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Boys Basketball: Morgan Park earns SouthtownStar preseason No. 1 ranking

The Morgan Park boys basketball team is SouthtownStar's preseasNo. 1 team. Pictured from left are coach Nick IrvJosh Cunningham Lamont

The Morgan Park boys basketball team is the SouthtownStar's preseason No. 1 team. Pictured from left are coach Nick Irvin, Josh Cunningham, Lamont Walker, Charlie Moore, Billy Garrett and Torry Johnson. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 20, 2012 6:06AM



For the first time in three years, a team other than Homewood-Flossmoor will occupy the SouthtownStar’s Preseason No. 1 spot for boys basketball.

The honor this year goes to Morgan Park, a team so loaded with talent, two starters from last season are in reserve roles this season.

“It’s a big honor, a big accomplishment to be No. 1,” Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said. “On paper, we’re real good. I believe we have 12 Division I players on our roster.

“But being preseason No. 1 is nothing unless we win a state title. We want to be No. 1 at the end of the season.”

Here’s a look at the SouthtownStar Preseason Top 10:

1. MORGAN PARK

Last season: 21-8 (7-2 Public League Red-South)

Key returnees: Billy Garrett Jr. (6-4, Sr., G), Markee Williams (5-10, Sr., G), Xavier Taylor (6-9, Sr., F), Josh Cunningham (6-7, Jr., F).

Keep an eye on: Kyle Davis, (6-1, Sr., G), Alonzo Chapman, (6-7, Fr., F), Charlie Moore, (5-8, Fr., G).

Coach Nick Irvin: “We’re good at every position. We have guys who can fill the void when needed. We have guards and bigs; slashers and shooters.”

Disabato’s take: This is a team without weakness. In Garrett, a DePaul recruit, Morgan Park boasts one of the top players in the state. Williams, Taylor and Cunningham are far more than just window dressing — each one has the ability to make an impact. Irvin can probably go 11 deep and barely skip a beat. The concern? There still is just one ball and the players must check their egos at the door if expectations are to be met.

2. SETON

Last season: 28-6 (11-0 Catholic League South)

Key returnees: Mark Weems Jr., (6-2, Sr., G), Kamal Shashi (6-2, Sr., G).

Keep an eye on: Alex Foster (6-8, Sr., Sr).

Coach Brandon Thomas: “The keys to our team will be our attitude and effort. The bar is always high in our program, so we must maintain a sharp focus on details and use great intensity to get better daily.”

Disabato’s take: With Weems and Shashi, Seton already had two dangerous scorers at its disposal. The addition of Foster, a transfer from De La Salle who has committed to Minnesota, provides a difference-maker in the post. Seton has a blend of size and speed that will give opponents serious fits.

3. BLOOM

Last season: 28-5 (9-1 Southland Conference)

Key returnees: Johnny Griffin (6-4, Sr., F), Dejahown Freeman (6-2, Sr., G), Jataryan Dejaraux (6-4, Sr., F).

Keep an eye on: Zerell Jackson (5-9, Jr., G).

Coach Jasper Williams: “We have a good group, with some key players back from last season. We have high expectations.”

Disabato’s take: The Blazing Trojans are the team to beat in a competitive Southland Conference, which says a lot about their talent. Griffin is one of the best defenders and rebounders in the area. Freeman and Dejaraux can fill the bucket. The one area of concern is experience off the bench. However, as long as the main core remains healthy and avoids foul trouble, the Class 4A state finalists will again wreak havoc.

4. ST. RITA

Last season: 16-11 (9-2 Catholic League North)

Key returnees: Victor Law (6-6, Jr., F), Dominique Matthews (6-2, Jr., G), Charles Matthews (6-5, Soph., G), Myles Carter (6-8, Soph., F).

Keep an eye on: Scott Kingsley (6-4, Sr., G).

Coach Gary DeCesare: “Our strength will be the versatility of our team. The biggest concern is our youth, as we could start four to five underclassmen at any point of the season. Come March, we will be battle-tested to compete for a state championship.”

Disabato’s take: After being bit by the injury bug the past two seasons, the Mustangs enter the season at full strength. There’s enormous skill here — Law, Carter and the Matthews brothers are elite talents — but it will be worth watching if a lack of senior leadership becomes a detriment in heated moments.

5. HILLCREST

Last season: 27-6 (11-1 South Suburban Blue)

Key returnees: Jovan Mooring (6-5, Sr., F), Kyle Oden (5-9, Sr., G).

Keep an eye on: Taylor Adaway (6-7, Soph., F).

Coach Don Houston: “We have a great mixture of youth and experience. We have a lot of depth; (we) can easily go 11 deep. We also have a mixture of speed and height. If the players buy into playing tough, we can have a very good year.”

Disabato’s take: In Mooring and Oden, the Hawks boast two outstanding, experienced players. There’s no reason to think the rest of the pieces won’t fall in place, as in past seasons. Houston demands a team-first attitude and the kids demonstrate it each and every night.

6. BROTHER RICE

Last season: 17-10 (8-2 Catholic League South)

Key returnees: Alex Majewski (6-6, Sr., F), Cal Kennedy (6-6, Sr., F), Jim Barista (5-9, Sr., G), Ray Rubio Jr., (6-2, Sr., G), Matt Page (6-5, Sr., F).

Keep an eye on: Quinn Niego (6-2, Jr., G).

Coach Pat Richardson: “With our schedule, we can’t afford to have a poor shooting night or make too many mistakes. We have great kids and some excellent players returning, so we feel like we’re up to the challenge.”

Disabato’s take: The loss of forward Cal Kennedy (elbow)for four to six weeks will be difficult to overcome early in the season. The Crusaders have the depth and experience to remain competitive until he returns. The addition of Niego, a transfer from St. Rita and son of De La Salle and Lewis University great Charlie Niego, provides a smart, skilled weapon.

7. MARIST

Last season: 26-6 (6-2 East Suburban Catholic Conference)

Key returnees: L.J. McIntosh (6-foot, Sr., G), Lexus Williams (5-11, Sr., G), Nic Weishar (6-6, Jr., F).

Keep an eye on: Jack Barry (5-11, Sr., G), Zack Niemiera (6-1, Sr., G).

Coach Gene Nolan: “This is the most difficult schedule we’ve ever had. We have a great group of kids; they like each other and they don’t make excuses.”

Disabato’s take: The loss of Weishar (arm surgery) for possibly the season is a major blow, denying the RedHawks of a proven inside presence. However, Williams and McIntosh are four-year varsity members who can pretty much score at will. Opponents likely are going to attack the duo, which will put more emphasis on the development of a big man to alleviate some of the scoring burden.

8. LEMONT

Last season: 25-3, (12-1 South Suburban Blue)

Key returnees: Juozas Balciunas (6-1, Sr., G), Joe Hehir (6-foot, Sr., G), Mike Wisz (6-1, Jr., G).

Keep an eye on: Martynas Einikis (6-3, Sr., F).

Coach Rick Ruunas: “We hope to be competitive at the highest level if we can build on our team defense and figure out roles on offense.”

Disabato’s take: Balciunas, the MVP of the South Suburban Blue, is one of the top players in the Southland. The addition of Einikis, a transfer from Oak Lawn, provides the Indians with a valuable swingman. The lack of an established inside presence is a concern, but the Indians experience and skill at guard will allow them to compete with the best.

9. ANDREW

Last season: 24-3 (12-2 SouthWest Suburban Red)

Key returnees: Jubril Adekoya (6-6, Sr., F), Glorind Lisha (6-2, Sr., G), Mike Grenda (5-9, Sr., G).

Keep an eye on: Luke Hook (6-3, Soph., G), Gino Karopulos (6-2, Soph., G).

Coach Mike O’Halloran: “We have a good mix of skill, experience and youthful talent that will enable us to be competitive each and every night this season.”

Disabato’s take: Adekoya arguably is the most well-rounded player in the area. His combination of skill, size, strength, speed and court sense is off the charts. Having Lisha, a major long-range threat and exceptional passer, as his wingman will assure the Thunderbolts of a conference title run. If either Hook or Karopulos (or both) step up, Andrew will be more dangerous than last season.

10. HOMEWOOD-FLOSSMOOR

Last season: 22-9 (12-2 in SouthWest Suburban Blue)

Key returnees: Marius Hill (6-5, Sr., F), Ricky Bullock (6-3, Sr., F), Thad Little (6-3, Sr., G).

Keep an eye on: Rashaan Surles (6-5, Sr., F), Lamar Wofford (6-8, Sr., C).

Coach Jim McLaughlin: “We’re going to be a different basketball team than last year, not a one- or two-man team. We have seven to 10 guys who can play. We’re going to play fast and have fun.”

Disabato’s take: McLaughlin promises an uptempo style, which should play to this team’s strengths. Hill is the closest thing the Vikings have to an establish presence, but a lack of experience should not be confused with a lack of talent. There’s plenty of skill for this team to make a deep run.



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