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. 

 

High School Lites basketbal roundup: Week 7

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

High School Lites basketbal roundup: Week 7

Check out our high school hoops highlights from some of the best games around the state, and be sure to follow @NBCSPREPS for all of the latest scores, highlights, and analysis

Windy City Legends: Candace Parker

Athlete of the Week: Lake Park West's Darrione Rodgers

Team of the Week: Saint Viator hockey

Highlights: Sandburg 63, Stagg 56

Highlights: Marist 57, St. Rita 46

Highlights: Benet 55, St. Charles East 44

Highlights: Morton 67, Leyden 55

Highlights: Sycamore 53, Kaneland 47

Mid-week Mixtape:  Thornton 55, Homewood-Flossmoor 43

Highlights: Buffalo Grove 80, Rolling Meadows 70

Highlights: Senn 73, Amundsen 67

Highlights: Clark 74, Crane 57

Highlights: Whitney Young 80, North Lawndale 41

Highlights Bolingbrook 79, Lincoln-Way East 66

Edgy Tim’s Team of the Decade: Kickers

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EDGY TIM

Edgy Tim’s Team of the Decade: Kickers

You may not picture Illinois as a hotbed for kickers. But we have been fortunate to witness so many that have done well on the prep level.

This is our final position in the “Team of the Decade” series (2010-2019). This position should produce more debate: Do you factor in just strictly high school production and program winning/success, or does a particular player's post high school success also become a factor? Let the debate begin.

Jake Elliott, Lyons Township’s Class of 2013 (Memphis): Elliott, who had never played football until his junior season at L-T, made the most of his limited time on the field. He was named an All-State kicker his senior season. Elliott ended up signing with Memphis and was a four-year starting kicker for the Tigers. Elliott was a fifth-round selection of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2017 NFL Draft and was then signed off their practice squad by the Philadelphia Eagles. Elliott has remained the Eagles kicker since the 2017 season.

Austin Seibert, Belleville West’s Class of 2015 (Oklahoma): Seibert was ranked as one of the nation's best prep kickers in the Class of 2015. He ended up signing with the Oklahoma Sooners after drawing multiple scholarship offers. Seibert had an impressive career kicking for the Sooners and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He made 25 of 29 field goal attempts and 30 of 35 extra points this past season.

Tucker McCann, O'Fallon’s Class of 2016 (Missouri): McCann was a nationally sought-after kicker in the Class of 2016 and signed with Missouri after considering offers from Alabama and Illinois. McCann is also listed in several IHSA kicking records including career field goals made (28), field goals made in a season (12), field goals made in a game (four) and still holds the state record for the longest field goal made in a game (60 yards). McCann also made at least one field goal over 50 yards in all three years he kicked at the varsity level for the Panthers.

Jack Olsen, Wheaton Warrenville South’s Class of 2020 (Michigan State): Olsen, who graduated early this fall and is already enrolled at Michigan State, was a four-year letterman for the Tigers and head coach Ron Muhitch. He was named as an All-State kicker in 2018 and 2019 by EDGYTIM/Rivals.com. During his time at WWS, he set new IHSA records for the most field goals made in a game (eight) along with the most field goals made in a single season (22).

Dominic Dzioban, Lincoln-Way East’s Class of 2020 (Miami OH): Dzioban, otherwise known as “The Dominator,” was 18-of-20 on field goals and 50-of-51 on extra points last season. Dzioban's kickoff and punting game was a major weapon for the Griffins, who won the Class 8A state title this past fall. Dzioban also earned All-State honors as a senior and owns the school record for most field goals made (37) and is the school's all-time leading scorer (340 points). He possesses 50 yard-plus field goal range and was one of the best two-way kickers in the Land of Lincoln over the past several seasons.

Next in?

Ron Colucci, Naperville North’s Class of 2012 (Central Michigan/Iowa)

Kai Kroeger, Lake Forest: Class of 2020 (South Carolina)

Caleb Griffin, Danville’s Class of 2018 (Illinois)

Josh Pollack, Highland Park’s Class of 2014 (Arizona)

John Richardson, Brother Rice’s Class of 2018 (Northern Illinois)