zurich 21 Batavia 13

Class 6A

Prairie Ridge (13-0) vs. Nazareth Academy (12-1) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium) Sat., Nov. 25, 1:00 pm

EDGY's Take: Prairie Ridge is looking to capture its second straight Class 6A state title and the school's third overall football championship on Saturday. The Wolves will put their fate in the hands of Iowa commit senior QB Samson Evans (1,957 yards rushing 36 TD's) along with a ground hugging power option attack. The Prairie Ridge defense has experience and also plenty of speed, and keep an eye on senior OL/DL Jeff Jenkins (Iowa commit) along with senior ILB Jacob Ommen and senior OLB Joe Perhats. Nazareth Academy and head coach Tim Racki has one of Chicagoland's youngest and most talented teams in 2017. The Road Runners will look for senior QB Bobby Grimes to get the ball into the hands of several playmakers including junior RB/DB Devin Blakely plus junior WR/DB Michael Love along with junior WR/S Diamond Evans. Nazareth Academy will also look towards its defense led by senior DT Isaiah Lee (Iowa State) and a unit that has both size and speed. Can the Road Runners defense contain Superman, aka Samson Evans? Can the Prairie Ridge defense match up and defend the multiple weapons from Nazareth on Saturday?

EDGY's Pick: Nazareth Academy 35 Prairie Ridge 34

Class 5A

Chicago (Phillips) (13-0) vs. Dunlap (13-0) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium) Sat., Nov. 25, 10:00 am

EDGY's Take: Phillips is looking to capture the school's second state football title on Saturday morning. The Wildcats will rely on their running game anchored by senior RB/LB Craig Elmore (1,814 yards rushing 22 TD's)  while the passing game is also a strength, led by QB J'Bore Gibbs (South Dakota State commit) along with a strong group of receivers including senior WR/S Fabian McCray plus junior TE Jahleel Billingsley and junior WR/DB Joseph Thompson. The Phillips defense has a great mix of size upfront, led by senior DT Queneil Morrisson (NIU commit) plus speed on the edges with senior DE Terrance Taylor (Toledo commit) and an athletic group of defensive backs. Dunlap has rolled this season behind a mix of senior RB/DB Luke Bennyhoff (2,092 yards rushing 32 TD's) along with a big play play-action passing game led by QB Myles Burks (1,526 yards passing 17 TD's) plus senior TE/LB Nick Mangieri (Northwestern commit). The Eagles defense has also been a huge key this season and the defensive line is a strength. Keep an eye on junior Josiah Miamen. Can Dunlap keep the Phillips defense off balanced? Can Phillips establish its running game on Saturday against a strong Dunlap defense? 

EDGY's Pick: Phillips 22 Dunlap 17

Class 4A

Morris (11-2) vs. Rochester (13-0) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium), Fri., Nov. 24, 7:00 pm

EDGY's Take: Morris and head coach Alan Thorson have a strong running game featuring senior RB/LB Kam Dransfeldt (1,679 yards rushing 20 TD's) and is led by a very large offensive line anchored by senior OL Nolan Feeney and senior OT Nathan Korte. The Redskins defense also has good size and speed upfront and will look towards senior team leading  tackler LB Kaden Laurie (118 tackles) plus senior DE/TE Tyler Spiezo. Rochester and head coach Derek Leonard is attempting to win the school's six state football title in seven years on Friday evening. Rochester senior QB Nic Baker (3,678 yards passing 52 TD's) leads a fast-paced Rockets shotgun spread offense that can beat opposing defense with both the run and the pass. The Rockets defense has also been very solid all season so keep an eye on senior LB Stephan McCree (63 solo tackles) plus senior LB/RB Nick Capriotti. Can Morris take the air out of the football, control time of possession and limit the Rochester offense's touches? Can the Morris defense contain the Rochester offense for four quarters?

EDGY's Pick: Rochester 37 Morris 21

Class 3A

 Elmhurst (IC Catholic) (12-1) vs. Pleasant Plains (10-3) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium), Fri., Nov. 24, 4:00 pm

EDGY's Take: Immaculate Conception and head coach Bill Krefft is looking for a repeat win on Friday for the 3A state title, but the path to DeKalb has been anything but easy. The Knights needed to replace standout QB Luke Ricobene after suffering a season ending injury early in the year. However the Knights reloaded quickly. Keep an eye on senior QB CJ West (1,831 yards passing 24 TD's) along with junior WR/DB Khalil Saunders and with his twin brother WR/LB Khali Saunders plus a strong running attack led by senior RB/DB Lazerick Eatman (1, 277 yards 19 TD's). Pleasant Plains had made IHSA football playoff history already as the first ever No. 16 seed in the current 1 through 16 seeded bracket to make it to the state final game. The Cardinals offense under head coach Bobby Walworth has been as balanced as they come with a strong running game featuring senior RB/LB Nik Samson (1,470 yards rushing  19 TD's) plus senior QB Ben Reinert (2,114 yards passing 25 TD's) has been extremely impressive all season. The Pleasant Plains defense is led by do it all senior LB/TE/P Tristen Tewes (129 tackles) and junior LB Jake Hermes. Can the IC defense contain the Pleasant Plains multiple weapons on offense? Can Pleasant Plains match the overall physicality from the Knights?

EDGY's Pick: Immaculate Conception 35 Pleasant Plains 21

Class 2A

Gibson City (G.C.-Melvin-Sibley) (13-0) vs. Maroa (M.-Forsyth) (12-1) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium) , Fri., Nov. 24, 1:00 pm

EDGY's Take: GCMS and head coach Mike Allen have relied this season on a strong running game along with a speedy and athletic squad on both sides of the football. The Falcons will hand the football off to either RB Mitch McNutt (1,550 yards rushing 29 TD's) or FB Jared Trantina (828 yards rushing 15 TD's)  while QB Nathan Garard might not throw it a ton, but when he does it's usually for a big gain. The Falcons defense has been outstanding all season long having allowed just 81 points over 13 games. Keep an eye on senior LB Luke Freehill (113 tackles) plus junior DL/LB Josh Bieich for the GCMS defense. Maroa Forsyth and veteran head coach Josh Jobst are back in the state title game for the second straight season and are making their 7th appearance over the past 12 years. The Trojans possess a high octane offense led by sophomore QB Ian Brenner (2,082 yards passing 23 TD's) along with RB Deondre Gregory (1,630 yards rushing 29 TD's) plus with several speedy and sure handed receivers. The Trojans defense is anchored by senior LB Tanner Falk plus  LB Aaron Inda. Can GCMS defense continue to lock down all comers including the Maroa powerful offense on Friday? Can the Maroa defense find an answer for the GCMS one-two punch of McNutt and Trantina?

EDGY's Pick: Maroa Forsyth 27 GCMS 21

Class 1A

 Lena (L.-Winslow) (13-0) vs. Tuscola (13-0) at DeKalb (Huskie Stadium) (map), Fri., Nov. 24, 10:00 am

EDGY's Take: Lena-Winslow and head coach Ric Arand are all about ground and pound on offense while the Panthers defense has been a strength all season long led by an impressive defensive line and back seven. Look for the Panthers to get senior FB/DB Rahveon Valentine (2,025 yards rushing 25 TD's)  involved early and often while sophomore RB/OLB Sean Ormiston and senior RB/LB Gabe Schwartz are also threats running the football. Senior QB Ty Christman (25 of 36 passes for 620 yards and 12 TD's) won't throw it a ton but is more than capable of keeping opposing defenses honest with play action passes. Tuscola is yet another familiar name in the IHSA state playoff field and the Warriors are a much more balanced offensive attack. Junior QB Luke Sluder (2,991 yards of total offense 38 TD's)  is a big time threat with the run and the pass while WR Dalton Hoel (45 catches for 1010 yards and 17 TD's) is Sluder's main target in the passing game. Tuscola also has good size upfront on both sides of the football and is anchored by senior OL/DL Hunter Woodard (6-foot-5, 285 pounds), who is verbally committed to Oklahoma State. Can Le-Win continue to run the football at will? Can the Tuscola defense keep the Le-Win offense on the sidelines and allow it's offense multiple touches?

EDGY's Pick: Lena-Winslow 35 Tuscola 24

Five unranked boys basketball teams to watch for

Five unranked boys basketball teams to watch for

The first week of the preseason Preps Power Rankings is always difficult to assess. There are plenty of teams who just missed the cut of the initial top 25. Below are a group of talented teams who should do enough to make their way into the Power Rankings at some point during the season.

Most of these teams have experience and star power, so watch for them in the next few weeks to see if they have strong starts to the season. 

DePaul Prep -- The Rams remain one of the major threats in the Catholic League this season as they return plenty of talent from a sectional finals team. Junior guard Perry Cowan and junior big man Pavle Pantovic make up a very solid one-two punch and sophomore guard Lance Mosley had some flashes of strong play during the summer. Seniors Spencer Cody and Anthony Papaioanou are steady contributors as well. The move up to Class 3A will be something to watch for with this team. Since the local Class 2A draw features Orr and Uplift, DePaul Prep might actually have an easier state tournament draw in the higher class.

St. Joseph -- There isn't one true star for the Chargers this season. Head coach Gene Pingatore has a lot of balance and experience but finding a go-to player could be the difference for St. Joseph this season. Senior Ahmad Muhammad will be asked to do a lot with the ball. Other returning seniors like Jalen and Jordan Boyd and Joffari Brown also have plenty of varsity experience. Losing junior point guard Marquise Walker to Curie definitely hurts. But not many teams in the state have four seniors who have already played in Peoria.

Geneva -- It was tough to leave the Vikings out of the preseason Power Rankings as they once again look like a major factor in the Upstate Eight River this season. New head coach Scott Hennig, a former assistant at Geneva, takes over for Phil Ralston (Glenbrook South) as he inherits a solid group of talent. Junior point guard Jack McDonald is an All-Area threat after a standout sophomore season. Another junior, guard Mitch Mascari, was one of the area's best three-point shooters last season. And Geneva also returns plenty of size, including 6-foot-6 senior Will Courter and promising 6-foot-7 sophomore Nate Santos. With the right blend of size and perimeter firepower, Geneva is a team to keep an eye on.

St. Viator -- Making the leap up to Class 4A this season, the Lions return some talented players from a team that made a surprising postseason run last season. St. Viator returns a Division I prospect in talented junior forward Jeremiah Hernandez while senior forward Peter Lambesis is also back. Finding stability at point guard could be the key to this season for the Lions as they have to replace J.R. Cison, who transferred to Lake Zurich. If junior Trey Calvin can step up, then St. Viator shouldn't miss much of a beat. The Lions already started the season with a solid win over Libertyville.

New Trier -- The most intriguing part about New Trier this season is the size on the interior as two junior big men have college aspirations. Ciaran Brayboy, a 6-foot-9 big man and Spencer Boehm a 6-foot-7 forward create one of the area's more talented frontcourts for the Trevians. The frontcourt is a plus and the backcourt, a senior-laden group, is also better and more experienced than last season. New Trier should crack the top 25 at some point this season.