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Twenty questions on the upcoming high school basketball season

Twenty questions and answers about the upcoming season.

1. Who is the best player in the area?

This is an easy one, in the preseason at least. Thornton’s Morez Johnson, who has signed with Illinois, is the clear top player right now. The 6-9 forward is a tremendous athlete with a high motor that impacts the game at all times on both ends of the court. 

2. Which players are on the preseason All-State team?

Things get tricky after Johnson. The other top seniors all transferred out of state this summer. But there is a solid group remaining that will jockey for position all season. Right now go with Downers Grove North guard Jack Stanton (Princeton) Mount Carmel’s Angelo Ciaravino (Northwestern), St. Ignatius junior Phoenix Gill and Peoria Richwoods’ 6-10 senior Lathan Sommerville (Rutgers).

3. Which teams are the favorites to win Class 4A?

The local Super 25 is dominated by Class 4A teams this year. The success factor has kicked in and elevated Simeon and St. Ignatius up to 4A. So Kenwood, Thornton, Downers Grove North and Homewood-Flossmoor are the favorites, joined by a solid handful of teams from around the state including Normal, Quincy, Collinsville and O’Fallon. It’s a strong year outside the area.

4. Is there a team that might make a Cinderella run?

There are two very talented teams full of untested young players. Young and Benet are both loaded with ability. It’s unlikely either team will look like a state-title contender in November or even December. But it is possible by late February. Dolphins coach Tyrone Slaughter and Benet coach Gene Heidkamp both know how to win in the playoffs. 

5. Who are the favorites in Class 3A?

Mount Carmel, Brother Rice and DePaul Prep are the local favorites. They could all wind up in the same sectional. But the clear favorite is Metamora. The Peoria-area school is nationally ranked, won the 3A title last year and lost in the title game in 2022. The Redbirds added Iowa recruit Cooper Coch, a transfer from Peoria Notre Dame. 

6. What’s the most interesting development for this season?

It’s the freshmen. Three players are arriving with a boatload of hype. They showed up just in time, as so many talented seniors and juniors transferred out of state. Kenwood’s Devin Cleveland, Warren’s Jaxson Davis and Bolingbrook’s Davion Thompson are expected to make major impacts this season. Also, keep an eye on Young’s Howard Williams. 

7. Which players have improved the most since last season?

Two names emerged over the summer: Benet sophomore Gabe Sularski and York senior AJ Levine. Sularski didn’t play varsity last season and could become a breakout star. Kenwood big man Jaden Smith has also made significant strides.

8. Which players are worth traveling to see?

Johnson, of course, but also the three freshmen sensations.

9. What are the top teams from outside the area?

Metamora and Normal are the top choices. Both are state title contenders. But Peoria Richwoods, featuring Rutgers-bound big man Lathan Sommerville, is another to watch.

10. Who is the most important transfer?

Johnson to Thornton. He was one of eight college-bound players that left St. Rita. 

11. Who is the most under-appreciated player in the area?

Christ The King, a team that is usually far off the radar, has a college prospect in 6-6 senior Calvin Worsham.

12. Which teams were overlooked in the preseason Super 25?

St. Laurence, which endured a tumultuous offseason, still has Denver recruit Josh Pickett, a West Aurora transfer, and guard Zerrick Johnson. Romeoville is another one to watch, with St. Laurence transfer EJ Mosley and Fenwick transfer DJ Porter. Also keep an eye on Conant, Loyola, Niles North and Kankakee.

13. What is the must-see game of the year?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a major opening-day game this season. But fans won’t have to wait long for a huge game. The preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams, Kenwood and Thornton, play each other at the Chicago Elite Classic on Dec. 2.

14. What is the strongest conference in the area?

The shift has happened, the Public League’s mighty Red-South/Central “superconference” has been dethroned by the Catholic League Blue. Mount Carmel, St. Ignatius, Brother Rice, DePaul and De La Salle are all ranked and Loyola is close.

15. What’s going on with holiday tournaments?

York has made an exciting addition with Metamora and the Big Dipper is getting back on its feet. Things are looking up after a few down years locally. 

16. Will new coach Tim Flowers keep things rolling at Simeon?

Flowers has massive shoes to fill. The former Simeon star is taking over his alma mater’s reigns from legendary coach Robert Smith. The Wolverines didn’t have a ton of talent returning, but the roster has been bolstered by some transfers. This will be interesting to watch.

17. Who are the new coaches to watch?

Lamont Bryant’s arrival at Proviso West is fascinating. Also, keep an eye on Will Benson at Stevenson and Rick Romeli at Marian Catholic. 

18. Which sophomores will emerge?

There are a handful at Young poised to become stars, but all eyes are on Benet’s Gabe Sularski right now. 

19. Who are the best big men in the area?

It’s a short list. Kenwood’s 6-11 Jaden Smith, Yorkville’s 6-11 Jason Jakstys and Riverside-Brookfield’s 6-11 Stefan Cicic.

20. Will the transfers calm down or is this the new normal?

There were nearly 200 boys basketball transfers in the state this season that I’m aware of. The actual number could be closer to 300. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of things slowing down.