Author Archives: Kaleb Carter

Big, skilled Camden Lathos leads way forward for Conant

Kaleb Carter

By Kaleb Carter

Camden Lathos is looking to put it all together and become a complete player. As far as new Conant Cougars coach Matt Walsh is concerned, that’s something that should come sooner rather than later.

“Cam just needs game experience as much as anything, and he’s gaining that right now,” Walsh said. “He’s going to get stronger … he’s learning how to play, he’s gaining confidence and his success is not a surprise. He’s earned it because of the work he puts in behind the scenes.”

Lathos, one of four sophomores seeing significant time for the Cougars, is a 6-5 wing/forward-type who seems at ease on the perimeter and operating in space. 

“I’ve got a great coach, got great teammates surrounding me,” Lathos said. “I’ve really enjoyed the experience getting out there as a team.”

After winning 2-of-13 games in a COVID-19-shortened season earlier this year, the Cougars are off to a 2-1 start with wins over Wheaton North (42-36) and Prosser (53-47), and a loss to Glenbrook North (55-37). Wednesday against Prosser, Lathos displayed comfort on the perimeter and in the mid-range, showing off a variety of moves on his way to a game-high 16 points. The lanky Lathos said he wants to improve his defense and become more of an all-around player.

Playing a quick team like Prosser provided the Cougars an opportunity to work more on their man-to-man defense.

Conant’s Camden Lathos (14) guards Prosser’s Delfonta Sewell. (Photo: Kaleb Carter)

“It prepares us for the season, we played more of a trap/pick-up team as opposed to more of an executing team,” Lathos said. “I think it’ll really prepare us for conference.”

Lathos turned 15 in August and is still growing into his frame. Playing in the summer for Big 3 Basketball out of Glen Ellyn and Ignite, Lathos has a well-developed game already for someone of his age.

“He’s physically immature, but sky’s the limit for him,” Walsh said of Lathos. “He’s a high-character kid, he’s a hard worker, he’s just going to keep getting better and better.”

Lathos noted that he’s the only one of the four sophomores on the varsity roster who didn’t play middle school ball together: 6-1 forward Austin Potocnic, 6-0 guard Yusuf Cisse and 6-3 forward Shreyas Talluri all played together before. 

Cisse, the starting point guard, looked confident and showed off a skillset that suggests there are good things to come.

“He’s very intelligent, super hard-working kid that is super strong and explosive with great athleticism as a sophomore point guard learning how to run the team,” Walsh said. “He’s just going to get better and better. His potential is through the roof.”

The Cougars also boast returning experience, namely senior Leonard Ahmeti, who knocked down five three-pointers against Prosser. Fellow senior Michael Sheehy showed the ability to sink timely shots from distance, scoring 10 points in the game, 7 coming in the fourth quarter. 

Previously the head coach at Schaumburg from 2009-2014, Walsh expects his team — which he admits is undersized compared to many squads they’ll see — to be a hard-nose defensive-oriented squad. 

“We want to get stops, string stops together,” Walsh said. “We don’t have great size or strength right now, but rebounding is something that we’re going to stress. We’ve got to rebound the basketball better. Offensively we’ve got some guys that can handle the ball and shoot the ball.”

Girls Northern Suburbs Preview: 10 Teams to Watch

Girls Northern Suburbs Preview: 10 Teams to Watch

Girls basketball is back and, as always, the northern suburbs are loaded with individual and team talent.

In no particular order, below are 10 teams to watch in the 2021-22 season.

Carmel Catholic

With as much height and post skill as near any team in the state of Illinois, the Corsairs stand poised to make a run the program hasn’t seen the likes of in years. 

Michigan State commit Jordan Wood, a junior, has nearly every intangible a college coach would want. She’s joined by fellow D-I signee Grace Sullivan, a senior, who will head to Bucknell next year. 

“Jordan is a better three-point shooter,” Carmel Catholic coach Ben Berg said. “Her perimeter game has improved that much more. She’s always seen the floor real well. She’s always had great vision for someone who is 6-5. But I just think her offensive game, her mind has slowed down. She reads things so much better now.”

The Corsairs kicked off their season with a blistering 64-13 win over Grayslake North at the Mundelein Tournament on Monday. Sullivan put her skills on display with eight first-quarter points, controlling the boards and displaying her basketball IQ.

In the game, Carmel grabbed defensive rebounds and pushed the ball in the open court — something they’ll look to do all season. Forward Mia Gillis, a 6-1 junior, gobbled up rebounds and steals, and distributed assists. She looked capable of doing anything that was needed, while the Corsairs look quick, big and comfortable deep into the bench. Both Gillis and Wood are three-year starters, while Sullivan has started four years. 

And while height is one thing, Sullivan says her team may catch opponents off guard with their physicality. 

‘We have such a tall roster people just look at that as height and think ‘They can reach above everyone’s head,’ but I feel like if we’re physical down low, using our hips using our feet more, I feel like that will really set us apart from a lot of the competition,” Sullivan said. 

Berg says his team’s younger, less-experienced guards are energetic and bring strong defense to the table for the team. 

“We’ve definitely been working on keeping it quick in practice, running it up the floor, getting the passes up the floor,” Sullivan said. “We’ve also been focusing on getting our guards to shoot a little bit more, bringing up their confidence and getting some threes up and getting looks into the post as well.”

While Berg did not name a specific end goal, Sullivan said she has her eyes first on a regional title, then on state. The Corsairs have never reached the state final four. She said she feels relieved to be playing worry-free basketball with her college recruitment completed. 

“We’re really looking forward to going to state this year,” Sullivan said. “We really think we have a really good chance. This is probably the best chance we’ve had in a long time to make it down to Redbird Arena. I really think we can if our guards improve, if our posts improve, everyone improves as a group, I feel like we can definitely make it as a group.”

Wauconda

Despite graduating major talent, seniors Jessie Pakaski and Mackenzie Arden are back for a group that finished with one loss and was runner-up in the Northern Lake County Conference.

Grayslake Central

Tahj Bloom, a 6-3 wing, is without a doubt one of the best sophomores in the state and returns to lead the way for the Rams who went undefeated in Northern Lake County Conference play last year. Per the Chicago Tribune, she averaged 13.9 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.4 steals per game as a freshman. 

Hersey

The consensus top team in 4A a season ago, Michigan commit Katy Eidle will lead a still strong Huskies bunch that will look to adapt to life post Mary McGrath and Mary Kate Fahey.

Barrington

Sophie Swanson was the Mid-Suburban West Player of the Year as a sophomore a season ago for the West division co-champion Barrington Fillies, who never seem to run out of talent in girls athletics. 

Stevenson

Penn signee Simone Sawyer (senior) will be one of the area’s top players. The Patriots stormed past traditional CPS stronghold Taft 56-15 in the season opener Monday. Ava Bardic helps make the Pats formidable. 

Libertyville

Emily Fisher — a junior committed to Maryland — makes Libertyville much-watch basketball. The Wildcats finished 16-2 overall last season, capping the season with a redemption-earning win over Stevenson. Can Libertyville best that?

Maine South

Gone are the Gardiner twins, but back is Cornell signee Emily Pape for the defending CSL South champion Hawks. Maine South will have plenty of athleticism on its roster, but it will be looking for quick development from younger players.

St. Viator

South Dakota signee Joy Bergstrom leads back the talented team from Arlington Heights who will push good teams to their limits. Can St. Viator change the tide and win games the tight games they lost by single-digits last year (Benet, Carmel, Stevenson, Joliet Catholic)? The good wins seem inevitable, but how many?

Fremd

Wouldn’t be right to count out Fremd, right? The 2019-20 state champions stumbled at end of the season to Barrington in what felt like a changing of-the-guard-type game. But the Vikings are still technically the defending state champions and made a trip to the state final four three of the last four times its been held. Coach Dave Yates knows how to win, and the Vikings plastered Oswego East 69-28 to start the season on Monday. 

Loyola Academy

The Ramblers lost five senior starters from a GCAC-winning, 19-2 team. Who picks up the slack and makes an impact this season? After Monday, the Ramblers already had a 38-34 win over Warren under their belt. 

Kenwood Girls Basketball Poised for a Run

Kenwood Girls Basketball Poised for a Run

Kenwood girls basketball coach Andre Lewis affectionately referred to his players as a “bunch of turn-up queens,” at the team’s Media Day, where the Broncos’ silliness was on full display. 

When the season starts, few teams will be smiling when they take the court against Kenwood, arguably Chicago’s most talented team. The Broncos return most of their talent after an undefeated season and No. 1 AP ranking at the end of last season. 

“We’re excited about the prospect of winning a city championship and hopefully making it down state for the first time in program history,” Lewis said. “Those are the goals we’ve set for ourselves, and everybody is bought in to sacrificing for those goals.”

Chicago is loaded with talent, but it’s heavily concentrated in a few programs. Kenwood possesses the most raw talent. Others, like Whitney Young, Simeon and Marist, will fight for the distinction of best in the city. 

The Broncos are full of Division I talent. Seniors Brianna McDaniel and Whitney Dunn are signed with Texas A&M and Loyola Chicago, respectively. McDaniel is the top-ranked player in the state, though she’s returning from an ACL tear. Dunn led the team to a huge win over Simeon without McDaniel at the end of the 2021 season. 

The pair are bonafide stars and arguably the top duo in the state.

Natasha Barnes, DonYeil Bolton, Ayanna Jackson and Arianna Bullock-Williams also hold Division I offers. How that talent translates to on-court production is yet to be determined.

Barnes is an incoming transfer from Lindblom, where she was a go-to player. Jazelle Young has already played big in meaningful minutes for the Broncos. Freshman Diann Jackson can play inside and out. And Jazz Givens will move up from junior varsity, providing defensive toughness according to Lewis.

“I think people will be amazed at how deep we’re going to be and how well we’re going to be able to defend,” Lewis said. “I think this has the opportunity to be the best defensive team that I’ve had.”

The potential linchpin to that defense is Bolton, a 6-3 board-getter with offers from Chicago State, St. Xavier and Morton College.

“I feel like I have to step up in areas like rebounding and scoring, so I can get ready for college and continue my career after college because I want to play professionally. This season I’m looking to contribute as leading rebounder of course, and getting a lot more scoring and getting comfortable with scoring … so when I get to college, it’ll be easier for me.”

Lewis said Bolton’s prowess around the glass is critical for the Broncos.

“She’s so much more athletic than most people think she is, and her offense is actually starting to catch up with her defense and rebounding,” Lewis said. “I don’t think anyone eats the glass like she does … and that allows us to play the way that we want to play. I think people will see tremendous growth in her game.”

After a shortened junior season, as well as knee trouble that limited her exposure to college scouts in the summer, Bolton is looking to a quick start this season, while demonstrating her improved offensive skill-set. 

“I’m trying to get back into the motion so I can pick up more offers and then commit,” Bolton said. 

She added, “Get ready for a show.”

Kenwood’s Ariana Bullock-Williams battles for a rebound in summer competition against Butler College Prep

The Broncos also have a fast-riser in freshman Ariella Henigan, a 5-7 point guard who harbors dreams of playing at South Carolina. She eats up film, watching Marquette to see former Chicago Hoops Express program teammate Makiyah Williams, a Trinity grad. 

Henigan says she looks up to McDaniel and gains confidence from her teammates, as well as the encouragement of her mom and dad. Practicing in-game situations gives her the confidence she feels she needs to make good decisions and make plays. 

“Be a good point guard, make good decisions and play good defense,” is the gist of it, says Henigan. 

With McDaniel coming off major knee surgery that she’s been rehabbing for months, Henigan could run the show from the get-go as McDaniel eases back into the rotation. 

“(She) has great court vision and is a very good defender and has an outstanding mid-range game,” Lewis said. 

Other Top City Teams

The city championship may very well look at the same as the Class 3A title game. At least, few would complain should Kenwood and Whitney Young play in some of the biggest games of the 2021-2022 season. 

With the Broncos missing players in some summer league action — namely the injured McDaniel — Whitney Young showed what it could look like at full strength, besting Kenwood in an undefeated summer of games. 

Freshman Destiny Jackson figures to be one of the city’s best point guards immediately, while other standouts like Skylar Jones, Olivia Vick, Tanila Marshall,  Lily Montalvo and transfer Hailey Hillman will play key roles.

If the summer is any indication, the Dolphins will come into the season with great camaraderie and on-court chemistry, which could help them hit the ground running. This team has no shortage of Division I talent themselves.

Simeon’s Nakia Bardney will have a chance to shine this season after the graduation of Aneesah Morrow and Khaniah Garder. The 6-1 shooting guard, who can play the wing and go inside, could rack up some gaudy numbers for the Wolverines.

St. Igantius, Mother McAuley and Marist stand the best chance of making moves among the parochial programs of Chicago. Keep a look out for Kira Chivers of Marist and Indiana State signee Bella Finnegan for the Mighty Macs. 

Others like Noble Butler College Prep, featuring Illinois signee Camille Jackson and fellow skilled guard and future Division I player Xamiya Walton, will have the chance to leave their mark on the Chicago girls basketball scene’s collective consciousness  in non-conference play. 

Several coaches had words noted the likes of Noble Comer, Jones College Prep, Phillips, Taft and Hyde Park Academy. Other programs are sure to spring up with a reckoning after some early season tip-off and holiday tournament competition. Jayla Edwards of Hyde Park and Saniya Muhammad may also boost their name recognition. Also keep an eye out for some potential eye-opening performances from Walter Payton College Prep or Lane Tech. 

2021-22 Early Signing Day: Illinois Girls

Making a decision on where to play college basketball is one of the biggest moments in a young athlete’s life.

All year long we track player commitments. These announcements are generally verbal agreements by the players to the coaches and programs they will most likely play for, but they are not binding.

During multiple windows during the year, athletes can sign official National Letters of Intent (NLI) with their programs, more formally binding athlete to program.

For basketball the Early Signing Period this year is November 10-17. The regular period runs from April 13, 2022, through May 18, 2022. 

Below is a list of all official signees during the early period.

Division I Signings From Illinois

Commitments ordered alphabetically by high school.

Tessa Towers, Batavia

College: Wisconsin
Position: Center
Quote: “I just wanted to go to a school where there’s a good coaching staff and there’s coaches who care about their players … all their players told me that that they do deeply care,” Towers told Illinois-Basketball.com in the summer

 

Morgan Demos, Benet

College: Navy
Position: Forward
Quote: “Everything about that trip felt right,” Demos told Illinois-Basketball.com. “I met some of the players on the team. I saw the court. I saw what they had to offer with the campus.

Ella Lune, Brimfield

College: Eastern Illinois
Position: Forward

Camille Jackson, Butler College Prep

College: Illinois
Position: Guard
Notes: Had offers from DePaul, Louisville, Arizona State, Marquette, Mississippi State, Missouri, Penn State and others.

Tatiana Thomas, Bolingbrook

College: Kent State
Position: Forward
Quote: “I just had a lot of different schools talking to me so I wasn’t pinpoint on one school,” Thomas told Illinois-Basketball.com in July. “But once I visited them, I liked the coaches. They were really nice, kind and genuine. I got to hang out with the girls and they were super sweet, and I would ask them questions and I feel like they told me how it was. Some people just gaslight you … I feel like they were pretty truthful … it seems like a good place to call home.”

Grace Sullivan, Carmel Catholic

College: Bucknell
Position: Center

Alecia Doyle, Carterville

College: Southeast Missouri State
Position: Guard

https://twitter.com/officialsemowbb/status/1458611330789822468

Elle Evans, Edwardsville

College: North Dakota State
Position: Wing/Guard
Quote: “Elle has a very quick release and will be a prolific three-point shooter for us, but is also capable of putting the ball on the floor and making plays at the rim,” NDSU coach Jory Collins said in a press release. “Her ability to guard almost all positions defensively is also a plus for our versatility on that end. I think the thing that stands out most about Elle is that she wants to be great. She is coming to NDSU with a very clear picture of the career she wants to have and the legacy she wants to leave. Her maturity and focus will allow her to impact our team immediately when she gets here.”

Macy Silvey, Edwardsville

College: SIUE
Position: Guard
Quote: “I really enjoy playing basketball at a fast pace, and that is how coach (Samantha Quigley Smith) likes to coach as well,” Silvey told Illinois-Basketball.com in August. “From what I’ve seen so far, the team feels like I would really fit in there which also helps. It helps that the coaches really believe in me, and I think they think I will come in and help shape their program.”

Sydney Harris, Edwardsville

College: Central Michigan
Position: Forward
Notes: Held offers from Cleveland State, Indiana State, Evansville, Murray State, Wichita State, SIUE, Drake, Loyola Bradley and SIU according to the Edwardsville Intelligencer. 

Brianna Wooldridge, Fremd

College: IUPUI
Position: Forward
Notes: Has played at Lincoln-Way West and Fremd, as well as for Example Sports. Considered Top 10 prospect in Class of 2022 by several recruiting services.

Kammie Ludwig, Geneseo

College: Providence
Position: Guard

https://twitter.com/ladyleafbball/status/1458884451384111109?s=21

 

Brooke Blumenfeld, Glenbrook North

College: Northern Illinois
Position: Forward
Quote: “They play fast, they like to push it up the court,” Blumenfeld told Illinois-Basketball.com this summer. “I really wanted to make sure that the school I committed to would allow me to, if I got a rebound, take it and go. … That’s my thing, I’m six foot and I can handle the ball. And I wanted to make sure I wasn’t stuck down low in the five position all game. And the way they run their offense, they’ll allow me to do that.”

 

Brianna McDaniel, Kenwood

College: Texas A&M
Position: Guard/Wing
Quote: “I knew that that was the best fit for me because after I hurt myself, they called me to check on me, see the things I needed, asked some of the trainers to give me some information,” McDaniel told Illinois-Basketball.com. “They were really hands-on. Even though I wasn’t physically with them, they were really hands-on with my injury and I really appreciated that. I love the team so much. They called me while I was going through [my recovery] … they checked on me, texted me after I had surgery … they gave me a family-type of vibe and I appreciated that.”

 

Whitney Dunn, Kenwood

College: Loyola
Position: Guard
Notes: Held offers from Valparaiso, Central Michigan, Cleveland State, UIC, Coppin State, Chicago State, Indiana State, UMKC, SIU, Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

Emily Pape, Maine South

College: Cornell
Position: Wing/Forward
Quote: “The coaches and players have made the decision so easy because on the unofficial visit I had just met the coaches,” Pape told Illinois-Basketball.com. “The players weren’t there yet. They were awesome. They were super welcoming. On the official visit I had met the players and hung out with them for the day and they were super cool.”

Bella Finnegan, Mother McAuley

College: Indiana State
Position: Guard/Wing
Notes: Averaged 11 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2 assists per game and made 24 3-pointers in 15 games per The Beverly Review.

Kenzie Hare, Naperville North

College: St. Louis
Position: Guard
Quote: “The way they recruited me made me feel comfortable,” Hare told Illinois-Basketball.com. “I have a great relationship with the staff. I talk to the head coach, coach (Lisa) Stone, every Sunday at 7 (p.m.). That’s been going on for over a year-and-a-half now. Definitely felt comfortable making that decision early.”

Simone Sawyer, Stevenson

College: Penn
Position: Guard

Faith Feuerbach, Sycamore

College: St. Thomas
Position: Guard/Wing
Notes: Interstate 8 co-MVP as a junior.

Joy Bergstrom, St. Viator

College: South Dakota
Position: Guard
Notes: Held offers from likes of Akron, St. Louis, UMKC, Valparaiso and UAB.

Sophie Sullivan, Willowbrook

College: SIUE
Position: Guard
Quote: “I absolutely loved SIUE right when I stepped on campus,” Sullivan told Illinois-Basketball.com in August. “Edwardsville is a really beautiful town I would say. I feel like no one really knows it until you get there. It just gave me a feeling of home, and I knew I could end up going there. I’ve also known coach Quigley for a long time. She’s seen me play since I was a freshman at Montini. She’s such a nice person. I can’t wait to learn more from her experiences as a player and a person because we played the same position.”

Division II Signings From Illinois

Avery Larson, Antioch

College: Truman State
Position: Forward/Center

Amanda Hansen, Fenwick

College: Adelphi
Position: Forward

Mya Davidson, Harlem

College: Lindenwood
Position: Forward/Wing
Quote: “That’s what Lindenwood was for me when I first set foot on campus, it … really felt like home,” Davidson told Illinois-Basketball.com in July. 

 

Oliva Mezan, Lyons Township

College: Missouri-St. Louis
Position: Guard

Hailey Markworth, Lyons Township

College: Winona State
Position: Point Guard/Shooting Guard
Notes: 11.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game as a junior.

Ava Bardic, Stevenson

College: Illinois-Springfield
Position: Guard

Division III Signings From Illinois

Laura Mahlum, Barrington

College: Illinois Wesleyan
Position: Guard/Wing

Claire Nazos, Batavia

College: Dubuque
Position: Guard
Notes: Played for Illinois Lady Lightning program for 6 years. 

Myah Udell, Harlem

College: Rockford
Position: Guard 

Sara Balli, Lake Park

College: Illinois Wesleyan
Position: Point Guard
Notes: First-team all-conference in the DuKane as a junior. 

Hope Anecito, Naperville North

College: SUNY Canton
Position: Guard

Megan Duzansky, Providence Catholic

College: Benedictine
Position: Forward/Center

Laurelei Thormeyer, Providence Catholic

College: St. Francis (IL)
Position: Guard

Christina Simonetti, Resurrection College Prep

College: Dubuque
Position: Forward

 

Payton Jacob, St. Joseph-Ogden

College: Illinois Wesleyan
Position: Guard

Annika Gustafson, Warren

College: UW-La Crosse
Position: Center

Seeking Unpredictability, Maine South’s Emily Pape Chooses Cornell

Seeking Unpredictability, Maine South's Emily Pape Chooses Cornell

For Maine South senior and recent Cornell commit Emily Pape, being unpredictable is a matter of habit.
 
Pape had steady Division II and Division III interest going into and through her shortened 2021 junior season. The 6-1 Pape also garnered the interest of programs like Evansville, Brown University and Cornell.
 
A natural left-hander, Pape already brings a degree of surprise to the game in attacking the basket with a variety of different left-handed looks. Heading into her senior season, she wants to prepare in a way that will greatly assist her n her college transition.
 
“I’m left-handed and I love my left, as all lefties do,” Pape said. “Being  … harder to guard, unpredictable. I just want to be unpredictable, be able to fake left and then go right. I will go right, but a lot of people know that I like to go left.”
 
Maine South coach Jeffrey Hamann has seen that hunger for growth as long as he’s known Pape, whose freshman sister Ally Pape is now also in the program. 
 
“She just wants to be really good,” Hamann said. “She’s always had the goal to be a college basketball player ever since I met her. That was … she really really really worked for that. She wanted that really bad.”
 
When isolated from others early in the pandemic – Pape said that she worked a great deal with her sister  – Pape would get outside when possible to shoot, work on ball-handling and add other skills to her repertoire. The sisters served as each others’ rebounders during shooting drills. 
 
Off the court, Pape’s curiosity in the environment also grew during the pandemic.
 
“I’m taking right now an environmental science class in high school, and I’m super interested in it,” Pape said. “Over quarantine I was doing some research about it and I watched some documentaries. I just became super interested in it and passionate about it, and that’s why I came across Cornell.”
 
Pape said her Full Package Athletics coach and trainer Steve Pratt encouraged her to look specifically for college programs that offered environmental science majors. After visiting Evansville in June and garnering extensive looks from other programs in the summer, Pape went on an unofficial visit to Cornell in August and then an official visit the weekend of Sept. 26. She committed right after the visit, on Monday, Sept. 27. 
 
“The coaches and players have made the decision so easy because on the unofficial visit I had just met the coaches,” Pape said. “The players weren’t there yet. They were awesome. They were super welcoming. On the official visit I had met the players and hung out with them for the day and they were super cool.
 
“I went to a class with one of them,” she continued. “They were just so genuine. They really cared. I had just met them and it felt like I was so close with them already. I had a good connection with a lot of the players, and even the two other recruits that were there were already committed. That was cool to be there with them and spend some time with future teammates.”
 
As a junior with a largely talented Hawks team a season ago – Maine South went 14-3, and 10-0 to win the CSL – Pape averaged a team-high 13 points and 3.3 steals. She also had 5.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and shot 75% from the free throw line in 17 games.
 
With a team that featured a handful of players capable of playing college basketball – Ellie Ronan will play at Oglethorpe this season – Pape stood out, heading the top of Maine South’s press and providing a variety of abilities that enhanced how the Hawks operate offensively.
 
“She has the athleticism, the length, the quickness,” Hamann said. “She’s able to go inside and outside. When you have that combination, and she’s a lefty … when you have that combination of size, athleticism and the ability to go inside and out, you have the potential to play big-time college basketball.”
 
Hamann, heading into his fourth season as Hawks head coach, notes that Pape has an uncanny ability to guard players of differing size and skill-sets.
 
“She might be at the top of her press at some point in her career (at Cornell), just as she is with us,” Hamann said. “She’s so long and athletic. She definitely led us in deflections and tipped balls. We keep that stat. She’s a really good passer too, so she’ll deflect, get the steal, find a teammate. She’s able to get the ball in transition and attack the basket hard. She’s able to step out and hit a three. She’s able to go inside and score against people in the paint as well.”
 
Loyola Academy’s Summer Parker-Hall is currently beginning her first season at Cornell, where Pape will presumably join up with her as the lone Illinois natives on the roster.
 
Heading into this prep season, the Hawks’ aspirations remain high. Pape feels the Hawks’ depth will be as strength as they defense a CSL title.
 
“We have a super deep bench this year, and I think we just have a lot of energy going into it,” Pape said. “Everybody wants to be there. Everybody works really hard. I think we’re just going to have a really fun season, and I think we’re going to be really successful in our conference.”

2021-22 Early Signing Day: Illinois Girls

Making a decision on where to play college basketball is one of the biggest moments in a young athlete’s life. All year long we track player commitments. These announcements are generally verbal agreements by the players to the coaches and programs they will most likely play for, but they are not binding. During multiple windows during the year, athletes can

Example Academy 2022 Guard Nyla Walker Commits to D-I USC Upstate

Example's Walker Plays With Chip On Shoulder, Commits to USC Upstate

The senior guard’s toughness helped her become a Division I recruit.

By Kaleb Carter

Nyla Walker admits she plays with something of a chip on her shoulder. 

So it should come as no surprise that the determination she shows on the court garnered some of her recent college interest, according to Example Academy coach and founder Barry Bradford.

“The week she earned the scholarship attention of coaches she chipped a tooth in one game, busted her chin in another and got knocked out the air in another,” Bradford said. “All this on the road, but kept playing in spite of it all, showing incredible toughness that I think also got coaches’ respect.”

On August 22 the now-senior guard committed to USC Upstate in Spartanburg, South Carolina, less than three weeks after visiting its campus. The 5-6 playmaking guard chose USC Upstate over another D-I offer from Chicago State.

Provided photo from Walker’s visit to USC Upstate.

“Throughout the whole process, I got overlooked because of my height,” Walker said. “A lot of times, people underestimate me because of my height, so that’s something that has always driven me. I feel like being undersized, so-called undersized guards have to work that much harder and make zero mistakes, work that much harder and perfect my game.”

Like most in the Example family, Walker is a South Suburban native, growing up in Glenwood. Walker spent freshman year at Marist, then the past two at Mother McAuley with fellow future D-I players in Bella Finnegan (Indiana State commit) and Faith Okorie (numerous DI offers). 

Playing with future college players during both the high school and AAU seasons, with Example Sports AAU, has expanded Walker’s playmaking abilities.

Bradford said Walker sees things happening early on the court, allowing her to make on-time passes, and she communicates with teammates in a way that facilitates connections. 

“I always try to make sure I know personnel so I can make the right decision, who to pass it to, when to pass it to them and how to pass it to them and stuff like that,” Walker said. “Being a playmaker, I feel like I have to know when and when not to take a certain shot, and when to pass the ball and when to do this and that. Just making the best decisions off a certain read.”

For USC Upstate, second-year head coach Becky Burke is only the program’s second coach in its 16 years at the D-I level.

The now-senior point guard wasn’t overlooked by the Spartan program. 

Walker, who said she appreciated the family-like and supportive atmosphere shown by the basketball program, chose USC Upstate in-part due to its Kinesiology major. She may pursue a path in athletic training or physical therapy. 

“Off the court she is as quality of a human being as you could find,” Bradford said. “She lights up the room with her personality and character. Brings positive energy to all.”

An unconventional learning process in a prep school — Walker attends campus on-site and takes remote classes in an online classroom with her teammates/schoolmates — she has found that her time thus far at Example Academy is preparing her for the future. 

“Just having to lock in, with us being so busy especially when we start traveling, you really have to lock in and stay focused,” Walker said. “I know a lot of the time when you talk to college coaches or students and stuff, they always talk about time management and how they struggle with that or how they struggle with the transition [to college]. Prep school at the academy is basically like the college experience, it prepares you for that to make sure you have time management and stay locked in.”

When she heads down to Spartanburg, she is welcoming the opportunity to chase a better version of herself with the support she’s hopeful to receive from coaches and teammates alike. 

“The basketball program … they really lock in on, ‘This is hard work,’” Walker said. “They’re very detail-oriented also. If you mess up … if one small detail is off, they’re correcting it. I’m not saying they want perfection, but they want as close to perfect as they can, you know? And that’s the vibe I got and I thought it was awesome.”

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Top Illinois 2022 Recruit, Kenwood’s Brianna McDaniel, Commits to Texas A&M

Top Illinois 2022 Recruit, Kenwood's Brianna McDaniel, Commits to Texas A&M

For Brianna McDaniel — the top-ranked player in the state of Illinois and a consensus class of 2022 top 50 recruit in the nation — the past year has produced some of the toughest months of her life.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed and then shortened her junior season, and she caught the virus herself. She had a grandfather and cousin pass away. And on March 7 she sustained a torn ACL and partially torn meniscus in a game against Evanston.

Now she only looks forward, counting on the support she’s received from family, coaches and friends, committing to play college basketball at Texas A&M University. 

“I knew that that was the best fit for me because after I hurt myself, they called me to check on me, see the things I needed, asked some of the trainers to give me some information,” McDaniel said. “They were really hands-on. Even though I wasn’t physically with them, they were really hands-on with my injury and I really appreciated that. I love the team so much. They called me while I was going through [my recovery] … they checked on me, texted me after I had surgery … they gave me a family-type of vibe and I appreciated that.”

McDaniel, who plans to use her education to become a veterinarian, announced her commitment on Zoom and at a party Thursday. She chose Texas A&M over offers from more than 30 Division I programs, with Mississippi State and Georgia following close behind. Texas and Louisville were also among the final five.

Brianna McDaniel playing for AAU team Chicago Hoops Express. (Photo credit: Debra Prochaska)

Brianna and her family felt that the coaching staff at the perennial power presented a supportive but motivating presence. A personal connection with the assistant coaches made McDaniel feel more comfortable in her visits to College Station, Texas. Shamona McDaniel, Brianna’s mother, was strongly in agreement with her daughter about the nature of the A&M staff. 

“I really love how straightforward coach (Vernette) Skeete is,” Shamona McDaniel said. “Though, she is very happy and she’s playful with the kids. She can get down on their level, but when it’s time to really dig in and really get them to focus, she does not play.”

Brianna McDaniel comes from a basketball family. Her mother is a coach at Hyde Park Academy. Her father, Adrian McDaniel, is a coach with the Lady Dribblers and Chi Hoops Express, programs Brianna McDaniel has been part of in AAU. Her sister, Shadrian, plays guard for St. Francis University in Joliet.

“I really leaned on them a lot,” McDaniel said of her family. “They’ll be shipping me off to school. I’m in someone else’s care, and I’ve always been in their care for 17 years, so it’s gonna be hard for them to give their child away. Knowing [Texas A&M’s] coaches and knowing they’ll have [in mind] my best interests was a little easy on their minds. It’s hard to let their last child [move] away.”

Under Gary Blair, head coach at Texas A&M since 2003, the Aggies have gone to 15 consecutive NCAA tournaments. He is fifth among active coaches at the Division I level with 838 wins. Also playing a role in McDaniel’s recruitment, the Aggies have two other Chicago natives on the roster: Whitney Young alumni Kay Kay Green and Maliyah Johnson.

“They’ve done an extremely great job of making her feel wanted and needed,” Kenwood coach Andre Lewis said. “Going above and beyond and being a top priority.”

“I think she’ll fit in tremendously,” Jerald Davis, McDaniel’s longtime grassroots coach, said. “She’s always had a great relationship with Kayla Greene. They’ve always been great friends. That helps bridge the gap.”

McDaniel will come into the program with preexisting relationships with her new teammates.

“[Green is] a good person to play with,” McDaniel said. “I love her. She’s just a great person. Maliyah, she’s literally another me. “We’re so silly together.”

Davis, who has coached McDaniel with Lady Dribblers and Chi Hoops Express, felt that several schools established good relationships with McDaniel. But Texas A&M’s academic options were ideal for her future. 

“Ultimately it came down to how she felt going down to the Texas A&M campus and wanting to be a veterinarian,” Davis said.  “I think Texas A&M really showed out and gave her a feeling like she was home.”

McDaniel Recovering for Senior Season

McDaniel, already a 1,000-point scorer for Kenwood in essentially two-and-a-half seasons, was in the midst of another all-state caliber season when she was injured. She had surgery and is still in the midst of her recovery process, expecting to return to came action in December.

“It’s been a little tough because I’m taking a few steps forward and I’m taking a few steps back,” McDaniel said. “But at the same time, I just know I’ve got to look at the brighter side. I’m doing better than I was when I first went into physical therapy. When I went into physical therapy before, I couldn’t lift up my leg on my own.”

In the COVID-19-shortened 2021 season, Kenwood finished with a 13-0 record, winning the last handful of games without McDaniel, including a comeback road win at then-undefeated and defending state champion Simeon. According to Lewis, she was shooting 63 percent from the floor. She became the first girls player in Kenwood history to earn first-team all-state honors.

The Broncos also bring back fellow senior Whitney Dunn, a Loyola commit we profiled in March. The pair will lead a roster loaded with future Division-I players that will be among the most talented in the state.

“[McDaniel has] helped transform this program from being an above-average program to a very good program,” Lewis said. “She’s also done a very good job of attracting other players. She’s done so with a bull’s eye on her back.

“Bri has always been a leader,” Lewis continued. “It has changed in a sense in that she’s had to be more a [leader] vocally now than by her actions [because of the injury]. And she’s helped me. She’s always working hard on the floor.”

As her physical therapy continues, McDaniel said she has had to look at basketball through a different lens. 

“I think it was God’s plan to tell me to slow down, because I don’t ever slow down,” McDaniel said. 

Still, those closest to her know that doesn’t mean her tenacity is gone.

“Her passion and her love for the game have never waned,” Davis said. “[She has] the tenacity and the toughness to grind through the good days and the bad days.”

Brianna McDaniel in her Kenwood uniform. (Photo credit Debra Prochaska)

Q&A: Willowbrook’s Sophie Sullivan Commits to SIU-Edwardsville

For the SIU-Edwardsville women’s program, the 2022 recruiting class is coming together with Illinois prep talent.

Its latest commit is Sophie Sullivan, a Willowbrook point guard who spent her underclassmen years Montini. As a junior she helped lead the resurgent Warriors, to a 14-2 record overall, including 6-0 in West Suburban Conference Gold play, as well as a WSC tournament title.

Sullivan, who announced her commitment on August 13, joins Edwardsville’s Macy Silvey in the recruiting class. Illinois-Basketball.com recently profiled Silvey about her decision to stay close to home.

Sullivan will lead the way this season for Willowbrook after the graduation of Taris Thornton, who is now at Eastern Illinois. Still, the Warriors will return a boatload of talent.

I interviewed Sullivan about her college decision, SIUE’s program, the upcoming high school season and much more.

Illinois-Basketball: What were the most crucial factors that went into picking your college, and how nice does it feel to have that decision out of the way when you start your senior year? 

Sullivan: I absolutely loved SIUE right when I stepped on campus. Edwardsville is a really beautiful town I would say. I feel like no one really knows it until you get there. It just gave me a feeling of home, and I knew I could end up going there. I’ve also known coach Quigley for a long time. She’s seen me play since I was a freshman at Montini. She’s such a nice person. I can’t wait to learn more from her experiences as a player and a person because we played the same position.

I-B: What appeals to you about what SIUE does on the court?

Sullivan: I really like how they play fast because I’m a point guard and I like to push the ball up the court. I feel like I can contribute a lot with my rebounding because for like a smaller guard I would say I can rebound amongst the bigger players and that’ll help get the ball up the court in transition.

I-B: With last year being an odd season, what did you get out of your junior year at Willowbrook and what are you hoping to get out of your senior season?

Sullivan: I was leading on the court, but not so much vocally because I was younger with a bunch of upperclassmen. But then as I got to Willowbrook I think I really took on a leadership role and I helped my team to the first conference championship in a long time. So that was really exciting for my team and for the girls in general. Especially for the seniors to end on a win against a really good (Lyons Township) team was really awesome.

I’m really excited for this year. Especially when I was a freshman, I always looked forward to being a senior and being able to lead all the team workouts and lead the team in general. I feel like the girls really looked up to me and the other upperclassmen on the team since there’s not really a lot of us. There’s two seniors and seven juniors and we have a pretty young team I would say.

I-B: Now that you’ve committed, what are your long-term goals on or off the court?

Sullivan: I’m going to work really hard in this offseason my senior year, and then when I get to SIUE I hope to make the biggest impact possible, whether that be what I do on the court or how I’m cheering my teammates on the bench. I’m thinking about majoring in physical therapy or as a physical education teacher. And then maybe train kids when I’m older on the side.

I-B: When the coaching staff spoke with you, was there anything about your game that they really liked or really wanted you to work on? 

Sullivan: I know coach Quigley has always loved how hard of a worker I was, and she’s seen it in me since I was younger so she knew I would be an impact on the program in that way. She was just saying how she likes to recruit great players and people, so not just on the court but how they are off the court as well.

I-B: When was the first time coach Quigley saw you play? 

Probably as a freshman at open gym when she was the coach at Lewis [University, in Romeovillle].

I-B: Anything else we should know about your commitment or the upcoming season?

For the upcoming high school season, I’m excited because hopefully we’ll have playoffs and everything, and I would love to help lead Willowbrook to the most wins as possible, and maybe regional and even sectional titles.

Expected Illinois natives on the 2021-22 SIUE roster:

  • Redshirt junior Madison Hackstadt (Okawville native, Okawville graduate)
  • Grad Student Allie Troeckler (Bethalto native, Civic Memorial graduate)
  • Sophomore Caite Knutson (Maryville native, Collinsville graduate)
  • Senior Mikala Hall (Danville native, Danville graduate)
  • Freshman Tyler Butler (Belleville native, Belleville East graduate)

Next in Line: Playmaker Macy Silvey Commits to SIU-Edwardsville

Macy Silvey — soon to be a senior at Edwardsville High School — has always been surrounded by talent. 

Silvey shared plenty of attention on the court: She grew up with two older basketball playing sisters, and she has been playing basketball with future Division I players Sydney Harris and Elle Evans since middle school. Still, she’s found a way to flourish by growing into her own role.

Now she’s a Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville commit out of the class of 2022, heading into an environment that her high school coach says she can compete in. She committed on July 30, less than three weeks after receiving an offer from the program.

“I really like the coaches and how they spoke about how they will be running the team,” Silvey said.  “I really enjoy playing basketball at a fast pace, and that is how coach (Samantha Quigley Smith) likes to coach as well. From what I’ve seen so far, the team feels like I would really fit in there which also helps. It helps that the coaches really believe in me, and I think they think I will come in and help shape their program.

Playing at a fast pace against tough competition in high school, Silvey anticipates leaving a mark as a guard at the next level, where she excels at distributing the ball and shooting from deep

“It helps her for the college game even more,” former Tigers assistant and first-year head coach Caty Happe said. “When kids go play at the next level, all five kids are going to be able to score … it’s not like Macy gets easy buckets. I think the way she plays now is going to translate well to the college level a lot better than many kids coming from different programs who don’t have to compete with many good kids.”

Following in the footsteps of two collegiate basketball players in sisters Megan (Lincoln Land) and Makenzie (Southern Illinois), Silvey has always had to play against tough competition. 

“I actually never got to play with Makenzie just because she is a lot older than me, but we do have a lot of similarities when it comes to basketball,” Silvey said. “She has always been my role model in basketball, so it’s so cool when I do get to shoot with her [or] scrimmage somewhere with her.”

Happe said it was special to watch Silvey flourish at the varsity level as a junior last season after not starting as a sophomore.

Silvey shot 36.3 percent from deep last season, averaging 11.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2 steals per game. 

“She’s going to bring them versatility at the guard position and be able to shoot it,” Happe said. “I think what she really wanted was to be able to compete somewhere right away and be at a program that really makes you compete.”

“She’s very close with her family … so them being able to see her play [was important],” Happe added. “She also has the chance to make an immediate impact at SIUE.”

With a three-headed senior trio in Silvey, Harris and Evans, the Tigers have three bonafide Division I players on their roster as they seek to win a 13th consecutive Southwestern Conference championship. 

Both Evans and Harris have been picking up their fair share of Division I offers and could land at bigtime programs soon.

“My role on the team is being one of the leaders,” Silvey said. “I’m expected for my teammates to know what play we are in. Since there (are) three seniors, me and the other two are expected for the younger kids to feel welcome, and for them to feel comfortable when playing with us.  I’m hoping to become a better defender as a senior as well.”

The Tigers head into the coming season with undoubtedly one of the best trios in the state.

“Once we lose them, not only do we lose a ton of leadership, scoring and minutes on the court, but also great, great kids and those three kids have played together all through middle school and into high school,” Happe said. “I know it means a lot for them to be able to play together.”

Now, the Tigers head into their second season post Lori Blade’s leadership as head coach, but with an experienced Happe leading the way.

“The past few years in the program, I feel like the coaches definitely shaped me into a better player and have really wanted me to grow into a leader on the floor,’ Silvey said.

Quigley Smith takes reigns at SIUE

Quigley Smith was introduced as the new head women’s coach at SIUE in May. She was previously the head coach for Lewis University women’s basketball in Romeoville and before that at St. Francis University in Joliet. She is a 2006 graduate of Joliet Catholic and played her college ball at DePaul, where she is third all-time in assists (484). Her sister is the Chicago Sky’s Allie Quigley Smith. 

Expected Illinois natives on the 2021-2022 SIUE roster:

  • Redshirt junior Madison Hackstadt (Okawville native, Okawville graduate)
  • Grad Student Allie Troeckler (Bethalto native, Civic Memorial graduate)
  • Sophomore Caite Knutson (Maryville native, Collinsville graduate)
  • Senior Mikala Hall (Danville native, Danville graduate)
  • Freshman Tyler Butler (Belleville native, Belleville East graduate)

Benet’s Morgan Demos, A Navy Commit, Has Demeanor For Service

Benet's Morgan Demos, a Navy Recruit, Has Demeanor for Service

In summing up Benet Academy senior forward Morgan Demos, coach Joe Kilbride called Demos “high-caliber, high-character.”

He noted that Demos is one of the only players he’s ever coached where opposing team’s parents will reach out to compliment Demos’ demeanor. 

“She’ll go and fist-bump the kid that was beating the hell out of her all game,” Kilbride said. 

Those are the types of attributes that lend themselves to a high-potential future at the Naval Academy, where Demos, a 6-2 standout, verbally committed on Friday, July 30. 

Demos talked on and off with Navy’s coaches for over a year and creating a rolling list of her top 10 programs with Kilbride. She widened Navy’s eyes further with strong play with IL Lady Lightning this July.

After a trip to Annapolis while at a Nike event, things fell in line. She said everything about the trip and the campus enthralled her. 

“Everything about that trip felt right,” Demos said. “I met some of the players on the team. I saw the court. I saw what they had to offer with the campus.

“Currently, they’re in their plebe summer,” she continued. “So all of the incoming freshmen have to do this six-week boot camp, and so we got to see some of them in action while they were doing it. You get to see in-person what you have to go through when you go there, and I was all for it.”

Demos’ sister Madison, a Benet graduate that Morgan saw some time on the floor with, is in a service academy basketball program, playing for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. 

As the younger sister, Morgan learned quickly to soak in the information Madison was sharing at home during her own recruiting process and in talking about her time with the school.

“I would hear what she’s going through absentmindedly and I would (take) it in,” Morgan Demos said. “When I was thinking about college, I would ask a question and she would give me all the information about it, like what you can do when you’re serving after college, what you experience, you don’t have to force yourself. She was very supportive, ‘If it’s not your thing, don’t do it, you’re going to know though.’”

Demos had her sister to battle against growing up, and things got even more challenging when joined Benet Academy. She consistently found herself competing against bigger, more experienced players despite playing competitive travel ball herself. Though she’s now a Division I commit, Morgan Demos was not a starter as a freshman. 

Kilbride noted that right from the outset of her varsity career, she sat behind and battled fellow post player Ashley Konkle every day. Kilbride said that Konkle, now at Western Michigan, was understandably stronger and more physical than Demos, who he said now is strong like “a horse in the post.”

“She’s just a very responsible, hard-working, focused (player),” Kilbride said. “The colleges love the fact that she’s … a worker. She’s gotten better every year really since fifth grade. She’s gotten better every year at Benet. She’s one of those kids who’s going to keep getting better in college, and that’s important to them. They want kids where we’re not looking at their ceiling, we’re looking at where they’re starting from.”

Competing against the likes of Konkle and 2021 graduate Kendall Moriarty (now at Nebraska) helped Demos learn to adapt on the court. As Kilbride has told his players plenty of times, “Champions adjust.”

“I learned there’s different types of games for each player, and I adjusted to each type, so it was very beneficial,” Demos said. “In the post, Ashley Konkle, was a lot stronger than I was, so I had to learn to battle with that strength. She taught me very good habits that I have today.”

And while the effects have COVID-19 hindered recruiting for class of 2022 players, Kilbride felt that Demos was the type of player who was particularly affected by  colleges’ inability to see her play in-person in the summer of 2020 and this past winter. 

“She’s incredibly strong,” Kilbride said. “I’ve told coaches, ‘You can put her in a Division I practice right now and she’s not going to get broken or beaten up.’ She’s going to hold her own.”

“She’d have games where she only scored 8 points, but she got double-teamed on every catch,” Kilbride said. “So she’s creating wide-open shots for teammates on kickouts and dives and stuff. She’d have 10 rebounds and 5 blocks and she’d dominate the game having single-digit scoring.”

Benet heads into the coming school year with talent in waves. Class of 2023 guard Lenee Beaumont comes back on the heels of a summer that has yielded her over 20 college offers. Demos said Margaret Temple is a good shooter on a team full of them. Others like Emma Webb and several other underclassmen guards have given the Hawks reason to be excited. 

“We have new players and I’m excited to help them get the handle of the ropes and everything,” Demos said. “Everyone has put in so much effort when I played with them in June.”

Demos also had a parting message about the recruiting process, which has been extra stressful for many since the pandemic began. 

“Whoever has committed or hasn’t committed, they should just enjoy the process as they’re going along with it because COVID,” Demos said. “It was a bit unfortunate because it slowed the process down, but everything will work out.”

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