Preps Talk

Chicago Elite Classic Preview

Chicago Elite Classic Preview

The fifth annual Chicago Elite Classic is one of the best events for local high school basketball fans to attend because it gives a tremendous mix of nearby powers and national stars. 

This year's event at UIC Pavilion appears to be no different. The two-day, star-studded event will feature a huge amount of games to watch and Division I prospects as 11 games will happen on Friday and Saturday.

Friday night's games will all have highlights featured on this week's edition of High School Lites as you can read a preview of those games here.

But for fans interested in going to Saturday's festivities, there are a lot of games and players to keep track of. Here's a primer of things to keep track of at the UIC Pavilion for the Chicago Elite Classic.

Three (exclusively) local games to track

Of the eight games that are being played on Saturday, three will come between local teams that will all have a significant impact on the CSN Preps Power Rankings.

  • A neighborhood rivalry of U-High (3-2) and Hyde Park (2-0) goes down at 1:30 p.m. as big men could be the players to keep track of in this one. U-High is led up front by senior Jameel Alausa, a Yale commit, while 6-foot-6 senior Oliver Maciak is another player to keep an eye out for. They'll try to contain Hyde Park senior big man Anthony Cameron. The x-factor in this one could be U-High sophomore guard Mohammed Alausa, as he's had some bright moments early this season.
  • Things get more interesting from a local rankings perspective when No. 6 Joliet West takes on No. 9 North Lawndale at 4:30 p.m. Both of these teams went 4-0 during the opening week as this should be a fun matchup. Joliet West returns most of last season's Class 4A sectional-title winning team as Drake commit Teyvion Kirk and Wisconsin-Green Bay commit Trevian Bell will be the guys to watch. The Phoenix will counter with senior guard Carlos Hines and guard Martell Barnes. Hines is one of the best unsigned players in the area and should have a fun matchup with Kirk while Barnes has been a double-double machine so far this season.
  • The final game between area teams on Saturday features No. 4 Whitney Young making its season debut as they face No. 10 Kenwood. The Dolphins will try to get junior guards Xavier Castanada and Javon Freeman going early while senior Lucas Williamson should be the team's steady and productive force. Kenwood went 3-1 downstate in the Tournament of Champions the first week as they played some national competition. The Broncos will be tested as senior big man Manny Patterson is one of the area's top post players. Seniors like David Hunt and Octavius Parker add shotmakers for Kenwood and they also have a lot of young talent that can come in off the bench. 

National superpowers facing local heavyweights

Plenty of local teams will also get national tests on Saturday as four of the area's best face out-of-state competition.

  • Since No. 5 Simeon is opening its season against Gonzaga College High School out of Washington D.C., we'll start with this 7:30 p.m. tip. This one could be about the matchup at point guard as Wolverine senior Evan Gilyard, a UTEP commit, goes head-to-head with Gonzaga senior floor general Chris Lykes. The 5-foot-6 Lykes is tiny, but he's also talented enough to be a consensus top-100 national player as he's committed to Miami. Simeon's younger players are going to have to step up in this one as juniors Talen Horton-Tucker and Kezo Brown are expected to be more productive this season. Head coach Robert Smith will need those guys in this game as Gonzaga also has four-star junior guard Prentiss Hubb and junior wing Myles Dread, who is committed to Penn State. 
  • After a great first week, No. 5 Evanston gets its toughest test of the season when they play perennial powerhouse Montverde Academy from Florida at 6 p.m. The Wildkits started 5-0 with an impressive win over Conant, but Montverde features a roster full of high-major players that should be a huge challenge. Evanston senior guard Nojel Eastern is a Purdue commit with plenty of talent around him as seniors like Chris Hamil and Elyjah Williams have plenty of game experience. Montverde counters with elite sophomores R.J. Barrett and Andrew Nembhard as both are regarded as five-star players. Both Canadians could end up as huge stars and Barrett is fighting for the No. 1 overall spot in the sophomore class. Montverde also has Pitt commit and senior guard Marcus Carr, VCU commit and big man Sean Mobley and junior guard Rechon Black, who is committed to North Carolina. 
  • Coming off of a great opening week, No. 7 Uplift gets to face more out-of-state competition when they battle Chaminade (Mo.) at 12 p.m. The Titans went 4-0 at the Tournament of Champions as brothers Demarius and Markese Jacobs put on a show. Demarius, a senior committed to Southern Illinois, put down some big dunks, while his younger brother, Markese -- who is committed to Kansas -- also proved that he's in for a big season. Chaminade doesn't have Jayson Tatum (Duke) or Tyler Cook (Iowa) this season but junior guard Karrington Davis has scholarship offers from Kansas State and Saint Louis as he's drawing some attention. If Uplift can win against another quality opponent, it should build their confidence heading into the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
  • Opening the proceedings on Saturday will be the season debut of No. 20 Orr as the take on one of Georgia's best programs in Miller Grove. If you forget your coffee for this 10:30 a.m. contest, Orr junior Raekwon Drake should wake people up quickly with one of his electrifying above-the-rim plays while the Spartans also have other talented guards like Tyron Mosley and Brian Hernandez. Miller Grove is led by senior guard Tae Hardy as he's one of Georgia's top unsigned players. 

The out-of-state matchup

This year the Chicago Elite Classic also has a matchup between two out-of-area teams that should be interesting. Gray Collegiate Prep from South Carolina will take on Sunrise Christian Academy from Wichita, Kansas at 3 p.m. as this game features a lot of Division I prospects. North Carolina fans already get to see Class of 2018 commitment Rechon Black play with Montverde Academy and Tar Heel fans will also get to see 6-foot-3 guard Jalek Felton from Gray Collegiate. Felton is the nephew of NBA veteran point guard Ray Felton as he is a potential McDonald's All-American. 

Gray also has an elite sophomore in 6-foot-5 win Juwan Gary, as he's coming off of a strong showing at the USA Basketball junior national mini-camp this fall. Sunrise Christian counters with senior big man and Texas A&M commit Isiah Jasey. Junior Marek Nelson was also named to the all-tournament team at the Tournament of Champions as he's off to a strong start this season. 

Cinderella stories live on in IHSA football

NBC Sports Chicago

Cinderella stories live on in IHSA football

For the past 24-plus seasons I've been blessed to cover IHSA football from one end of the state to the other. Every year I am able to see some amazing games and programs led by incredible coaches. But for some reason, the underdog/Cinderella stories always seem to stick with me.

One of my favorites stories over the years goes back to the 2016 season. 

I was getting ready to select a Week 9 game to go cover. I've always approached the regular season finale as a bonus playoff football week since so many teams seem to be on the postseason bubble-- a "must-win" to get in. If anything, these win-to-get-in games can either go one way or the other...they are either great, intense games or the opposing team just decided to not show up. 

I struggled to find a Week 9 game to attend. Joe Collins --my editor at NBC Sports Chicago-- suggested, "Hey, what about Larkin at Elgin?"  My initial thought: "So...what about it?" Larkin, under then-head coach Dragan Teonic was 4-4 and needed a win in the regular season finale to have a shot at a state playoff berth. All the Royals needed was a win over then-lowly Elgin (0-8). Why even bother covering this game? I assumed that Larkin would just roll over the Maroons and lock up a state playoff spot and I would be stuck covering a blowout. 

I gave Joe a lot of grief for "highly encouraging" me to check out Larkin at Elgin, with heavy emphasis on "a lot" of grief, yet off I went to Elgin's Memorial Stadium.

Well, turned out that the Maroons, led by head coach Anthony Mason, decided to show up and play. And did they ever. They stunned longtime rival Larkin 26-20 for their first win of the season, got the Town Jug trophy in the process and go the additional bonus of knocking the Royals out of state playoff contention. The game was an intense, hard hitting affaor. It was easily one of the biggest and best crowds I saw all season long. Remember, Elgin hadn't won a game all season long and was outscored 302-92 that season. But for (at least) one night Elgin, was the best team in Elgin. Heck, the way the Maroons played that night they might of been the best team in all of Chicago's western suburbs that Friday evening.

I will always remember the look on then-Larkin head coach Dragan Teonic's face after the loss to Elgin, a combination of shock and sadness. I'm sure the loss bothers Teonic-- even after three years. Teonic, who's since moved onto South Elgin (7-0) and is building the Storm into a power in the Upstate Eight, has had much better days since that fateful night. But it's always the hard losses you'll remember than any of the accomplishments. 

Covering Elgin's win over Larkin taught me a lot that night. Never assume a win. Never underestimate the power of what a group of highly-motivated kids and coaches can do on any given Friday night. And in some cases, you truly can throw out the records between two teams because, at least for one night, the records don't matter. 

So when you see teams like Elgin, East Aurora, Proviso East and LaSalle-Peru just having their own Cinderella moments in 2019, learn to appreciate them whether you're a fan of those schools or not. 

The many people involved from these schools deserve credit with sticking with it and never giving up. The personal struggles that several of these coaches have faced, both personally and professionally, can be overwhelming. In some cases many, many years have come and gone and finally after those years of struggle and sacrifice, they finally have a few minutes in the sun.

Illinois AP football rankings: Week 7

NBC Sports Chicago

Illinois AP football rankings: Week 7

The Illlinois high school football AP polls are out. Here are the latest rankings of Illinois high school football teams in each class, according to an Associated Press panel of sportswriters:

Class 8A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Lincoln-Way East (10) 7-0 100 1
2. Loyola 5-2 75 3
3. Warren 7-0 73 2
4. Notre Dame (Niles) 7-0 70 4
5.  Homewood-Flossmoor 6-1 51 6
T-6. Hinsdale Central 7-0 47 5
T-6. Neuqua Valley 6-1 47 7
8. Minooka 7-0 33 8
9. Oswego 7-0 19 9
10. Bolingbrook 6-1 15 10

Others receiving votes: St. Charles East 10, South Elgin 5, Huntley 3, Maine South 2.

Class 7A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. (Chicago) Mt. Carmel (9) 7-0 99 1
2. Nazareth (1) 6-1 85 2
3. Glenbard West 7-0 79 3
4.  Hersey 7-0 65 5
5.  Phillips 6-1 56 6
6. Rolling Meadows 7-0 48 T-7
7.  Batavia 5-2 41 4
8. Benet 6-1 22 T-7
9. Willowbrook 6-1 21 NR
10. Normal Community 6-1 15 NR

Others receiving votes: Andrew 5, DeKalb 4, Glenbard East 4, Grant 3, Conant 2, Brother Rice 1.

Class 6A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Chatham Glenwood (9) 7-0 108 1
2.  Crete-Monee (1) 7-0 95 2
3.  Simeon (1) 5-1 81 3
4. Cary-Grove 6-1 68 4
5. Richards 6-1 62 5
6. Prairie Ridge 6-1 57 6
7. Antioch 6-1 41 8
8. Providence 5-2 34 9
9. Yorkville 6-1 22 7
10.  Lemont 6-1 15 NR

Others receiving votes: Normal West 10, Kaneland 9, Peoria Central 3.

Class 5A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. East St. Louis (12) 7-0 120 1
2. Sterling 7-0 102 2
T-3. Hillcrest 6-1 81 4
T-3.  Boylan Catholic 7-0 81 3
5.  Montini 5-2 65 5
6.  Sycamore 6-1 62 2
7. Marion 7-0 46 7
8. St. Rita 4-3 34 8
9.  Kankakee 6-1 29 9
10.  Carbondale 6-1 17 10

Others receiving votes: Dunlap 8, Cahokia 6, Joliet Catholic 6, St. Laurence 3.

Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. IC Catholic (11) 7-0 119 1
2. Rochester 7-0 106 2
3. Coal City (1) 7-0 99 3
4. Richmond-Burton 7-0 80 4
5. Stillman Valley 7-0 64 5
6.  Mt. Zion 7-0 52 6
7.  Effingham 7-0 39 8
8. Columbia 7-0 35 7
9. Genoa-Kingston 7-0 23 10
10.  St. Francis 6-1 19 9

Others receiving votes: Illinois Valley Central 16, Bishop McNamara 5, Benton 2, Fairbury Prairie Central 1.

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Wilmington (9) 7-0 124 1
2. Williamsville (4) 7-0 121 2
3. Byron 6-1 93 3
4. Beardstown 7-0 85 4
5. Vandalia 7-0 72 5
6. Nashville 7-0 62 6
7. Fairfield 7-0 50 7
8. Pana 7-0 43 8
9. Princeton 6-1 33 9
10. Eureka 6-1 18 10

Others receiving votes: DuQuoin 9, Breese Mater Dei, 3, Mt. Carmel 2.

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Fieldcrest (7) 7-0 122 1
2. Clifton Central (5) 7-0 116 2
3. Maroa-Forsyth (1) 6-1 100 3
4. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley 6-1 90 4
5.  St. Teresa 6-1 73 5
6.  Knoxville 7-0 67 6
7. Newman Central Catholic 6-1 58 7
8. Bismarck-Henning 6-1 46 8
9. Auburn 5-2 24 9
10. West Carroll 5-2 15 10

Others receiving votes: Flora 2, Orr 2.

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Lena-Winslow (11) 7-0 119 1
2.  Moweaqua Central A&M 7-0 103 3
3. Annawan-Wethersfield 7-0 88 4
4.  Morrison 7-0 78 5
5.  Ottawa Marquette 7-0 64 6
6. Forreston 6-1 55 2
7. Aquin 7-0 53 7
8. Hope Academy (1) 6-1 44 10
9. Camp Point Central 6-1 31 8
10. Athens 5-2 7 9

Others receiving votes: Tuscola 6, Carrollton 5, Fulton 2, Arcola 2, Kirkland Hiawatha 2, Princeville 1.