The preseason ranking is fun. What better way to excite high school basketball fans and talk about the sport before even playing a single game?
But anyone who prepares a preseason leaderboard this year will quickly find that this year, like no other, is the prediction of teams led by youthful athletes. So much basketball was played last season and even less seen due to the narrow time window to play and the lack of tournaments and shootouts.
For years I’ve compiled a huge preseason ranking of the top 85 teams, a number that simply grew from the original top 50 to provide extra exposure and highlight more teams and players. There was something humorous about a team or fan base feeling disrespected for being the 74th team in November.
While the task of placing 85 teams is daunting in a normal year, it was almost impossible this season with so little basketball played last year. So I took a passport.
But we have Michael O’Brien’s Sun Times Preseason Super 25 to start and analyze. Below are the six teams that are arguably the best unrated teams in the Chicago area, some of which are in my own top 25 pre-season leaderboards.
This is the best team that was not rated in the preseason Super 25. If things go right, it will be a team that will be a major threat until March.
Trainer Gene Heidkamp did not take any shortcuts when setting up this program when he was taken over in 2008. That is paying off now as the prestigious Benet basketball program just turns the page and wins every year, usually pretty big. The standard remains high this year as well. And a Benet team that’s under the radar is dangerous.
There is only one real recurring starter, Senior Point Guard Brennan White, but Trainer Gene Heidkamp has a junior class that will support this team and a wide variety of perimeter shooters who should be able to score points on the board .
While White averaged seven points and three assists per game last year, 6-4 junior Niko Abusara is expected to take a big leap and is an unknown player to look forward to. He’s got length, athleticism and the will to get into the basket.
Both the 6-3 junior wing Brady Kunka and the 6-6 second big man Parker Sulaver bring some physicality with them and gained valuable experience as young players at the university level a year ago.
The wild card will be 6-9 Kyle Thomas, a transfer from St. Joseph who was once considered one of the top prospects in the class. There is much for Thomas to learn, both within the Benet system and how to play with the expectations that this program will fully expect. But if he can develop into a presence defensively, on the glass, and score points for a tall man with his size, athleticism and ability to run, he could prove to be a great win.
There’s a lot to be said about chemistry and togetherness, especially in an experienced group. With four returning starters, all of whom were double-digit goalscorers a year ago, coach Brett Porto has a lot of it. Because of this, the Rockets are favorites in the Fox Valley Conference after finishing 16-1 last season.
But this group wants more than a 20-plus winning season and conference championship. The program has never won a section title in school history. But this team is built for a potentially long run in March thanks to returning senior starters Gavin Sarvis, Carson Seyller, Zac Schmidt and Nick Carpenter. And keep an eye on 6-7 junior Andrew Scharnowski, who brings size and versatility.
The question now is whether this team can keep up with everyone and play at the highest level? For an early dipstick, the Rockets get a big test against Rolling Meadows in mid-December.
Trainer Mike Ellis only has one returning starter from a year ago. But the wild kits are not going away. It’s a team that could very well have been placed in the top 25 of the preseason, even with senior Rashawn Bost as a single starter a year ago.
More importantly, when it comes to the success factor, Evanston has become an elite program that has had a great run lately. This isn’t nearly as talented of a team as it has been in recent years, but it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the pace and win the total number of teams over the past five years. Even so, Evanston will enjoy his new role as Darkhorse in the Central Suburban League South with Glenbrook South and New Trier as favorites.
This team’s potential begins with the lonely returning starter. Bost’s role as a seasoned Guardian will become an even bigger factor along with Prince Adams, last year’s sixth man. The 6-6 Adams showed lightning last season and should take a significant step forward as a junior.
A big addition is senior David Gieser, a 6-3 shooter who was substituted on by Fenwick. Gieser brings a lot of experience and an urgently needed space-the-floor shoot with him, which was lost with the departure of all-stater Blake Peters.
A few other players to watch out for include Javen Barnett, a junior guard and transfer from Hoffman Estates, and promising freshman guard Yaris Irby.
It’s not often that the preseason Super 25 doesn’t have a single team from the North Suburban Conference. Whether Stevenson, Waukegan, Warren, Zion-Benton or even an upstart like Mundelein a year ago, it has been a strong and proud basketball league for the past few decades.
This year’s favorite: Lake Forest. It’s a team that would be in my preseason top 25 and one that can look back on 20-plus wins and be a key player in March – this year in Class 3A.
The scouts reached 12-4 in the shortened season a year ago and welcome Junior Asa Thomas, currently the best placed candidate in the City / Suburban Hoops Report in the class of 2023. He already has several important offers and is one of the best perimeter shooters. The 6-6 Thomas averaged 11 points per game for his sophomore year, but has grown bigger, stronger and has two years of college basketball under his belt.
Senior Cade Nowik is a two year old starter and Leo Scheidler is a sporty 6-2 senior who is starting his third year at the university level. Senior point guard Sam Gibson is a nice size for the position at 6-3, while Alex Forowycz is another perimeter player for coach Phil LaScala at 6-1.
There aren’t enough people talking about LT basketball as this 2021-22 season kicks off. This is a dangerous team with multiple weapons to turn to, none bigger than Tavari Johnson.
The slim senior point guard who signed with Akron is the rare manifold and bucket combo. He can do both efficiently and is ready for a big season. A game-changer with the ball in hand, Johnson puts the Lions at risk of breaking into the top 25 at some point this season.
Will Carroll, a 6-4 senior, is another major returnee for Trainer Tom Sloan, while there are also some good, young pieces on the program. The Junior Class are talented, prepared and ready to make a splash, including 6-6 Nik Polonowski looking like a future Division I candidate, 6-0 guard Jackson Niego and 6-5 Graham Smith.
The Bulldogs can sometimes get lost playing in the nondescript Metro Suburban Conference. But RB won 11-2 last year, just like they did since the 2008/09 season. It has been more than a decade since this program regularly produced 20 winning seasons.
This season should be more similar with so many veterans returning who produced a year ago and had another offseason to develop together. When you combine skill, shooting and experience it is a potentially dangerous offensive team.
There is an abundance of shootouts and ratings in the form of 6: 2 security guard Joevonn McCottry (13 pages), 6: 3 shooter JP Hanley (16 pages), 6: 3 Joe Gilhooly (8 pages), Cory Baker (10 pages). and point guard Brady Vaia. Plus, Will Gonzalez is an exciting sophomore sophomore with college experience who should take a big step forward. Arius Alijosius, a transfer from Stagg, adds depth and extra shooting.