When AJ Casey transferred from Simeon to Tinley Park in June it made news all over the country.
It was surprising for many to see Illinois' best sophomore, and a potential five-star national talent, leave one of the most storied high school basketball programs in the nation for a program that hasn't claimed a regional title since 2008. Simeon has seven IHSA state titles in school history. Tinley Park has three regional titles.
But the move to the Titans puts the 6-foot-9 forward closer to where he went to middle school (Arbor Park in Oak Forest) and grew up. Casey lived with his father in Chicago as a freshman before moving back in with his mother in Tinley Park for sophomore year.
From a basketball perspective, Casey has the skill level and size to be an All-Area player as early as this season for Tinley Park. On Sunday the sophomore was one of the best players on the floor at the annual Pangos Frosh/Soph All-Midwest Camp in La Grange. Among a loaded group of underclass prospects from all over the region with many future Division I prospects on the floor in the camp's All-Star game, Casey was one of the camp's top players as he made plays all over.
More limited to an interior role with Simeon during his freshman season on a veteran team that didn't need to run consistent offense through him, Casey flourished in the open floor of the camp setting with the ball in his hands. Handling the ball and scoring, Casey looked comfortable in the post or facing up. Casey's overall versatility at forward shined through as his development on the perimeter will be fascinating to watch this season.
There hasn't been much to be excited about over the past 20 years when it comes to Tinley Park basketball. Having Casey enter the picture is a program-changer that gives the Titans a lot of interest from college coaches and area fans for the upcoming season.
"We've got high expectations, of course. Especially for myself. We have kind of a tough schedule but we'll get through it," Casey said.
Ranked as a top-20 national prospect in the Class of 2022 by some major recruiting services, Casey instantly becomes a go-to player at Tinley Park who should be asked to do much more than be a piece amongst many Division I talents.
Finishing 14-11 with a 6-7 record in the South Suburban Blue last season, Tinley Park played in an underrated conference that featured six of seven members finishing above .500 for the season -- including strong teams in Hillcrest and Oak Forest. By joining that league, Casey adds a new level of intrigue for Tinley Park as they instantly become a team to watch.
"It's been real good. Polishing up my game. Fall, I've been focused more on the team. I've been building chemistry through fall league and things like that," Casey said.
Casey has taken recent unofficial visits to Illinois and Purdue as he's also planning on seeing Louisville in the near future. College recruiting is sure to pick up for Casey as he works his way through high school and gets closer to graduation.
For now, it's premature to call Tinley Park anywhere near a top-25 program. But it's a long season and the Titans could develop into a team to watch to make a deep postseason run.
Casey gives Tinley Park a centerpiece to build around for the future that not many in the area can match. It also gives the Titans instant credibility entering this season.