Preps Talk

Benet's tough schedule preparing them for March

Benet's tough schedule preparing them for March

For the second consecutive season, Benet has been one of the best boys basketball programs in the area despite not having the kind of star talent we're accustomed to seeing in the top 25.

Last season's team nearly won the Class 4A state championship over Curie despite not having a Division I recruit. This year's version of the Redwings currently sits at No. 9 in the CSN Preps Power Rankings. Their impressive 11-3 start includes a runner-up finish at the loaded Pontiac Holiday Tournament in which Benet gave unbeaten No. 1 Simeon a close game for the title.

Benet has played one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the area this season and the East Suburban Catholic Conference is loaded again -- with three programs currently in the CSN Preps Power Rankings. And Benet has stayed in the top 10 in the rankings and been one of the top teams in the area -- for the second consecutive season -- despite not having a breakout Division I prospect.

"We have guys who have been through it a little bit," Benet head coach Gene Heidkamp said. "We have four guys who played in the state championship last year. Guys are battle-tested. But they're playing different roles now. I would have been disappointed if we weren't competitive."

Seniors like Jack Nolan and Liam Lyman played big minutes on last season's runner-up team and have blossomed into more mature two-way players with Nolan taking things to another level at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. While Nolan is the team's lead guard and best creator, Lyman is a knockdown shooting option who has improved his overall game. 

Junior Justin Enochs has also been solid while upgrading his role this season, becoming one of the team's defensive stoppers after being a reserve last year. The team's young big men and juniors have stepped up to form a nice rotation of players that is taking good shots and defending as Benet continues to look like an unselfish and seamless offense.

Benet's players certainly deserve a lot of credit for its position in the rankings early this season but Heidkamp has also tweaked his style of play to fit this roster a bit differently. These perimeter-oriented Redwings teams don't have star Division I post players like Frank Kaminsky or Sean O'Mara to work the ball inside to. 

"We rely a lot on perimeter shooting this year, Heidkamp said. "We've shot probably the highest number of threes since I've been here. But that's also a makeup of the perimeter players that we have."

[MORE: 21 Illinois basketball players nominated for McDonald's All American Games]

Heading into Martin Luther King weekend, Benet will have one of the toughest 24-hour stretches that any team will see all season. Friday night's ESCC road game at No. 24 St. Patrick is a tough enough test with how well the Shamrocks have played this season.

After the tough conference clash, the Redwings play in the Wheaton-Warrenville South tournament beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Benet's opponent, Hinsdale South, is unbeaten in the West Suburban Gold, and playing very good ball lately as junior forward Zion Griffin continues to blossom.

If Benet is lucky enough to survive Hinsdale South on 13 hours rest, they could get a second-round matchup with No. 10 Homewood-Flossmoor a few hours later at 4:30 p.m. That doesn't even factor Monday's two games in a loaded field that features seven teams that have been ranked at some point this season.

Benet has made tournament runs in various events the past two years, so they're accustomed to this sort of scheduling, but it is still a daunting challenge that will prepare this team for March. Since the Kaminsky and Sobolewski era, Benet has been able to play a tougher schedule that includes a lot of showcase events and tournaments that the program has used to its advantage.

"With non-conference we're always looking to schedule the tough teams because we think in the long run it will help us with two things," Heidkamp said. "We think it gives us the best chance to be competitive in March when we see so many styles of play and play so many good teams. And we also want to play the best programs that we can have our kids play against. And I think our kids really respond to that challenge."

This weekend will certainly be a major test for Benet and it should give them a good feel for the rigors of the postseason. Regardless of the results, Benet will have to brush themselves off quickly to prepare for the rest of the ESCC. Marist is still unbeaten at 18-0 this season and that is the first game Benet has to play once this weekend's tournament is done.

"Our goal is to continue to get better. We feel like if we can get through the difficulty of this schedule that is in front of us, at the end of the day no matter what happens, we're going to have a chance to be prepared for March," Heidkamp said. "It doesn't guarantee success in March. But when we look back on it, we'll know we were prepared. If it doesn't go our way, it's not because we took the easy road."

Edgy Tim's Week 4 analysis and picks

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NBC Sports Chicago

Edgy Tim's Week 4 analysis and picks

NBC Sports Chicago will have cameras covering the biggest high school football games across Chicagoland on the Week 4 edition of High School Lites, Friday at 11:00 p.m. Can Yorkville beat Joliet West and stay undefeated in the Southwest Prairie West conference? Southwest Suburban conference rivals Lincoln-Way East and Bolingbrook square off in another big matchup of top 10 teams. The last time IC Catholic Prep and Bishop McNamara squared off it was at the Class 4A state title game. Will this rematch serve as a preview for the 4A title game this November? This week we #SENDEDGY to cover Loyola playing at Mount Carmel. Can the Caravan remain undefeated at their new on campus facility, Carey Field? Also: Who do you have in this week's Viewers' Choice Game? CPL Illini Prairie State foes Payton and Clark do battle on the West Side.

Yorkville at Joliet West, 6:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Yorkville (3-0) is off to a strong start behind the arm of QB Josh Beetham. The senior has a great target in fellow upperclassman WR/S Cale Reeder (South Dakota) and a deep group of running backs. Don't overlook the Foxes' defense. The unit has allowed just 10 points in three games. Joliet West, coached by Bill Lech, stands at 0-3. That said, the Tigers have played the hardest Southwest Prairie crossover schedule so far in losses to Oswego, Minooka and Oswego East-- all undefeated. West will look to get the ground game going behind a big offensive line along and a running game led by junior RB Trenten Howland. Can the Tigers get the running game going this week? Can they find a way to derail the Yorkville offense?

EDGY's Pick: Yorkville 26 Joliet West 16

Schaumburg at Deerfield, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Schaumburg (2-1) has bounced back with two straight wins after a close 16-13 loss in the opening week to York. Coach Mark Stilling has a potent offense this fall, led by QB Luke Jessie and junior RB Mike DeGiola. Deerfield (2-1), with veteran head coach Steve Winiecki, is off to a strong start. They're coming off a 31-24 double-overtime loss to Rolling Meadows. The Warriors will rely on the arm of QB Ryan Nagelbach. RB/DE Colin Ward has been an impact player on both sides of the football. Can Deerfield limit the Saxons' big play abilities? Can Schaumburg get the job done on the road?

EDGY's Pick: Schaumburg 31 Deerfield 30 OT

(1) Lincoln-Way East at (9) Bolingbrook, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Top-ranked Lincoln-Way East (3-0) is off and running. The Griffins boast another deep, talented roster. Senior QB Kyle Quinn runs the LWE offensive, a group that's stacked with skills and speed. They're highlighted by senior four star-ranked WR/RB AJ Henning (Michigan). They have a stable of quality running backs and an experienced offensive line. On defense, they have playmakers in senior DE Sean McLaughlin (Northwestern) and senior DE Adrain Wilson (Bowling Green). Bolingbrook (3-0) and head coach John Ivlow has the Raiders playing well. The Raiders will establish the run game with senior QB Devyn Suggs (Yale), with senior OL John Williams (Cincinnati) out in front. Don't overlook senior WR Antonio King plus and TE Trevor Borland (Buffalo). The 'Brook defense also hsa speed and playmakers. Junior S Justin Walters is already drawing major Power Five scholarship offers and recruiting attention. Can the East defense take away the Raiders running game? Can the Bolingbrook defense limit the big plays? Could the kicking game/special teams be a big factor here?

EDGY's Pick: Lincoln Way East 28 Bolingbrook 21

IC Catholic Prep at Bishop McNamara, 7:15 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Defending Class 4A state champion IC Catholic Prep, coached by Bill Krefft, has a certain familiarity with Metro Suburban Blue foe Bishop Mac. The Knights have relied on a one-two punch of senior QB Danny Cronin's running and passing abilities. Junior Kyle Franklin remains one of the top running backs in Chicagoland. Bishop McNamara and Hall of Fame head coach Rich Zinnani also boasts a one-two punch on offense with QB Ty Hiller along with RB/LB Owen Jackson. RB Manny Harris is another name to watch for the Fighting Irish. Last possession wins?
 
EDGY's Pick: IC Catholic Prep 35 Bishop McNamara 34

Raby at Phillips, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Raby is coming off a 35-2 loss to Solorio last week. Head coach DeAngelo DeReef and the Raiders will need to be able to get the offense going against CPL powerhouse Phillips at Mandrake Park Friday night. Phillips head coach Troy McAllister is looking to get another strong performance this season from his Wildcats. QB Terryon Thrower has been a key playmaker through the first three games. They feature a deep backfield that includes senior RB Rashaun Thompson and RB Tyler Clark. Senior ATH Ronald Pledger (Western Michigan) is another impact player with big play potential. 

EDGY's Pick: Phillips 46 Raby 6

(25) Notre Dame at (10) Providence, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Notre Dame made a big statement last week in beating Marist 21-14. The Dons, with Hall of Fame head coach Mike Hennessey, utilized a strong defensive effort along with steady play from junior QB Anthony Sayles and senior RB Julian Schurr in the victory. Providence Catholic also pulled off an impressive 34-22 road win over Brother Rice last Friday. Junior QB Kevin Conway ran for three touchdowns and passed for. The Celtics also limited the Crusaders offense and made key stops when they were needed. Can the Notre Dame defense slow down a balanced Providence offense-- and also defend the very large Celtics receiving group? Can Providence get the football back from the Dons' ball control offense? 

EDGY's Pick: Providence Catholic 21 Notre Dame 13

(2) Loyola at (7) Mount Carmel, 7:30 p.m. #SENDEDGY 

EDGY's Take: Loyola was able to pull away last Saturday in beating St. Rita 24-7. The Ramblers offense got a big game from RB Vaughn Pemberton. Coach John Holocek's defense forced a handful of key turnovers in the win. Mount Carmel is coming off a solid 27-20 win over Montini. Junior QB Justin Lynch continues to impress this season running the Caravan's offense. Junior RB/LB Kenenna Odeluga and senior OL/DL Jalen Grant are names to watch for the guys in brown and white. Can the Loyola offense get on track early and often? Can Mount Carmel's spread offense dent the always tough Loyola defense? Should be a good one on the South Side.

EDGY's Pick: Loyola 27 Mount Carmel 21

Marist at (13) Brother Rice, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Forget the fact that both teams are coming off tough Week 3 losses. Nothing gets the blood boiling more on either sideline than the annual South Side Super Bowl when Marist takes on Brother Rice in the Battle of Pulaski Road. Marist (2-1) and head coach Ron Dawczak will utilize the Redhawks' dual quarterback system with senior Hayden Mikesell and sophomore QB Dontrell Jackson Jr. Senior WR AJ Markett should make play and junior OL Pat Coogan anchors the line. Brother Rice (2-1) has a big time game breaker in junior RB Willie Shaw. The Crusaders have struggled to get the play-action passing game in gear. The Rice defense has been a strength. Senior DT Justin Jefferson, senior S Giacomo Iraci and junior ILB Myles Jones will make the tackle sheet often. Can Brother Rice get its passing game in gear? Can the Marist offense kick things into a higher gear?

EDGY's Pick: Brother Rice 21 Marist 20

Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Payton vs Clark at Rockne Stadium, Thursday 4:15 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Clark head coach Kevin Simmons has the Eagles (2-1) playing well so far this season. Their only loss came in Week 2 to suburban St. Viator. Payton (3-0) is also rolling. The Grizzles have a deep and experienced roster, led by senior QB Sage Schlinder along with RB/DB Damien Goodman. Can Clark's defense slow down an explosive Payton offense? A win here is big for either side. It's shaping up to be a four team race (Back of the Yards and Kenwood are the others) in the CPL Illini Prairie State conference this season.  

EDGY's Pick: Payton 35 Clark 27

With commitment to Duke, Whitney Young's D.J. Steward becomes Chicago's biggest high school star since Jalen Brunson

With commitment to Duke, Whitney Young's D.J. Steward becomes Chicago's biggest high school star since Jalen Brunson

Whitney Young senior guard DJ Steward ended his whirlwind recruitment on Wednesday as he verbally committed to Duke and head coach Mike Krzyzewski with a video announcement on Twitter.

The 6-foot-3 Steward gives the Blue Devils a major perimeter threat who can score, handle and distribute as he's coming off of a monster summer that saw him push for five-star national status. Steward becomes the second Whitney Young star this decade to commit to the Blue Devils, following in the footsteps of former Dolphins center Jahlil Okafor. While Okafor was a known national prospect as a high school freshman who eventually helped Duke to a national championship in his only season in Durham, Steward had to work hard over the summer before his senior year to earn an offer from the blueblood program.

Duke only showed interest in Steward during his early years but picked things up rapidly after the Nike Peach Jam in early July when they offered Steward a scholarship. Steward's recruitment was effectively sealed last week when Krzyzewski and three Duke assistant coaches -- including lead recruiter and former Glenbrook North star Jon Scheyer -- showed up to Whitney Young's first open gym of the fall. An official visit to Durham last weekend ended Steward's recruitment despite long-standing interest from schools like Illinois, Louisville and Texas -- among many others.

As Duke and Krzyzewski have been engaged in a decade-long battle with Kentucky and head coach John Calipari over five-star prospects and the nation's top college basketball recruiting class, the Chicagoland area hasn't seen much of the nation's top two recruiting programs.

Steward's commitment changes things. His pledge to Duke makes him the Chicagoland area's biggest high school basketball star since Jalen Brunson graduated from Stevenson in 2015. 

Brunson was the state's last McDonald's All-American in 2015 as the state of Illinois has seen an unprecedented drought with top-flight basketball talent the past few years. Other area stars have committed to big programs and been ranked in the national top 100. But the name-brand of Duke Basketball and Coach K resonates with even the most casual of sports fans. 

The commitment to Duke from Steward, along with Whitney Young's status as perhaps the state's best team this season, should lead to a lot of excitement from area basketball fans. The Dolphins will be a hot ticket in their numerous showcase games. It also helps that Steward has been a known varsity performer since his freshman season at Fenwick. In his first season of varsity basketball, Steward became an instant must-see attraction after a perfect 10-for-10 shooting performance in a Class 3A state-title game loss to Morgan Park. Steward is one of the rare players to make a major impact in both the Chicago Catholic League and Chicago Public League during his high school career.

An NBC Sports Chicago All-Area selection during his sophomore season at Fenwick and junior season at Whitney Young (following his transfer), Steward has positioned himself as the favorite to win Mr. Basketball entering his final season. If Steward can complete his high school career with a state title -- which has eluded him to this point -- then he'll have one of the most storied careers in recent IHSA history thanks to his big numbers, winning ways and national reputation.

Coupled with Morgan Park senior guard Adam Miller's monster junior season (and lofty national ranking of his own) and it could be one of the most memorable seasons of basketball in the Chicago Public League in the past decade.