Preps Talk

Phillips Final Thoughts: Friday's IHSA Basketball Things to Know

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NBC Sports Chicago

Phillips Final Thoughts: Friday's IHSA Basketball Things to Know

Things really picked up on Friday night as the evening saw three top-25 matchups and some other Thanksgiving events coming to a close. 

Saturday also has some great matchups to keep an eye on as more events finish up throughout the day. Here's a look at some storylines to keep tabs on.

If you have scores, stories, highlights or updates, don't be shy to hit us up on Twitter @NBCSPreps or @Phillipshoops. Coaches, players, ADs, parents and fans are also encouraged to email me (phillipshoops@gmail.com) with any stories we should be tracking this season.

Be sure to catch High School Lites this Saturday at 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago as we'll have highlights and reactions from the eight football state title games as well as some basketball happenings from the first week of the season.
  

FRIDAY'S THINGS TO KNOW (11/29)

1. No. 3 Bloom earns impressive win over No. 8 Marian Catholic to win Chicago Heights Classic

The title game at the Chicago Heights Classic continued an impressive early-season showcase for the Blazing Trojans. Earning a 77-60 road win over the Spartans, Bloom solidified its top-three status with two top-15 wins during the opening week of the season.

Senior Christian Shumate continues to be a major factor as he put up 28 points in the win -- getting a triple-double thanks to 10 blocks and 11 rebounds. With the balance that the Blazing Trojans possess, all it takes is for one player to have a big game for them to be nearly unstoppable.

This is the type of title win Bloom was looking for as they’re playing with a lot of confidence at the beginning of the season. It's almost impossible to create separation among the top three teams (Morgan Park, Whitney Young, Bloom) after the first week of the season. 

2. No. 9 Notre Dame closes out No. 15 DePaul Prep for Battle of the Bridge title

The talent is there for Notre Dame to compete for an ESCC and state title this season. But the junior-laden team had to prove itself against strong competition to merit its preseason top-ten status.

Consider Friday night to be a statement win for the Dons in holding off DePaul Prep for a 65-60 win.

Junior Louis Lesmond is already making his presence felt as he was named event MVP with 22 points in the win. Fellow junior forward Troy D’Amico also tallied 18. And senior Jason Bergstrom had a huge impact with 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter — including three timely triples.

If that trio is knocking down shots then Notre Dame can hang with anyone in the state. Point guard Anthony Sayles has plenty of weapons to use around him and the Dons have a unique combination of size and skill. It'll be fun to check out the ESCC race this season with so much talent in that league once again.

3. Oak Lawn uses big game from Sami Osmani to race past St. Laurence.

Before the season, I spotlighted Oak Lawn as a potential top-25 team at some point this season. That could be happening sooner than later after the Spartans used a big game from senior Sami Osmani to get past St. Laurence.

Osmani scored 20 points in the first quarter alone — finishing with a game-high 36 points — as Oak Lawn claimed their own tournament title.

Osmani and senior guard Trey Ward form a very fun one-two combination as Ward also chipped in 24 on the night. If Osmani and Ward are rolling (how many area players are combining for 60 points in a game?) then Oak Lawn can hang with most teams in the area.

It’ll be fascinating to see how Oak Lawn plays as the hunted now that everyone in the area if familiar with their star players entering this season.

SATURDAY'S THINGS TO WATCH FOR (11/30)

Stevenson vs. York, 4:45 p.m. — The Dukes already opened eyes with a win over Cary-Grove on Friday night. It was hard to peg York as a preseason Power Rankings team after losing so many key seniors. Now, Nate Shockey and company get a crack at a top-five team. It will also be beneficial to see how the Patriots handle a Division I caliber guard like Shockey.

Morton vs. St. Rita, 4:30 p.m. — Both of these teams have quietly gone unbeaten at Riverside-Brookfield this week — setting up an intriguing title game not many saw coming. While St. Rita had question marks with a new coach, it was known the Mustangs still had talent. Morton is the bigger question mark in this matchup. Great test to see if the Mustangs are for real.

Bolingbrook vs. Thornton, 7:30 p.m. — It’s a shame this matchup has to happen in Decatur. A local matchup between these two would have surely drawn a big crowd. As it stands, this is a major early test for the ranked Raiders while also giving the Wildcats a chance to claim a spot in the next batch of Power Rankings.

FINAL THOUGHT

As Thanksgiving events come to a close on Saturday, I continually think every season how useless most of these events are in the grand scheme of things.

Between the difficult-to-follow round-robin format and the IHSA football season still going, it's tough to get a grasp on how good some teams actually are. What hoops fan wants to spend the week calculating event standings when single-elimination tournament formats are available? People love brackets and tournaments, not round-robin events that nobody will remember come holiday tournament time.

I wish more teams would opt not to play the first week of the season and instead pick up a tournament around the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Wouldn't January tournaments be more beneficial in preparing teams for the state tournament then these watered-down, round-robin events still being played during football season? Hopefully something can be done about so many of these Thanksgiving events being underwhelming. Because, as we've seen during holiday tournament time, IHSA basketball is a very special thing when there are high stakes and big-time events.

Whitney Young's D.J. Steward ends the Illinois McDonald's All-American drought

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NBC Sports Chicago

Whitney Young's D.J. Steward ends the Illinois McDonald's All-American drought

Whitney Young senior guard D.J. Steward became the latest Burger Boy from the Land of Lincoln with his selection into the game on Thursday afternoon. The Duke commit is the first Illinois boys basketball player to be selected for high school basketball's most prestigious game since Stevenson's Jalen Brunson in 2015.

Maine West girls basketball star and Oregon commit Angela Dugalic was selected for the girls McDonald's game. Illinois native and former Morgan Park standout Nimari Burnett was also selected for the boys game. Burnett helped the Mustangs to a Class 3A state title as a freshman before moving to California for his last three seasons of high school basketball at Prolific Prep. 

While Illinois will have multiple local storylines in both McDonald's game, the 6-foot-2 Steward being included on the boys team is a big deal for a number of reasons.

For starters, Illinois has been without a boys McDonald's All-American since 2015. From the game's debut in 1978 until 2009, Illinois had at least one McDonald's All-American every year. In the past 11 years, Illinois has been held out of the McDonald's six times -- including the past four classes. The talent drought has been noticeable over the past several years. 

More importantly, the McDonald's distinction caps off an already stellar high school basketball career for Steward. His accomplishments already include a state finals appearance and two All-Area selections (with a third almost assuredly coming later this season). 

Starting his career at Fenwick the first two seasons, Steward earned Catholic League Player of the Year honors as only a sophomore. Now dominating in the Public League this season, Steward could also own the unique distinction of being perhaps the best player in both the Chicago Catholic League AND Public League during his four-year high school career.

By making the McDonald's game, Steward also follows in the footsteps of other Whitney Young legends like Jahlil Okafor (2014) and Quentin Richardson (1998). Steward will now forever be linked to those two first-round NBA Draft picks for the rest of his career. The only thing missing from Steward's profile at this point is an elusive IHSA state title -- something the other two captured their senior season.

While Steward's selection into the McDonald's game is an important personal accomplishment, it's also huge for the rest of the local high school season. It's no secret that Illinois high school basketball has been starving for big-name talent. The buzz for the state tournament has continued to die down in recent seasons. 

Star power like Steward, and Illinois commit Adam Miller, should draw more casual interest in the local high school basketball season down the stretch. Steward making the McDonald's game makes him an even bigger draw locally for casual fans. It's likely Whitney Young will play in front of a lot of fans as they travel in the state tournament in-part because of Steward's high-profile career. 

There is still plenty of basketball to be played the rest of the 2019-20 season. Steward has time to add to his legacy as Whitney Young prepares to play for a city and state championship. Even if Steward falls short of some personal goals, he'll always be remembered among the state's greats now that he's playing in the McDonald's game.

High School Lites Preview: Rivalry matches all over the area

High School Lites Preview: Rivalry matches all over the area

High School Lites has quality games from all over the Chicagoland area this week as we feature numerous rivalry games.

With huge rivalry games in the Public League, CSL North and South and the South Suburban Red, it should be an entertaining week of games. The show will also showcase a huge matchup in the DuPage Valley Conference along with the crowded Catholic League Blue field.

High School Lites premieres on Friday night at 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. The show will have plenty of highlights and a feature on Lincoln-Way West's Taylor Gugliuzza as she just scored her 2,000th career point.

THURSDAY

Simeon at Morgan Park, 5:00 p.m. -- The area's best rivalry closes out the Public League Red South/Central season. Simeon (13-8, 6-2) picked up a big win over Brooks on Tuesday to bounce back from a Monday loss at Fenwick. The Wolverines would love to beat their rival right before the Public League Playoffs begin. Morgan Park (13-7, 6-1) picked off Lindblom behind another strong effort from Adam Miller. The Mustangs have been up and down themselves lately as they try to build momentum towards the postseason.

FRIDAY

No. 24 Joliet West at West Aurora, 6:30 p.m. -- We check out a Southwest Prairie matchup in this one. Joliet West (18-3, 10-0) picked up a win over Lockport after a tight loss to No. 8 Lincoln Park on Monday. Jamere Hill has been a breakout senior this season as he recently committed to Toledo. West Aurora (6-14, 4-6) has been rebuilding this season as they've struggled recently. The Blackhawks will try to turn things around by facing another top-25 team.

DeKalb at Naperville Central, 7:00 p.m. -- The DuPage Valley Conference has a major showdown on Friday night. This one is a rematch of the Chuck Dayton Holiday Tournament title game that saw the Barbs win at home in a close game in late December. DeKalb (17-4, 4-0) just had its 15-game winning streak snapped with a loss to Lyons. But the Barbs remain a major threat as they've already earned some tough DVC wins. Naperville Central (14-4, 3-1) fell to St. Viator. But they have a talented frontcourt in Chris Conway and Cameron Dougherty. These two teams will play for a third time, back in DeKalb, on Feb. 26.

No. 2 Evanston at New Trier, 7:00 p.m. -- One of the state's great rivalries gets played in this one. The No. 2 Wildkits (18-1, 5-0) dropped their first game of the season in a home loss to Zion-Benton. Evanston has been one of the area's best teams this season behind a core group of juniors that includes Blake Peters and Jaylin Gibson. New Trier (11-9, 2-3) would love to continue the Evanston losing streak while making a move in the CSL South. A recent win over Oak Lawn is a strong one for the Trevians. These two teams already played in Evanston on Dec. 13 with the Wildkits claiming a 50-40 win.

No. 10 DePaul Prep at St. Laurence, 7:00 p.m. -- A matchup in the very tough Catholic League Blue to keep an eye on. DePaul Prep (17-2, 8-0) has reeled off five straight wins since 2020 started. Junior guard TY Johnson has been strong throughout the season as he's surrounded by tough and talented players. St. Laurence (11-10, 6-2) has already played three top-15 teams this season. They won't be bothered by DePaul's lofty ranking. The Vikings have talent on the perimeter with Finn Walsh, Darius Wilson and Trey Davis. 

Richards at Oak Lawn, 7:00 p.m. -- Two of the top teams in the South Suburban Red do battle in this battle of Oak Lawn. Richards (13-5, 7-1) is the current league leader as they've won seven of their last eight games. Oak Lawn (15-5, 5-2) has dropped three out of four games during a tough stretch. But with seniors Sami Osmani and Trey Ward the Spartans always remain tough. 

Libertyville at Lake Forest, 7:00 p.m. -- Can either of these North Suburban Conference teams create separation from the middle of the pack? Lake Forest (11-8, 2-3) knocked off Vernon Hills in non-conference play on Tuesday as they've won four of their last five games. Libertyville (12-6, 2-3) played three consecutive top-25 caliber teams in the past few weeks, earning a notable win over St. Charles North. The Wildcats will host the return matchup on Feb. 21. 

Highland Park at Deerfield, 7:30 p.m. -- Another great rivalry matchup, this time in the CSL North. The Giants (10-6, 4-1) were an overtime winner at home in the first matchup on Dec. 13. Now, Highland Park is trying to keep pace with Niles North while also sweeping their rival. Deerfield (11-7, 2-3) counters with a great frontcourt in center Brandon Lieb and forward Walt Mattingly. 

Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week

Austin at Prosser, 6:30 p.m. -- Austin (16-4, 9-0) went unbeaten in the Blue-West as they've put up over 100 points multiple times this season. After a 1-2 start, the Tigers are 15-2. Prosser (7-14, 4-5) was in the middle of the pack in the White-North this season. The Falcons beat Sullivan earlier in the week.