Preps Talk

'Terrific Trio' sparks North Chicago

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'Terrific Trio' sparks North Chicago

Jay Amos-Mays had a couple of huge Christmas wishes. It goes without saying that the No. 1 priority on his list for Santa Claus is the Class 3A championship in 2013, something that has eluded his North Chicago team for the last two years.

And the other wish? "Studio ear phones for the road trip to Peoria," he said.

North Chicago coach Gerald "King" Coleman has a New Year's resolution--to make history. He had a chance to make history in 1972. An All-State selection on coach Larry Hanzel's 26-2 team, Coleman had 24 points and 10 rebounds but North Chicago lost to Evanston 62-60 in the supersectional, one victory short of securing the school's first trip to the Elite Eight.

Now Coleman, in his eighth season as head coach at his alma mater, has another chance to make history. After qualifying for the Sweet Sixteen in four of the last five years, after finishing fourth in Class 3A in 2011 and second in Class 3A last year, his Warhawks are seeking their third consecutive trip to Peoria--and their first state championship.

"Potentially, this team can be very good. It has three Division I players," Coleman said. "A lot of people want to compare them to last year's team (that was 25-7 and finished second in Class 3A). But there is no comparison. This team has much more talent.

"But last year's team had been together since sixth grade. They were so much closer. And they had Aaron Simpson, who averaged 25 points per game and was our leader on the court. We haven't had a leader step up yet. The hunger isn't there yet. Last year, we knew the ball had to go to Simpson when we had to score. Who gets the ball this year?"

North Chicago might still be a reconstruction project in progress but the Warhawks answered most if not all of their coach's questions while winning the State Farm Classic last week in Bloomington. They boosted their record to 14-1 by sweeping Chillicothe IVC 63-49, Rockton Hononegah 81-79 in overtime, Peoria Notre Dame 62-56 and highly rated Rock Island 69-61.

Along the way, everybody got a look at North Chicago's "Terrific Trio," three multi-talented juniors who already are attracting considerable interest from Division I programs: 6-foot-3 JayQuan McCloud (19 ppg), 6-foot-4 Jay Amos-Mays (22 ppg) and 6-foot-4 Kurt Hall (17.5 ppg, 10 rpg).

Against IVC, Hall scored 28 points while Amos-Mays had 13, McCloud 12. Against Hononegah, Amos-Mays scored 25, Hall 19 and McCloud 15. Against Peoria Notre Dame, Amos-Mays scored 22, Hall 17. Against Rock Island, McCloud scored 32 while Hall had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Amos-Mays scored 10. Hall and Amos-Mays were named to the all-tournament team.

They are ably supported by 6-foot-3 senior Jarrod Coleman (12 ppg, 8 rpg), the coach's nephew, and 5-foot-10 junior Arnold Shead. Coleman, the only senior in the lineup, has been offered by Northwestern and Ohio University. Shead, a football star, broke Michael Turner's single-game rushing record with 338 yards.

North Chicago will resume its regular-season schedule against North Suburban Prairie rival Wauconda on Jan. 8, then will host Libertyville on Jan. 12.

"Once I get them to blend in as a team, they will be very successful," Coleman said. "They have made giant strides to reach that goal but they still are reaching out for it. The kids don't know each other that well yet. Once they realize the strong points and weak points in their teammates, they will be an awesome team.

"Our goal is to get to Peoria for the state final. We don't worry about tournaments or the conference. We want to work on things we aren't doing well...transition defense, playing together. I hope we are one unit on defense after the Christmas tournament. Our offense will take care of itself. We will score 80 to 90 points. But other teams score too easy on us. We must get a better grip on shutting teams down."

It has taken a while to get to know each other. McCloud is a native North Chicagoan. But Amos-Mays transferred from Zion-Benton after his sophomore year. He is just beginning to realize that his best sport is basketball, not football. And Hall moved in from Chicago as a freshman.

McCloud has been offered by Wright State. DePaul, Iowa, Northern Illinois, Colorado State, Eastern Kentucky and Indiana-Fort Wayne have expressed interest. Hall has interest from DePaul, Iowa, Indiana, Oregon State, Illinois State, Wichita State, Michigan and Michigan State but is holding out for an offer from his dream school, Kentucky. Amos-Mays, still debating between football and basketball, has basketball interest from DePaul, Iowa, Michigan State, Wright State and Xavier.

But they are juniors and still getting their feet wet. After starting 7-0, they lost to highly rated Providence-St. Mel 73-62 in a game in which they shot 3-of-25 from three-point range. Afterward, Coleman said: "I didn't know what they were doing out there. I never have seen a performance like that. In all my seven years of coaching boys basketball, they were totally unmotivated. They were outplayed, out-rebounded and out-hustled."

To say the Warhawks' only loss to date was a wake up call would be an understatement.

"We aren't as good as we think we are but we can be a great team. We have to do the little things to make each other better and have more leadership," McCloud said.

"When the three of us came together, I worried at first that it might not work. But now I see that we are bonding. We can be a great team, a team that can't be beat. We want to make history. That's our plan, our goal. Our edge is our quickness. We can get up and down the court very fast. We relied too much on Simpson last year. We put a lot of pressure on him. But we have more balanced scoring this year. Leadership on the court will bring us all together. Someone has to take the scoring role that Simpson had and take us Downstate."

Amos-Mays believes he, McCloud and Hall are more hungry, knowing they are supposed to be the team to win a state championship. "We are more of a team this year because we don't look at one person like Simpson last year. We have multiple people who can score. We can rely on three instead of one," he said.

Meanwhile, Amos-Mays is trying to figure out his true identity. He is an outstanding athletequarterback in football. And he is an outstanding but underrated shooting guard in basketball, just beginning to attract attention from major Division I schools.

"It is hard to choose which sport I like the most. It is very difficult," he admits. "I am leaning to basketball right now. But I can't make a choice. I am more successful in basketball than football. I don't feel the same about football as I used to. It isn't as much fun as it used to be, not as much fun as basketball. I have more love for basketball."

Hall has a lot of love for Kentucky. "That's where I want to play," he said. But he has received only one letter, nothing else. He likes the way Kentucky coach John Calipari handles his players. "I have time to show them what I can do. I hope they'll come and see me play," Hall said.

"The loss to Providence-St. Mel was a big wake up call for us. It showed we aren't as good as the the hype right now, that we have to keep our heads out of the limelight. We need more people to step up and prove we can be the No. 1 team in the state with the type of team we have.

"But we must play as a team and compete. It shouldn't be just one of us but all three of us should step up and be a leader. My role is to rebound, play strong, bring aggressiveness to the court, create things inside and open up shots on the outside for Amos-Mays and McCloud. They are the scorers. They can score in many ways.

"Last year, we watched Simpson. This year, any one of us can score and close out a game. We have more balance and we are hungrier this year. We want to be known as the team that took first place in state."

High School Lites Preview: Week 8

High School Lites Preview: Week 8

High School Lites has plenty of action this week as the show will feature some interesting leagues. The Public League's White Divison will be specially focused in this one, with three big games from the city. The show also features Public League Red, SouthWest Suburban and the first ever girls basketball Viewers' Choice Game of the Week. High School Lites airs on NBC Sports Chicago at 11 p.m. on Friday night!

Thursday's Games

DuSable at Dunbar, 5:00 p.m. -- We head to the Public League White Central for this game. DuSable (7-9, 4-3) is coming off of a close loss to Solorio earlier in the week. Dunbar (14-4, 6-1) is trying to hang with unbeaten Lindblom at the top of the conference as they got off to an 11-0 start this season.

Brooks at Fenger, 6:45 p.m. -- Sticking in the Public League's White Division in the South, this one is also among two conference leaders. Brooks (8-8, 7-0) is the unbeaten leader as they're riding a three-game winning streak. Fenger (11-6, 6-1) lost to Ag. Science in conference play as they try to keep pace with both of those teams with a win here at home.

No. 16 Geneva at Naperville North, 7:00 p.m. -- Non-conference play gets interesting in this one. The Vikings (16-1, 5-1) are coming off of a loss to Lake Park that ended their unbeaten season as they try to bounce back. Naperville North (11-6, 3-1) counters with Loyola commit Tom Welch as he's a big All-Area candidate.

Friday's Games

Clark at Westinghouse, 5:00 p.m. -- The top two teams in the Public League White-South play here. Clark (12-7, 6-1) and head coach Terry Head have a lot of young talent as they try to stay in the conference mix after an early loss to Collins in league play. Westinghouse (12-7, 7-0) has also played a tough schedule like Clark as they're hoping to put a two-game cushion on their conference lead late in the season.

Barrington at Fremd, 6:00 p.m. -- An intriguing clash in the Mid-Suburban West for this game. Barrington (13-6, 2-3) lost the first matchup between these two teams on Nov. 30 as they look for revenge. Fremd (13-4, 4-1) lost to Schaumburg to drop out of the Preps Power Rankings, but they've started to make up for it with a win over Maine East earlier this week. 

No. 5 Whitney Young at North Lawndale, 6:30 p.m. -- The Public League Red North/West is arguably the toughest conference from top-to-bottom as we head there for this one. The Dolphins (15-6, 5-1) are coming off of a thrilling overtime win over Uplift as they remain in the mix at the top of the conference. North Lawndale (10-7, 3-4) lost a close game to ranked Orr earlier in the week as they get a shot at another top-25 team in this one.

No. 21 St. Laurence at No. 10 DePaul Prep, 7:00 p.m. -- The best two teams in the Catholic League Blue play here. St. Laurence (18-3, 6-2) earned their way back into the Preps Power Rankings after an impressive win over Leo in conference play last week. DePaul (13-4, 7-0) is unbeaten in Catholic League play behind All-Area candidate Perry Cowan and his talented and veteran teammates.

No. 7 Bolingbrook at No. No. 9 Homewood-Flossmoor, 7:00 p.m. -- The night's best game is in the SouthWest Suburban Blue. Bolingbrook (12-3, 2-0) hasn't lost to an Illinois opponent all season as they feature a top-notch backcourt in Tyler Cochran and Joseph Yesufu. Homewood-Flossmoor (12-4, 3-0) counters with great length and athleticism as senior Isaac Stanbeck and junior R.J. Ogom lead the charge. These teams play again on Feb. 15. 

Bradley-Bourbonnais at Thornwood, 7:00 p.m. -- The SouthWest Suburban Red also has a contest to watch on Friday night. Bradley-Bourbonnais (9-9, 3-1) has dropped two straight, as they try to hang with the conference's elite with a win. Thornwood (10-6, 4-0) leads the division over Thornton and the Boilermakers as they try to maintain a lead. These two teams also play again on Feb. 19.

Huntley at Cary-Grove, 7:00 p.m. -- The Fox Valley race is wide open with six teams within one game of the conference lead. Two of those teams face here. Huntley (10-6, 5-3) lost to Cary-Grove on Dec. 5 at home as they look to get revenge in this one. Cary-Grove (13-5, 5-3) won the Hinkle Holiday Classic at Jacobs as they're trying to make a move on conference leaders Crystal Lake Central and Dundee-Crown.

Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week

Marengo at Burlington Central, -- For the first time, we had a girls Viewers' Choice Game as this one had a close victory with over 2,051 total votes. Marengo (17-5) lost to Burlington Central the first time these two teams played on Dec. 7. Marengo is riding a five-game winning streak heading into this one. Burlington Central (15-5) has won three of their last four as they try to win this important Kiswaukee River contest. 

Edgy Tim's early outlook on the 2019 season

Edgy Tim's early outlook on the 2019 season

Some years, it's pretty easy to select one or two of the top returning teams to watch as potential favorites in the following season.

2019 isn't exactly following the norm. You can make a case for multiple teams to track this winter.

Low hanging fruit/Traditional powers

These are schools that are consistently near the top of the polls and have a track record of success:

Loyola: Why the Ramblers? Because it's Loyola and head coach John Holocek. They will simply reload once again. Later this fall, the Ramblers will bring back three returning starters on the offensive line plus RB Trevor Cabanban.

Lincoln Way East: Head coach Rob Zvonar's Griffins will always need to "reload" since they have such great overall numbers and depth. Seldom will you see a ton of underclassmen starting for Lincoln-Way East; that said, the talent level will remain as strong as ever come August. Junior four-star ranked ATH AJ Henning is a highlight name to watch in Frankfort come opening weekend.

Phillips: The Wildcats and head coach Troy McAllister will graduate a strong senior class this spring, but Phillips also has a deep and talented underclassmen group. Junior OL/DL Demerick Morris and junior DB Ronald Pledger are just to name a few names to watch this coming fall. 

Homewood-Flossmoor: Head coach Craiz Buzea and the Vikings will also be in a similar situation as rival Lincoln-Way East. They both have great overall numbers and need to replace several graduated seniors. The Vikings always seem to find talent. Keep an eye on junior OL Marcus Harper II, junior QB Dominic Jones and junior S/OLB LaVoise McCoy.

Maine South: Another team that consistently fields a good product can be found in Park Ridge. Coach Dave Inserra's Hawks seem to reload just as well as any public school football program year in and year out. Of course, it also helps that one of the Midwest's top offensive linemen is back: four-star ranked Peter Skoronski for the 2019 season.

Batavia: There will be quite a few graduation losses for Batavia this spring. But the Bulldogs also welcome back the Urwiler brothers: junior RB/LB Quinn and sophomore RB/DB Trey. Batavia is a deep program with great numbers and talent. 

Glenbard West: The Hilltoppers and head coach Chad Hetlet are always in state title contention mode. This program always finds a way. Keep an eye on junior OLB/S Greyson Metz for the Hitters come August. 

Marist: The Redhawks will graduate several key seniors from the 2018 season, but junior four-star ranked WR Jadon Thompson along with up-and-coming freshman QB Dontrell Jackson Jr. are key names to watch in 2019.

Montini: It must be nice for Montini Catholic head coach Mike Bukovsky to welcome back two starting quarterbacks. Junior Deontae Bell and sophomore Robert Brazzile are back in the fold for the 2019 season. Keep an eye on junior WR Nate Muersch and OL Michael Banks-Wall as well. The defense brings back five starters from their 2018 Class 5A runner up squad.

Others Teams to Watch in 2019?

Barrington: The Broncos, under head coach Joe Sanchez, always reload. Keep an eye on junior DE Lukas Van Ness, junior QB Tommy Fitzpatrick and junior WR Eric Darlington Jr. this coming season. 

Oak Park-River Forest: The Huskies are stacked with underclassmen talent, including sophomore .QB Jaden McGill.

Minooka: The Indians had 18 underclassmen starters in 2018 and will welcome back a ton of talent, speed and experience this fall.

Prairie Ridge: The Wolves saw their state title run end last season. But Chris Schremp's featured a ton of underclassmen starters last year and they will be stacked this year once again.

St. Rita: Could the Mustangs put together a Brother Rice-type of turnaround? It's very possible. Head coach Todd Kuska played a ton of underclassmen in 2018.

St. Charles North: The North Stars welcome back nine starters from the 2018 season and also have a nice core of current sophomores. North's lower levels are also stacked with big linemen and a plethora of talent on the rise.

Nazareth: The Class 7A state champions will need to reload-- especially on the offensive line. But the skills department (JJ McCarthy/Tyler Morris) is strong. And they also have six starters back on defense.

West Aurora: Lots of multi-year experience coming back; the 2019 Blackhawks feels a lot like the 2016 Blackhawks playoff team.

IC Catholic Prep: The Class 3A state champion Knights welcome back eight starters (two offense, six defense) including RB Kyle Franklin, who's just a sophomore.

Bishop McNamara: The Fighting Irish also bring back 10 starters (four offense, six defense) including QB Tyler Hiller and OL Isaac Ruder.

Willowbrook: The Warriors just keep winning and finding a way to get deep in Class 7A. They will be led this upcoming fall by All State QB/DB Sam Tumilty.