Whitney Young's schedule is tougher than the Chicago Bulls. They'll go anywhere, anytime to play anyone in sneakers, from Myrtle Beach to Waikiki Beach. They have accumulated more frequent-flyer miles than President Obama. So why are they getting less respect than a hot dog with ketchup?
"We won the state championship in 2009, were second in the state in 2010 and lost in the sectional final last year," coach Tyrone Slaughter said. "This team is as good as any of those teams.
"This team plays a more national schedule. We have lost five games to nationally ranked teams. Wins and losses don't indicate the level of what we have done. I'm not pleased with our record. But I'm pleased about where we are. Look at the history of our teams. We have gotten better as we went along."
Whitney Young is 8-7 after losing to third-ranked Curie 59-47 on Sunday in the finale of the two-day Whitney Young Shootout.
It doesn't get any easier for the Dolphins, who start three sophomores and have lost to the Nos. 1, 5, 11 and 19 teams in the nation. They play at Louisville (Ky.) Ballard on Saturday and have a Feb. 4 date with highly rated Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas in a Nike event in California.
"Our spirits aren't shaken," Slaughter said. "We're looking to cut back on turnovers and seeing our young people continue to develop. Then we will be more successful over the next month and a half. We will continue to get better."
Slaughter's 2009 and 2010 powerhouses featured outstanding guard play with Anthony Johnson, Chris Colvin, Marcus Jordan and Ahmad Starks. He insists his current squad will have as dominant a front court as any team in the state or nation "when all the parts are together."
There is one problem. All of the parts may never be together this season. Tommy Hamilton, a 6-9 junior who is rated one of the leading prospects in his class, underwent surgery for an injured patella last month and it still hasn't been determined if he will return or not. He was scheduled to be sidelined for at least four weeks.
"That's a great setback for us," Slaughter said. "We hope to get him back. If we had Tommy, we would be dramatically better right now. But others have stepped up. That's why this team will be good."
So there is more pressure on Whitney Young's other two front-line standouts to carry the load. Jahlil Okafor, a 6-foot-11, 265-pound sophomore who is rated as the No. 2 player in his class nationally, and Paul White, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, is just beginning to spread his wings.
Okafor averages 21.7 points per game but White averages only 11. He still is recovering from an injury that forced him to sit out for three months in the summer.
"He is just getting back," Slaughter said. "When he is healthy, he will be as good as anyone in the country. I compare him to (former King and Illinois star) Marcus Liberty. He is 70 to 75 percent back now. He will continue to improve."
Hamilton's starting spot has been taken by 6-foot-5 senior Nate Brooks, who scored 33 on his ACT and is going to attend the University of Chicago. An outstanding rebounder, he grabs eight per game.
In the backcourt, Slaughter is counting on the continued development of 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard Miles Reynolds, who is in his first season of varsity competition, and 6-foot-4 Gabriel Snider, who is committed to Illinois-Chicago.
"This is a new role for Reynolds. We have given him the keys to the vehicle and told him to drive it. He is learning to fly. There is a lot of pressure on him," Slaughter said, noting that Reynolds was the starting point guard on last year's sophomore team that won the city title. He was pushed into the starting point guard position when Derrick Randolph left.
The first two players off the bench are 6-foot-4 senior Jordan Smith and 6-foot-4 junior Keith Langston. Smith, who scored 34 on his ACT, also will be attending the University of Chicago.
Slaughter is in his seventh year at Whitney Young. A 1982 graduate of Fenger, he never played basketball in his life. He majored in broadcast journalism at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
"I wanted to talk about sports. I didn't know about basketball until college," he said.
He became the student manager of the women's basketball team. "The coach took me under his wing. I enjoyed it. I wanted to be more valuable than just handing out towels and water. When the team won the women's national title, I felt basketball would be something I would enjoy," he said.
Slaughter came back to Chicago and continued to coach neighborhood youth teams during the summer. He managed a Dominick's grocery store, coached an AAU team and was hired at Whitney Young 10 years ago.
"Who woulda thunk it? A manager for Dominick's coaching this basketball team?" said Slaughter, now 47. "It is a natural fit for me. Anyone who coaches the game is in it to help mold and direct young people. I enjoy the competition of sport. I enjoy the fact that we can impact their lives in ways that others wouldn't."