The Riverside-Brookfield Shootout is annually one of the summer's must-see events for Illinois high school basketball, but this season was elevated to another level.
Division I college coaches were able to evaluate at the tournament thanks to the NCAA's new June live evaluation period as over 60 of the state's best teams played for three days in front of hundreds of college coaches.
In the end, there was a lot to be learned about some of the area's stronger teams this season while the junior class looks like they'll be one of the strongest in terms of depth that we've seen in recent years.
Here's a look at five major takeaways to watch for this season after Riverside-Brookfield.
1. Stevenson remains a major threat after last season's strong finish
One of the most pleasant surprises of last season was Stevenson as the Patriots went from an unranked preseason team to nearly making it to state in Class 4A. We were reminded of just how good Stevenson might be this year at R-B as the Patriots took home the title with an impressive three days of play.
While head coach Pat Ambrose's roster isn't littered with Division I prospects and household names, Stevenson has the luxury of returning most of last season's successful core. Senior guard Luke Chieng will be tough to replace but Ambrose returns his two sons, senior shooter Matt and junior floor general Evan, along with athletic forward Robert Holmes and experienced senior John Ittounas.
The bench also appears to be far from bare for the Patriots as Stevenson deserves credit for picking up wins over powerhouse programs like Simeon, Collinsville, Curie and Whitney Young over the course of the weekend. Matt Ambrose was named MVP of the event, but Evan Ambrose is a heady point guard who makes plays for others while Holmes has improved enough to now be on Division II radars with his electric above-the-rim play.
It's hard to say where Stevenson will be ranked this preseason, but they'll undoubtedly be the team to beat in the North Suburban after sharing the league title with Waukegan last season. And although Ambrose is perhaps most known for his Peoria trips with Jalen Brunson, Connor Cashaw and Justin Smith, he also made a prior Peoria trip with Stevenson (2007) and a deep playoff run last season without high-major star power.
Stevenson will be a major threat in the area this season as they're one of the most cohesive and selfless teams in Illinois.
2. Despite title-game loss, Whitney Young might be the area's top preseason team
Whitney Young lost in the title game at R-B to Stevenson but the Dolphins still have the look of a team who will be in the mix for the No. 1 spot once preseason rankings come out.
Although Morgan Park, and a handful of others, remain firmly in the preseason No. 1 conversation, it's hard not to like what the Dolphins bring to the table in terms of star power, senior leadership and overall depth.
The backcourt of seniors D.J. Steward and Tyler Beard remains perhaps the best one-two punch of any tandem in the state, and they're joined by the deepest backcourt to give Whitney Young supreme depth. Aurora Christian transfer Jaeshon Thomas already appears to be a starting-caliber player (although the Public League is a major step up from the Class 1A program he came from) while the bench of senior Elliot Sieger and poised freshman Dalen Davis would earn starting roles at many other places.
And the frontcourt keeps getting better for the Dolphins as well. Junior Grant Newell is starting to turn potential into production with his intriguing inside-outside play while senior Sangolay Njie is a solid defender who can control the glass.
However, head coach Tyrone Slaughter still needs to figure out why the Dolphins take their foot off the gas sometimes. There were also frightening stretches of play from Whitney Young where the Dolphins looked like they were playing at another level compared the event's other teams. As long as Steward and Beard stay healthy, the Dolphins will be a huge contender in the city and Class 4A.
3. Curie and Bogan are strong despite significant senior losses
Two of the area's best teams last season, Bogan and Curie, both lost first-team All-Area players from last season after making trips to Peoria. It'll be impossible for the Bengals to replace big man Rashaun Agee and guard DaJuan Gordon.
Thankfully for both programs, their depth at all levels continues to shine through as both teams remain active in the city and state title conversations.
Curie has a blossoming star in senior Ramean Hinton as the scoring wing can get buckets at all three levels while still maintaining improved efficiency as an overall offensive threat. Hinton has the potential to breakout and be a first-team All-Area player next season as his confidence is soaring this summer.
The Condors also return steady ball handler and menacing defender Elijah Pickens in the backcourt while junior Phillip Berryhill continues to look like an intriguing future player despite missing some shots this weekend.
Bogan has depth and athletics all over the floor as they fly to the ball defensively with some emerging talents at multiple spots. Senior guard Kyndall Davis drew rave reviews from college coaches for his upside and above-the-rim play as he's one of the area's better two-way wings. Big man Tremear Fraley finished some vicious lobs as his motor and bounciness stood out to help make him one of the event's better frontcourt players.
Both teams have plenty more assets to choose from as the Bengals and Condors can both press, attack on offense and also knock down perimeter shots. It's hard to envision a top ten that doesn't include both of these teams come preseason.
4. The addition of Louis Lesmond makes Notre Dame a team to watch
Notre Dame was already going to be fun to watch this season. The junior tandem of guard Anthony Sayles and forward Troy D'Amico was one of the state's blossoming tandems when it comes to overall play and college looks.
Now that the Dons have added transfer Louis Lesmond to the mix however, Notre Dame is going to be one of the must-see teams to catch this season. Now featuring three bonafide studs, the Dons have multiple scoring options, adept handlers and length and size at most positions.
With that junior trio joined by 6-foot-4 senior Jason Bergstrom, a talented scorer and prospect in his own right, Notre Dame is a no-brainer top-25 team next season with huge aspirations to reach higher levels following a promising 19-win season.
5. The junior class has far more star power than just Rolling Meadows guard Max Christie
A monster spring and summer has vaulted Rolling Meadows junior guard Max Christie into the five-star spectrum in national recruiting rankings. Christie didn't play this weekend at R-B in order to rest after a long summer, but the national recruit and recent Olympic Gold Medalist is the benchmark in what is looking like a deep junior class.
The Class of 2021 should have many stars leading teams this season. Fenwick forward Bryce Hopkins, OPRF wing Isaiah Barnes, Simeon guard Ahamed Bynum, Neuqua Valley wing John Poulakidas, Mundelein point guard Conor Enright, big man Scottie Ebube and Hillcrest wing Julius Rollins were among a small group of juniors who earned a lot of praise from Division I coaches with their play at Riverside-Brookfield.
When you also factor in the Notre Dame trio of juniors, Evanston's junior talent of Jaylin Gibson, Blake Peters and Isaiah Holden, Lincoln Park's returning backcourt of Julio Montes and Ismail Habib and Schaumburg big man Chris Hodges, who sat out, the Class of 2021 has the potential to be the best class the area has seen the past few seasons.