Preps Talk

Brandon Weston's breakout game gives Morgan Park huge expectations

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Brandon Weston's breakout game gives Morgan Park huge expectations

Morgan Park head coach Nick Irvin lovingly calls junior wing Brandon Weston the "Brooklyn Brawler."

The New York borough -- where the 6-foot-4 Weston grew up and is originally from -- has a reputation for producing gritty ball players who aren't afraid of the big moment.

In his Chicago Public League debut on Monday night, during a massive showdown of city superpowers at Chicago State, the nationally-ranked Weston proved that he'll be a major force for the Mustangs this season as No. 1 Morgan Park held off No. 2 Whitney Young for a 61-59 season-opening win.

Weston finished with a team-high 18 points and 11 rebounds -- showcasing athleticism by attacking the rack at will and getting in passing lanes for the Mustangs. Perhaps most importantly, however, is Weston and his Morgan Park teammates stepping up during a sluggish shooting night from Mustangs star senior and Illinois commit Adam Miller.

Monday night's season-opening game was billed by many as a battle of Player of the Year candidates. The state's top two seniors, Miller and Whitney Young senior and Duke commit D.J. Steward, were the major pregame focus. The spotlight shined on Weston for much of the game though. The junior made an early impression by starting hot and maintaining a steady presence on both ends of the floor. Weston earned stripes from fickle Chicago basketball fans by regularly diving for loose balls and winning 50/50 plays.

Although Miller only shot 4-for-18 from the field with one three-pointer -- reduced to the role of playmaker and defender on an off-night where he changed his shoes at halftime because of discomfort -- it was Weston's intensity and natural scoring pop that picked up the Mustangs on Monday night during a hard-fought battle against a top-ranked team.

In falling short of a city and state title last season, Morgan Park's fatal flaw was finding consistent scoring pop if Miller wasn't rolling. But with Weston stepping up, and looking every bit like the four-star national prospect that many labeled him this summer, Morgan Park looks like the early favorite as the best team in Illinois following Monday's win.

"We tried to get him eligible real bad [last season]," Irvin said of Weston. "Because if we had him, I don't think anybody can beat us. Because he's a matchup nightmare."

Before Weston became Morgan Park's matchup nightmare on Monday, the junior had to endure a real-life nightmare during his sophomore season. Weston was ruled ineligible by the IHSA and was unable to play despite a lofty reputation.

Transferring from Lake Forest Academy to Morgan Park after moving to the city in December, Irvin and the Mustangs hoped they had a case for Weston to be eligible right away last season. The Caxys, despite being a high school in the Chicagoland area, are not full members of the IHSA. 

Morgan Park lobbied this point. Weston's eligibility case was still denied. 

One of the area's most talented players was reduced to being the best scout-team player in the state. Even as Morgan Park coaches raved about Weston's natural talent and upside once he joined the program midway through last season, all Weston could do was sit on the sidelines and watch games in street clothes.

"I would have never thought I would be in position to sit out and watch a whole season. It was just angering me so much because I could see how I was helping this team in so many different ways. So I was really just excited to get out there and play my game," Weston told NBC Sports Chicago.

"From day one, since the first day I transferred in, I've been in the gym with them every single day. Practicing, bonding with my teammates. We've been growing since day one."

When Morgan Park's 2019 season ended in the Class 3A state playoffs with a loss to eventual runner-up, and familiar Red-South rival Bogan, the core star trio of the Mustangs went to work playing together this spring and summer. Weston, Miller and senior point guard Marcus Watson played extended minutes with one another as teammates with both the Mustangs and the Mac Irvin Fire in the Nike EYBL.

The results of the trio playing together were eye-opening.

Watson led the EYBL in assists -- elevating into a high-major prospect and eventually signing with Wake Forest. Miller maintained his lofty national reputation with big scoring numbers as he picked Illinois over a host of high-major suitors. And Weston showed a good feel for his future high school teammates by complimenting them on both ends -- putting his name on national top-100 lists in the junior class with his strong play.

The Mac Irvin Fire finished 10-3 in the toughest shoe-company circuit in grassroots basketball -- making the acclaimed Nike Peach Jam in the process. The trio all earned national praise from scouts and college coaches. It also gave the group a chance to play with each other in high-leverage games against elite competition. 

"It's so good because Marcus knows what spots to hit me in. I know what shots Adam likes. So it's so easy to just play because I know what each of them can do," Weston said.

"It was good watching them play during the summer. I knew we had the ingredients to win with the four guys coming back," Irvin said, "With Isaiah [Burrell], B West, Marcus and Adam -- they're all grimey. They get after it and play hard."

Morgan Park has to rely on young players stepping up this season if the Mustangs are to hit their immense ceiling. Freshmen like guard Darrin Ames -- who hit a critical fourth-quarter three-pointer in the game's final minutes -- and forward Javonte Taylor were playing minutes in a close game against arguably the state's second best team.

But Irvin is comfortable with the stability of his three main scorers and Burrell being a defensive ace and all-around x-factor. The group regularly hangs out together away from the court and has grown close over the past year.

"It's on and off the court. We're best friends on the court, best friends off the court. I go to Marcus' house all the time. I chill with Ace all the time. So we're just constantly around each other," Weston said.

"It's always great to see guys that are real talented and play hard that hang out off the court. They hang off the court all the time. They're at each other's houses. Seeing them and everybody together, makes my job easier because they can hold their brothers accountable and that's what they do," Irvin said. 

"I call Marcus, he may not answer his phone. I call Adam, he might answer sometimes. But B West? If I call, he answers. And they're together a lot so I can usually reach all of them at once."

Irvin can breath a little bit easier this season knowing that Weston will answer if his number is called -- on and off the court. And with Weston's additional scoring pop added into the Morgan Park starting lineup this season, the Mustangs look every bit like the No. 1 team. 

 

IHSA moves football, boys soccer and girls volleyball to Spring 2021

IHSA moves football, boys soccer and girls volleyball to Spring 2021

February football will not just be limited to the Super Bowl. It’ll be coming to many Illinois high school football fields in 2021.

The IHSA Board announced Wednesday that the 2020-2021 sports calendar will be significantly altered, with football, boys soccer and girls volleyball moving to the Spring 2021 season, in conjunction with Governor J.B. Pritzker's guidelines on COVID-19 safety protocol.

Boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys and girls cross country and girls swimming and diving will play this fall. The season gets underway Aug. 10.

The winter sports schedule, which begins Nov. 16 and runs to Feb. 13, includes boys and girls basketball, wrestling, boys swimming and diving, competitive cheerleading, competitive dance, boys and girls bowling and girls gymnastics. Contests can begin on Nov. 30.

In spring season, which begins Feb. 15, football, boys soccer, girls volleyball, girls badminton, boys gymnastics and boys and girls water polo. Contests begin Mar. 1

The summer sports season, which starts May 3 and goes to June 26, includes baseball, softball, boys and girls track and field, girls soccer, boys volleyball, boys and girls lacrosse and boys tennis. Contests begin May 17.

“I applaud our Board of Directors for choosing a model that allows every student-athlete the opportunity for a modified season,” IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement. “This plan, like nearly every aspect of our current lives, remains fluid. Changes may come, and if they do, we will be agile while putting safety and students first.”

Pritzker announced a series of restrictions on high school sports, travel clubs, park district leagues and other adult recreational sports programs earlier this afternoon.

The guidelines, which go into effect on Aug. 15, will place sports into three risk levels: low, medium and high based on the amount of contact between athletes and their proximity during practices and game competition.

Lower-risk sports include badminton, baseball (if players can be at least six feet apart in dugouts or in bleachers; otherwise considered medium-risk), bass fishing (if room on boat permits social distancing), bowling, cross country (if teams are limited), golf, gymnastics, softball (same rules as baseball), swimming and diving (single lanes/single diving, no relays; otherwise it’s medium-risk), tennis and track and field (if delayed starts, every other lane and cleaning of equipment between usage otherwise medium-rosh).

Medium-risk sports include basketball, flag football/7-on-7 football, soccer, volleyball, water polo and wheelchair basketball.

High-risk sports include competitive cheerleading, competitive dance, football, hockey, lacrosse and wrestling.

In tandem with those guidelines, the measures also dictate four additional levels by which these sports can be played based on current public health statue, with level 1 allowing only no-contact outdoor practices and level 2 allowing intra-team scrimmages (but not competitive play). In level 3, intra-conference and intra-league play is allowed, with the possibility of state championship games for low-risk sports. Level 4 is with the least amount of restrictions, where inter-conference and interstate competition can occur, along with the other state championship games.

Lower risk sports are currently allowed to play in the first three levels, medium-risk sports are allowed to play in the first two levels and the high-risk sports are first-level only.

The 2019-20 IHSA calendar was thrust into uncertainty back on March 12 when the 1A and 2A boys basketball state finals were called off, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It was soon followed by the cancellation of the 3A and 4A boys hoops and the rest of the IHSA spring sports calendar.

Max Christie selects Michigan State over Duke, several Big Ten schools

Max Christie selects Michigan State over Duke, several Big Ten schools

Sparty Nation got another reason to flex. And it may have Coach K seeing green.

Max Christie, a five-star shooting guard (Rivals) and the top Illinois player in the Class of 2021, is headed to play for Michigan State and legendary head coach Tom Izzo. The Rolling Meadows High School product made his decision Tuesday in an interview with Fox’s Andy Katz.

“It just felt like it was a place that I was needed and a place I wanted to go to,” Christie said. “I think Coach Izzo and his staff and all my teammates there can push me to be the person I want to be, not just on, but off the court.”

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Christie selected Michigan State —his only official visit— over, namely, Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. Also on his list of potential choices were Villanova, Virginia, Purdue, Ohio State, Northwestern, Illinois and several others. While Christie is excited for Izzo to help improve his game, he also prides himself on his versatility and making an immediate impact.

“I think I can be a great facilitator and a great scorer,” Christie said. “I feel like I can do anything that Coach Izzo or the players need be to do if that means rebounding, pushing the ball, setting up an offense or coming off screens, I feel like I am versatile enough of anything that is asked of me.”

The 6-foot-6 Christie may get another boost on the court a few years down the line, as Class of 2022 phenom Emoni Bates, the top player in the current junior class, committed to play for MSU on June 30. All of this assumes Bates keeps his commitment to East Lansing and doesn’t hop the NBA. Christie remains steadfast in his committed to Michigan State and is not exploring any G-League options at the moment.

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Christie has grabbed headlines in Chicagoland since his freshman year. He has tallied a 50-point game and a triple double and had several clutch moments during his junior season. He is coming off the first 20-win campaign at ‘Meadows in nearly 30 years.

And there’s more Christie magic in the pipeline. Cameron, his younger brother, is one of the quickly-rising sophomores in the area.