Preps Talk

Cinderella stories live on in IHSA football

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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.

Preps Basketball Power Rankings: No. 7 Simeon

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NBC Sports Chicago

Preps Basketball Power Rankings: No. 7 Simeon

School: Simeon

2018-19 record: 20-15 (5-4 Public League Red North/West)

Postseason results: Lost to Curie in Class 4A Supersectionals.

Players to watch: Jeremiah Williams transferred into Simeon from St. Laurence and he's one of the state's top seniors. The 6-foot-4 Williams is a major All-Area candidate this season. Junior guard Ahamad Bynum is a high-major prospect and deluxe scorer who is one of the area's top perimeter shooters. Bynum recently committed to DePaul. 

Why they're in the power rankings: Annually one of best teams in the state, Simeon has go-to scorers, an up-and-coming point guard in Jaylen Drane and intriguing big men like Sincere Callwood. Even though Simeon "struggled" to a 20-15 mark last season, they still came incredibly close to making a Peoria trip and knocking off Curie. It doesn't matter the record or personnel: Simeon is always a major threat. 

Did you know? After winning six IHSA state titles in an eight year span between 2006 and 2013, Simeon has gone six years without a state title.   

Who made the NBC Sports Chicago Preseason All-Area Team?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Who made the NBC Sports Chicago Preseason All-Area Team?

The boys basketball star power in the Chicagoland area is on the rise.

After a bad stretch of a few seasons with a talent drop-off and a lack of high-major players, this year the area has plenty of talent.

Our Preseason All-Area team -- modeled after the collegiate Preseason All-American teams -- features 15 players split into three teams. The first time has five high-major prospects and four top-100 national prospects -- including Player of the Year frontrunners Adam Miller and D.J. Steward,

And the second and third team is littered with productive players from all over the area as this should be a fun season of high school hoops. Here's a look at the individuals to keep track of early in this season. Although the postseason All-Area team will surely look different in some cases, many of these names should make the end-of-season list as well.

First Team

Adam Miller, Morgan Park -- After a blistering junior season that saw him dominate and become a highly-coveted national recruit, Miller returns for his final season with the Mustangs. Averaging 28.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game last season, Miller took the city by storm in becoming the area's top offensive player. There isn't a player in Illinois who can go on scoring runs like Miller can when he gets hot. Making his college decision this week, Miller is deciding between Arizona, Illinois, Louisville and a late push from Michigan.

D.J. Steward, Whitney Young -- Already a prolific performer in his three varsity seasons between Fenwick and Whitney Young, the 6-foot-2 Steward looks to close out his high school career with a memorable senior season. A Duke commit coming off of a huge summer, Steward averaged 24.3 points and 3.2 assists per game as he's already a two-time All-Area selection. Steward remains a Player of the Year frontrunner along with Adam Miller as both players have a serious chance of making the McDonald's All-American Game.

Max Christie, Rolling Meadows -- The area's best junior is compiling a monster career with the Mustangs. Over 1,000 career points in his first two years of high school, Christie averaged 25.2 points, nine rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as a sophomore. Christie is one of the rare high school players capable of scoring 50 in a game -- he went for 51 in a win over Elk Grove last season -- or going for a tripe-double thanks to his vision. Christie is viewed as a consensus top-15 recruit in the Class of 2021.

Ahron Ulis, Marian Catholic -- Following in the footsteps of his older brother Tyler, Ahron has become one of the state's top point guards for the Spartans. A varsity starter the past few seasons, the Iowa commit has already helped Marian Catholic make a trip to Peoria during his career. Averaging 18.3 points, 4.4 assists and 3.0 rebounds a game as a junior, Ulis will be the leader of a top-ten team with huge expectations this season.

Bryce Hopkins, Fenwick -- Hopkins emerged as a top-100 national prospect during the summer as the junior recently made a verbal commitment to Louisville. Putting up 23 points per game as a sophomore, the 6-foot-6 Hopkins had six 30-point games last season while also coming on strong at the end of the year. A polished three-level scorer who can also crash the glass, Hopkins is a sleeper Player of the Year pick because of his ability to put up big numbers against strong competition.

Second Team

Keshawn Williams, Bloom -- On a balanced Bloom team that features four Division I signees (and possibly five by season's end), the 6-foot-3 Williams is the team's most dynamic offensive threat. Putting up 14 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game, Williams is an electric player with the ball in his hands. Not many in the state have the ability to get to the rim like Williams can. Following a heated recruiting battle, Williams signed with Tulsa.

Jeremiah Williams, Simeon -- A do-it-all wing who transferred into Simeon from St. Laurence this offseason, Williams gives the Wolverines some senior star power. One of the Catholic League's best players a season ago, Williams averaged 18.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, three steals and 2.5 blocks per game as a junior. Now with even more weapons around him than last season, Williams could be in for a huge senior season. Williams remains uncommitted.

Connor Kochera, St. Viator -- One of the summer's breakout players, Kochera went from third option on last season's Lions to one of the area's best players in a few months. Committed to William & Mary, Kochera is a deadly three-level scorer who averaged 15 points, five rebounds and three assists per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range. The 6-foot-4 guard is capable of playing multiple perimeter positions, although he's at his best as an off-the-ball scorer.

Ramean Hinton, Curie -- The senior wing had a strong summer after a promising junior season that saw him average 15 points and seven rebounds per game. One of the key players on Curie's nationally-ranked team last season, the 6-foot-4 Hinton will be looked to as the go-to guy on the Condors this year. Hinton brings a unique mix of scoring ability and defensive intensity that makes him fun to watch. Hinton signed with SEMO as the Redhawks got a major recruiting coup by landing him.

Dom Martinelli, Glenbrook South -- Ultra-productive as a junior on a 24-win team, the 6-foot-5 Martinelli puts up monster numbers. At 24.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last season, Martinelli was unstoppable at times despite facing defenses that were trying to slow him down. The lefty has a natural feel for how to play as he can knock down jumpers, attack the rim and hit the glass. Martinelli remains uncommitted as his senior-year recruitment should be fascinating.

Third Team

Kyndall Davis, Bogan -- The latest in a long line of rugged and talented Bogan guards, the 6-foot-5 Davis should have a much bigger role this season. Already a key player for Bogan's Class 3A runner-up team last season, Davis showed he could be the Bengals' go-to scorer with his play in June. The LIU commit knocked down three-pointers, played above the rim and showed a defensive tenacity seen by very few in the area.

Aquan Smart, Niles North -- An electric offensive talent, the 6-foot-3 Smart is one of the most athletic perimeter players in the area. An East Tennessee State commit who was a coveted mid-major recruit, Smart was the catalyst on a Niles North team that won 20 games last season. Smart's above-the-rim play and improved lead guard abilities make him a must-see attraction this season.

Marcus Watson, Morgan Park -- The Mustangs have one of the best backcourts in the country this season as the 5-foot-10 Watson is paired with fellow senior Adam Miller. Leading the Nike EYBL in assists this spring, Watson earned high-major scholarship offers and eventually committed to Wake Forest. Unafraid to play fast, Watson is a two-way guard who can handle, distribute, score and defend on the perimeter.

Martice Mitchell, Bloom -- The Minnesota commit should be one of the area's better big men this season -- although Mitchell is perhaps most comfortable playing on the wing. The 6-foot-10 senior became a high-major prospect this summer thanks to his massive upside and unique skill level for his size. Averaging 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocks per game as a junior, Mitchell's impact is felt all over the floor for a Bloom squad with state title aspirations.

Darius Burford, Bolingbrook -- Taking over a talented Bolingbrook backcourt that included Tyler Cochran and Joseph Yesufu last season, this will be Burford's team his senior year. The Elon commit was a first-team All-Tournament selection in the Decatur Turkey Tournament and the Kingdom of the Sun Holiday Classic last season as he was one of the area's more unsung juniors. Now that Burford has the ball, he could put up big numbers this season.