The pre-season rankings are fun. What better way to get high school basketball fans to talk about sports before a single game is played?
But anyone who does a preseason qualifying this year will quickly realize that junior athletes-led teams aren’t like other years for their predictions. A lot of basketball was played last season and even less watched due to the small window of opportunity to play and the absence of tournaments and skirmishes.
Over the years I’ve put together a massive pre-season ranking of the top 85 teams, an increasing number fresh from the top 50, to gain additional exposure and feature more teams and players. There was something humorous about feeling disrespected by a 74th-ranked team or fanbase in November.
While the task of ranking 85 teams in a regular year was daunting, it was nearly impossible this season as so little basketball was played last year. So I passed.
But we have Michael O’Brien’s Sun-Times preseason Super 25 to start and review. The following are six teams that are arguably the best unrated teams in the Chicago area, a few of which will make it into my pre-season top 25.
This is the best team not included in the pre-season rankings of the Super 25. If all goes right, it will be a team that will pose a major threat by March.
When coach Gene Heidkamp took over in 2008, he didn’t take shortcuts when creating this program. This is now paying off, as the venerable Benet basketball program has just turned the page and has usually pretty big wins each year. The standard is just as high this year. And a Benet team under the radar is dangerous.
There is only one returning starting player, veteran quarterback Brennan White, but coach Gene Heidkamp has a junior class to support this team and a number of perimeter shooters who need to be able to score points on the board.
While White averaged seven points and three assists in a game last year, 6-4 young Niko Abusara is expected to make a big splash and is an unknown player to be excited about. He has height, athleticism, and the desire to reach the basket.
Both 6-3 junior wing Brady Kunka and 6-6 sophomore tall man Parker Sulaver brought some physicality and gained valuable experience as varsity-level junior players a year ago.
Joker, once considered one of the top nominees in the class, St. Transferring from Joseph will be 6-9 Kyle Thomas. There’s a lot to learn for Thomas, both within the Benet system and how this program will play out exactly what he expects. However, if he can take a defensive stance on the glass and score goals using his size, athleticism and running ability for a tall man, he can prove to be a great asset.
There is something to be said about chemistry and harmony, especially with an experienced group. With four returning players a year ago, all of whom were double-digit scorers, coach Brett Porto has a lot of it. That’s why the Rockets are Fox Valley Conference favorites after a 16-1 win last season.
But this group is seeking a season of more than 20 wins and a conference championship. The program has never earned a divisional title in school history. But that team was built for a potential long run in March thanks to returning veteran startups Gavin Sarvis, Carson Seyller, Zac Schmidt and Nick Carpenter. And keep an eye out for Andrew Scharnowski, 6-7 years younger, who brings size and versatility.
Now the question is: Can this team compete with everyone and play at the highest level? For an early measuring stick, the Rockets take a big test in mid-December against Rolling Meadows.
Coach Mike Ellis has only one returning anthem from a year ago. But the Wildkits are not going away. This is a team that could very well line up in the pre-season top 25, despite veteran Rashawn Bost starting alone from a year ago.
More importantly, when it comes to the success factor, Evanston has become an elite program that has had a fantastic late season. It’s not as talented a team as it has been in recent years, but keeping up with the pace of the teams of the last five years and winning the totals is nearly impossible. Still, Evanston will enjoy his new darkhorse role in Central Suburban League South as Glenbrook South and New Trier favorites.
The potential of this team begins with the starter that spins alone. Bost’s role as a seasoned guard will become an even bigger factor, alongside last year’s sixth man, Prince Adams. 6-6 Adams showed flashes last season and should take an important step forward as a teenager.
A big addition is veteran David Gieser, a 6-3 shooter who transferred from Fenwick. Gieser brings in a ton of experience and much-needed pitching lost with the departure of the all-star Blake Peters.
A few other players to keep an eye on are Javen Barnett, a young guard and signing from Hoffman Estates, and promising top-notch guard Yaris Irby.
It’s not uncommon for the preseason Super 25 to not have a single team from the Northern Suburban Conference. Whether it’s newbies like Stevenson, Waukegan, Warren, Zion-Benton, or Mundelein a year ago, it’s been a strong and proud basketball league over the past few decades.
This year’s favorite: Lake Forest. A team that will be in my top 25 pre-season and can run to over 20 wins and in March –– could be a key player in Class 3A this year.
The Scouts went 12-4 in the shortened season a year ago, and welcome young Asa Thomas, who is currently the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top-ranked nominee in the Class of 2023. best environmental shooters. 6-6 Thomas averaged 11 points per game in sophomore year but got bigger, stronger and got two years of college basketball under his belt.
Senior Cade Nowik is a two-year beginner and Leo Scheidler is an athletic 6-2 senior starting his third year at college level. Senior quarterback Sam Gibson is a nice size for the position at 6-3, while 6-1 Alex Forowycz is another perimeter for coach Phil LaScala.
There aren’t enough people talking about LT basketball as the tips for the 2021-22 season are here. This is a dangerous team with several guns no bigger than Tavari Johnson.
The stylish veteran quarterback to sign with Akron is the rare combination of distributor and bucket hunter. It can do both efficiently and is ready for a big season. Johnson is a ball-holding game changer, making the Lions a threat to get into the top 25 at some point this season.
While 6-4 year old Will Carroll is another major returning player for coach Tom Sloan, there are some good, youthful pieces on the show as well. The young class is talented, prepared and ready to make a splash, including 6-6 Nik Polonowski, 6-0 guard Jackson Niego and 6-5 Graham Smith with the looks of the future Division 1.
Bulldogs can sometimes get a little lost when playing in the undefined Metro Suburban Conference. However, RB won 11-2 last year, as they have since the 2008-09 season. It’s been over a decade that this program has regularly aired a season of 20 wins.
This season should be the same with the return of so many veterans who produced a year ago and had another season to thrive together. When you combine skill, shooting and experience, it’s a potentially dangerous offensive team.
Lots of shots and goals in the form of 6-2 guard Joevonn McCottry (13 points), 6-3 shooter JP Hanley (16 points), 6-3 Joe Gilhooly (8 points), Cory Baker (10 points). and quarterback Brady Vaia. Plus, Will Gonzalez is an exciting 6-4 sophomore with college experience who needs to take a big step forward. Arius Alijosius, a transfer from Stagg, adds depth and added attraction.