High School: Crane
SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. – Seton is going to play the role of underdog as long as it can.
Unfortunately for the Sting, their hourglass has almost expired on that, especially after No. 19 Seton upset No. 9 Crane 73-66 before plenty of watchful eyes on Tuesday.
“We had nothing to prove,” Seton coach Brandon Thomas said afterward. “They were the higher ranked team. They’re the team that some even possibly have picked to win state in 3A. We didn’t have anything to prove other than the fact that if somebody comes into our house we can defend it.”
Few teams will likely be ranked higher than Seton (8-0) a week from now, and Thomas won’t be able to hide behind that thought process. Whether he likes it or not, Seton has proven quickly this season it’s among the state’s elite teams.
Crane coach Chris Head certainly left Seton’s gym impressed how the Sting dissected his team with 3-pointers, rebounding, inside play, defensive pressure and overall teamwork.
“They do some things that remind of my old Westinghouse team,” said Head, who coached Westinghouse to a state title. “They get up and down the court. They press. They run and jump. They shoot the 3 in transition. They do some real untraditional things.”
Seton’s unique style was on full display while it overtook Crane (1-1) in the third quarter. After trailing 34-33 at halftime, the Sting pushed ahead for good late in the third quarter by forcing Crane into turnovers and knocking down 3-pointers. When the quarter was up, Crane had committed nine turnovers to Seton’s one, and the Sting had drained five 3-pointers to go ahead 59-51.
“This is the first game we were down at halftime,” Thomas said. “We’ve been waiting for some adversity. This is the first time we faced any adversity, and we were okay.”
Seton junior guard Mark Weems Jr. especially came through in the deciding third quarter. He scored 10 points, made two 3-pointers and had one steal. He finished with 16 points.
But Seton was more than one-man wrecking ball against Crane. The Stings had four players in double figures and went six deep on their bench.
Senior guard Jordan Foster (13 points, three steals), senior forward J.R. Tolliver (17 points, nine rebounds) and junior guard Kamai Shasi (14 points) contributed for Seton.
Being only Crane’s second game, Head wasn’t too down about the loss.
“What I really tried to do was prolong the season as long as possible to get as many reps, as many practices with the kids as possible,” Head said. “We couldn’t wait until Christmas. We’re playing a heck of a schedule. We knew coming in it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Crane junior guard Markee Williams had 13 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, in his season debut. He was ruled eligible on Monday.
Senior guard Willie Conner led Crane with 23 points.
2. Warren: The Blue Devils lost to Simeon by eight points in the Pontiac holiday tournament championship and by nine points in the state championship game. They could very well meet Simeon in both places again this season. Warren returns three starters -- Western Michigan recruit Darius Paul, Toledo recruit Nathan Boothe and senior guard JoVaughn Gaines -- from that team. They’ll also look to Jameris Smith, Jon Geske and Mitch Munda. This will be coach Chuck Ramsey’s final season.
3. Whitney Young: There aren’t even many college teams in the country that have as much size and skill in the front court as the Dolphins do. Six-foot-11 center Jahlil Okafor is ranked No. 3 in the Class of 2014. Paul White, who is a 6-8 swingman, is ranked No. 17 in the Class of 2014. Tommy Hamilton Jr., who is 6-9, is ranked No. 23 in the Class of 2013. There’s also 6-8 Jermaine Morgan, who is a Colorado State recruit. The big question for Whitney Young is who will bring the ball up the court. If the Dolphins can figure out their backcourt, they should be among the state’s and nation’s best teams.
4. Proviso East: First-year coach Donnie Boyce has plenty to work with this season. The Pirates return senior point guard Keith Carter, who recently committed to Saint Louis, junior guard Sterling Brown, who is becoming a national recruit, senior forward Trashaun Carroll and juniors Paris Lee, Paris Burns and Mike Nicholas.
5. Downers Grove South: The Mustangs will possess one of the state’s top backcourts with 6-2 senior Jamall Millison and 6-3 senior Jerron Wilbut. Wilbut is considered one of the top players in the state’s Class of 2012. Downers Grove South also returns 6-5 forward Kevin Honn, a two-year starter. The question for the Mustangs will be rebounding and interior defense.
6. Curie: The Condors have the pieces to compete for the Public League and state championship. They’re as deep as anyone and will be led by 6-8 sophomore Cliff Alexander, who is ranked No. 13 in the country. Transfer Malcolm Hill-Bey should be an asset in the backcourt with the loss of Greg Travis to graduation.
7. De La Salle: The Meteors could be a state contender if everything clicks for them. They have some of the state’s most highly-ranked players, but the question is whether those players can adjust to bigger roles this season with the graduation of Dre Henley and Mike Shaw. De La Salle will be depending on 6-8 Gavin Schilling, 6-7 Alex Foster and 6-4 Alvin Ellis.
8. Homewood-Flossmoor: The Vikings may be the most experienced team in the state -- it seems Tim Williams, a 6-8 forward, and 6-5 Delvon Rencher have been around forever. Homewood-Flossmoor also returns Antonio Bishop, Marius Hill, Tyrone Sherman and Lamar Wofford-Humphrey. Will this be the season they finally take that next step?
9. St. Rita: This looks to be the year coach Gary DeCesare turns St. Rita’s program completely around. After going 12-14 last season, the Mustangs return 6-7 senior forward AJ Avery, a Western Michigan recruit, 6-2 guard Tony Hicks, a Penn recruit, senior point guard Cullen Foulks, sophomore forward Victor Law and sophomore guard Dominique Matthews. There also will be a couple freshmen who will contribute immediately. St. Rita will be the team to beat in the Catholic League.
10. Farragut: The Admirals should be among the best teams in Chicago again. Six-foot-7 forward Rashaun Stimage is a jack of all trades and is among the state’s best seniors. Senior twins Deonte and Alante Terrell are eligible this season after trasferring and sitting out last year. Both should be among the team’s major contributors this season. Returning guard Lavell Boyd and senior John Carter, a transfer from Oak Park, should bring stability to the backcourt.
11. Andrew: The Thunderbolts are ready to emerge as one of the area’s best this season. They’ll be led by 6-5 forward Jubril Adekoya, who does a bit of everything for them. Jawad Adekoya and Glorinda Lisha are also key returnees.
12. Hyde Park: The Thunderbirds could be among the elite group of teams if all their transfers are eligible. They have eight transfers, including former Bogan forward Moshawn Thomas. Regardless of whether everyone is eligible, Hyde Park should still be pretty good. Point guard Kyle Davis is among the state’s best juniors.
13. New Trier: The Trevians have plenty of talent and experience back this season. Connor Boehm, a 6-7 Dartmouth recruit, and 6-4 guard Austin Angel will be the team’s go-to players. They also return David Bragiel, Reid Bermnan and Jordan Thomas.
14. Crane: Chris Head takes over a talented group this season at Crane. The Cougars are headed by Willie Connor, who can fill up the basket, and Kalen Shane. They’ve also added Markee Williams, who was formerly at Morgan Park.
15. Crete-Monee: Former legendary Hillcrest coach Tom Cappel is now at Crete-Monee. He’ll be led by Illinois recruit and senior point guard Michael Orris. Marvie Keith, a 3-pointer shooter, and LaQuan Treadwell, a big-time football recruit, should also contribute.
16. Morgan Park: The Mustangs are handing the reins off to junior guard Billy Garrett Jr. after the graduation of Wayne Blackshear. While Garrett Jr. will be a point guard at the next level, he’s proven he can be a big-time scorer and passer at the high school level. He’ll be assisted by 6-9 center Xzavier Taylor, 6-5 forward Adrian Jefferies, 6-2 guard Terrance Quinn and 6-3 Dominique Lee and a number of freshman and sophomore newcomers.
17. St. Joseph: The Chargers endured a rare losing season under coach Gene Pingatore last season. That shouldn’t be the case again this year. They’ll be led by 6-1 Reggie Johnson, 6-8 junior A.J. Patty, 6-5 sophomore Karriem Simmons and 6-4 sophomore Paul Turner.
18. Bloom: The Blazing Trojans should be able to build on last year’s 16 wins with the talent they have returning. They’ll be led by three-year starter Donald Moore, who led them in scoring and assists last season. He’ll have help from LeJavius Johnson, Henry Hicks, Johnny Griffin, Dejahown Freeman and Nhyree Mitchell.
19. Oak Park: The Huskies had a rough season a year ago, but should be one of the area’s best teams this year. They have seven returnees, a group led by Bradley recruit and senior guard Ka’Darryl Bell, who averaged 15 points last year. Senior forward Gave Levin, who averaged 11 points and nine rebounds, senior forward Alex Nesnidal and junior guard Jakari Cammon also return.
20. Waukegan: The Bulldogs will rely heavily on their guards this season. Akeem Springs, a 6-4 combo guard, averaged 19 points and nine rebounds last season. Waukegan also returns Devonte Taylor, Jordan Johnson and Dijon Ross. Sophomore power forward Jerome Davis could make an impact this season.
Head compiled a 213-70 record in nine seasons at Brooks, Proviso West and Westinghouse. He won a state championship with Westinghouse in 2002 and finished second in 2000.
Controversy often has followed Head. He was suspended during the 1999-00 season after he took nine players from his high school team to play in a summer AAU tournament. At Proviso West, he did not have his contract renewed after one season following a suspension by the IHSA after violating season-limitation bylaws.
At Brooks, he was suspended for two games in 2010 after being ejected from a game at Centralia's holiday tournament. In June of 2010, Brooks principal Dushon Brown told the Chicago Sun-Times, "I had to let Chris go. It became apparent that we had philosophical differences and I just thought a change should be made."
Crane athletic director Bennie Horton said Head's controversial past did not weigh into his hiring.
"No, when we hire someone, we take somebody from the day we interview them and go forward from there," Horton said. "His background, as we know, is impeccable."
Horton said Head was chosen from 40 applicants, among whom were candidates with high school and college coaching experience.
"He's a good fit for us," Horton said. "He coached at Westinghouse. Westinghouse and Crane have about the same type of player. We just thought he was a good fit for Crane."
Crane's last coach, Tim Anderson, left to become a college assistant coach at Texas-Pan American.
Crane is considered one of Chicago's premier basketball schools. Its recent basketball alumni include Tony Allen, Will Bynum and Sherron Collins, all of whom have played in the NBA. Crane has won six regionals and two sectionals and has made one state tournament appearance since 2004.
"It was a highly desirable job just by the number of applicants," Horton said. "We've had some success. This team in particular went to the super-sectionals last year. We've had some very good players and have some players in the pros now.
"We want to develop the student-athletes. We've been doing that. We hope to continue that tradition. We feel like Chris is a good fit for that."
Head was not available for this story.