Preps Talk

Who's best in 3A? Peoria or Lanphier?

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Who's best in 3A? Peoria or Lanphier?

While Chicagoans are anxious to see a SimeonProviso East match-up for the Class 4A championship, downstaters are eager to see a Peoria CentralSpringfield Lanphier duel for the Class 3A title.

The two teams have history. Lanphier defeated Peoria Central 59-45 on Nov. 25 in the semifinals of the Decatur Turkey Tournament. On Feb. 17, Peoria Central defeated Lanphier 70-59.

Of course, they have to survive Friday's semifinals. Springfield Lanphier (28-3) meets North Chicago (24-6) and high scoring Aaron Simpson while Peoria Central (26-3) faces Hillcrest (26-5).

Lincoln coach Neil Alexander, who lost to Lanphier twice, said he doesn't think Lanphier can win the state title because it doesn't shoot well and lacks size. "But they are as quick as any team I've seen in a long time," he said.

Peoria Central has plenty of size and experience. In his eighth year, coach Dan Ruffin has five seniors who are seeking the fifth state title in school history, the first since Chuck Buescher's Shaun Livingston-led teams won in 2003 and 2004.

"We have a great combination of size and quickness," said Ruffin, whose team dispatched Rockford East 77-59 in Tuesday's supersectional. "Being a guy who went to school here (Peoria Central graduate of 1976) and played here and coached my whole career here, this is a continuation of what I did as a player--play hard, play fair and represent the school in the best fashion. We don't change things that work."

Ruffin has more size than Peoria Central has ever had with 6-foot-10 senior Kevin Jordan (13 ppg, 7 rpg), 6-foot-7 senior Trey Kellum (15 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-foot-5 senior Aldonis Foote (10 ppg). But the Lions' floor leader is 5-foot-6 senior point guard Jerrell White (5 ppg, 6 assists). And they get outside shooting from 6-foot-4 senior Shamar Hill (12 ppg).

If that isn't enough muscle, Ruffin also can call on 6-foot-5, 275-pound football star Josh Augusta.

"With its size and athleticism, this team has the potential to be the best team we've ever had," Ruffin said. "But its basketball know-how and IQ isn't has high as some of our other teams. We've been playing pretty good.
What I need to see is a continuation of execution. Then we'll have a great chance of success."

Peoria Central has managed to negotiate a very difficult path to the state finals. After losing to archrival Peoria Manual in the final game of the regular season, Peoria Central defeated Peoria Richwoods 75-62 for the regional title, then edged highly rated Washington 56-53 in overtime for the sectional crown. Earlier, Washington had eliminated Peoria Manual in a four-overtime thriller.

Springfield Lanphier, which won its only state title in 1983 but has been forced to settle for second-place finishes in 1977, 1985 and 2002, has come a long way since coach Chuck Shanklin's first team went 11-13 four years ago. A Springfield Southeast graduate of 1986, Shanklin has proven to skeptics and critics that the Lanphier administration made the right choice.

"I was the heir apparent at Southeast but Tim Goers, Steve Goers' son, got the job. I was taken aback by the chance to get the job at Lanphier,"said Shanklin, who a year ago was fighting for his job. "How was it going to go over with the Lanphier community? I wasn't sure they would accept me, even though I was from Springfield. I thought there would be a backlash coming from Southeast.

"Sure, there has been some backlash but winning cures a lot of ills. Outside of Chicago, Lanphier is a mecca of basketball. You won't go to many gyms that have as much tradition. There is a certain brand of success that we have to uphold. We've talked about it since day one. We've been able to bring back some lustre.

"I knew I had to have one group of kids who believed in me and my mission. If I had a group like that, we could do something special. This is that group. This group understands. It has a high basketball IQ. We have played a lot of good teams that were bigger than us and we have been able to hold our own."

What is Lanphier's edge? Quickness. "Everybody talks about how quick and fast we are. And they talk about our defense and athleticism. I'm not concerned with our lack of size. Our quickness has overcome our lack of size. We also make up for it with heart and our relentless play on defense and on the glass. I'm not surprised we are having a good season. The surprise is how good of a season we are having."

Last year's 17-11 team that lost to Morton by two in the regional final suffered from personal problems and lack of cohesion. The Lions played in four championship games and won only one. By contrast, this year's team has learned to play against good teams in tough environments.

Lanphier is led by 6-foot-1 sophomore Larry Austin Jr. (11 ppg, 4 assists), a promising point guard prospect who already has scholarship offers from Illinois, DePaul, Bradley and Memphis; 6-foot-1 senior Everett Clemons (21 ppg, 6 rpg), an All-State selection who is the son of former Springfield Calvary star Rennie Clemons; 5-foot-8 senior guard T.J. Davis (11 ppg); 6-foot-7 sophomore Chris Wallace; and 6-foot-3 senior A.J. Powers. Top reserves are 5-foot-8 senior guard Jaylen Briggity (10 ppg) and 6-foot-4 senior Lance Boozer (6 rpg).

"People keep comparing us to the old Peoria Manual state championship teams of the late 1990s with their defense and quickness and relentlessness," Shanklin said. "Are we that good? We'll see."

Three new teams enter latest Preps Power Rankings

Three new teams enter latest Preps Power Rankings

Three new teams enter the picture in the Preps Power Rankings this week as some shakeups occured due to a lot of ranked matchups. While many of the top teams remain the same, a lot of changes went down towards the back end of the rankings this week.

1. Simeon (17-3, 7-0) (1) -- The Wolverines made quick work out of Vocational and Brooks to maintain its conference lead. Big week ahead for Simeon as they play Dunbar, No. 3 Curie and head to Baltimore to face Polytechnic (MD). 

2. Orr (16-3, 7-0) (2) -- Orr took down North Lawndale and Westinghouse during the week to remain unbeaten in conference play. The Spartans face Marshall before hosting Vashon (MO) at their own shootout on Saturday. 

3. Curie (17-3, 7-0) (3) -- The Condors had another strong week, beating Hyde Park, Vocational and North Lawndale. Curie has another busy week as they play Brooks, Simeon and North Chicago. 

4. Whitney Young (17-4, 6-1) (4) -- Whitney Young handled a very tough week, taking down Uplift, North Lawndale and Bloomington. The Dolphins get another week of quality opponents as they play Westinghouse and Chaminade (MO). 

5. Bolingbrook (15-2, 4-0) (5) -- Huge week for Bolingbrook as they followed up a win over Morgan Park with wins over Joliet Central and Homewood-Flossmoor. The Raiders play Joliet West and Lincoln-Way East this week. 

6. Morgan Park (15-7, 6-2) (6) -- Adam Miller looked like a potential star as the sophomore made nine three-pointers in a Morgan Park win over Fenwick. The Mustangs have been without Ayo Dosunmu and Tamell Pearson but still look like a top team. The Mustangs face Harlan and St. Frances (MD) this week. 

7. Niles North (18-2, 4-2) (10) -- Blowout win for the Vikings over crosstown rival Niles West as they get another conference game against Glenbrook South during the week.

8. Fenwick (14-6, 5-0) (8) --  Fenwick lost to Public League powers Simeon and Morgan Park but they remained unbeaten in the Catholic League with an overtime win over St. Rita. The Friars get a huge conference game this week when they take on DePaul Prep.

9. Marist (18-2, 3-1) (9) -- The RedHawks beat Brother Rice for a quality win before falling to Benet in overtime. Still looking like a major contender, Marist face Joliet Catholic this week.

10. Marian Catholic (14-3, 2-2) (12) -- The Spartans took down Notre Dame in ESCC play as they prepare to play St. Patrick during the upcoming week. 

11. DePaul (18-4, 3-1) (13) -- DePaul Prep continues to pick up quality wins as they beat St. Joseph and Evanston during the weekend. The Rams have a huge Catholic League game against Fenwick during the week.

12. Loyola (17-3, 4-1) (14) -- Loyola held off St. Ignatius for a close win as they played in the first high school game at Wintrust Arena. The Ramblers play De La Salle and Detroit (Jesuit) this week. 

13. Evanston (14-4, 5-1) (11) -- The Wildkits needed overtime to outlast Glenbrook South before falling to DePaul Prep. Evanston has another busy week ahead as they play Maine South and Geneva. 

14. Oak Park-River Forest (14-4, 5-0) (15) -- The Huskies bounced back with a conference win over Hinsdale Central as they've easily looked like the best team in the West Suburban this season. OPRF plays Proviso West and Lyons this week. 

15. Hillcrest (16-4, 8-0) (16) -- Making quick work of Tinley Park in South Suburban play, the Hawks remain undefeated in the league. Hillcrest gets T.F. South and Homewood-Flossmoor next week. 

16. Lincoln Park (14-5, 6-2) (8) -- Lincoln Park dropped a conference game to Farragut and won a close game against Marshall as they prepare to face La Lumiere (IN), one of the premier high school teams in the country. 

17. New Trier (14-3, 4-1) (21) -- The Trevians had the week off after Monday as they try to regroup to face Niles West and St. Viator during the week. New Trier is still right in the mix in the CSL South race.

18. Benet (15-4, 3-1) (24) -- Fresh off of winning a Martin Luther King event at Wheaton Warrenville South, the Redwings took down Marist in overtime in ESCC play. Benet has Nazareth coming up in ESCC play this week.

19. West Aurora (14-4, 5-0) (25) -- Another solid week for West Aurora as they took down Bartlett in conference play before rolling past a talented Romeoville team. The Blackhawks have Glenbard East this week before facing Willowbrook at the Batavia Night of Hoops. 

20. Joliet Central (15-3, 8-0) (18) -- Tough loss for Joliet Central as they fell to a red-hot Bolingbrook team. The Steelmen came back with a double-digit win over crosstown rival Joliet West. Joliet Central hosts Romeoville in a huge Southwest Prairie clash of unbeatens this week while also playing Lincoln-Way East this weekend. 

21. Wheaton Warrenville South (16-4, 7-1) (NR) -- Impressive DuPage Valley Conference win for the Tigers over Naperville North as they are tied for first in the league. Wheaton Warrenville South has a road game at Wheaton North before taking on Lake Park in conference play this week.

22. North Lawndale (13-7, 3-4) (17) -- Tough week for the Phoenix as they dropped three games to top-5 teams. North Lawndale played Orr to the limit in a four-point loss before losing to Whitney Young in overtime. Curie also got the best of the Phoenix with a weekend clash. North Lawndale gets another tough game against Uplift this week.

23. Naperville North (15-2, 7-1) -- The Huskies dropped a DuPage Valley Conference clash against Wheaton Warrenville South as the league continues to be one of the toughest to win in the suburbs. Naperville North has winnable game coming up this week against Metea Valley as they try to stay with the Tigers. 

24. St. Viator (16-4, 4-0) (NR) -- With four consecutive double-digit wins and the only unbeaten conference record in the loaded ESCC, the Lions re-enter the Power Rankings. St. Viator has plenty of quality wins this season, including Marian Catholic, Benet, Prospect, Conant and Libertyville. 

25. Aurora Christian (16-0, 6-0) (NR) -- The area's only remaining unbeaten team, Aurora Christian joins the Power Rankings after a solid win over Mooseheart during the week. Our Team of the Week last week, senior Jake Wolfe leads Aurora Christian as the Lipscomb commit is an All-Area candidate.

Meet the Prospects: A.J. Puckett

Meet the Prospects: A.J. Puckett

The White Sox rebuild is in full swing. While it might still be a year or two before the big league team is expected to start competing for championships, the minor leagues are stocked with highly touted talent fans will be eagerly following in 2018. With that in mind, it's time to Meet the Prospects and get to know the future of the South Side.

A.J. Puckett

Puckett, the 22-year-old right-handed hurler, came over in one of Rick Hahn's lower-profile moves last summer. While trades with the Cubs and New York Yankees brought back high-profile prospects like Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and Blake Rutherford, an under-the-radar July move that sent Melky Cabrera to the Kansas City Royals fetched Puckett and left-handed pitcher Andre Davis to bolster the rebuilding effort.

A California native, Puckett was a second-round pick of the Royals in the 2016 draft. He made 11 starts at Class A Lexington in 2016, posting a 3.66 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 51.2 innings of work. Prior to last summer's trade, Puckett made 20 starts for Class A Wilmington, turning in a 3.90 ERA to go with 98 strikeouts in 108.1 innings. After joining the White Sox organization, he made five starts at Class A Winston-Salem, where he had a 4.28 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 27.1 innings.

As of their most recent rankings, MLB Pipeline had Puckett rated as the No. 23 prospect in the White Sox organization.

Get to know Puckett in the video above.