Category Archives: Features

Vision Clear as Bolingbrook/St. Ignatius Pair Commit to Miami RedHawks

Vision Clear as Bolingbrook/St. Ignatius Pair Commit to Miami RedHawks

By Kaleb Carter

Jackson Kotecki and Mekhi Cooper both feel that there is a well-detailed plan laid out before them. That trust provided to them by the Miami RedHawks coaching staff is what led the pair to both commit within days of each other to the Division I men’s basketball program in Oxford, Ohio. 


Cooper, a 5-10 Class of 2023 guard for Bolingbrook, and Kotecki, a 6-9 Class of 2023 forward for St. Ignatius, both cited a vision shown to them by the Miami coaches in their recruiting visits. Kotecki said he bonded with the Miami coaches more than any other staff. 


“I enjoyed every second of it,” Kotecki said of his visit. “The coaches’ plan for me, they physically gave me …a spreadsheet thing of how they’re going to develop me. They showed me the plan. It wasn’t like they were just saying it so that they gave me confidence that they’re really going to help develop me as a player.”

Cooper said that he believes he’ll develop well under Steele’s tutelage. 


“It feels great to have made a decision the biggest factors (for) me were the coaching staff from Miami showed so much love and support during the recruiting process and got to build a strong relationship,” Cooper said. “I also loved coach Steele(‘s) focus on player development and how much he believes and trust me.”

The pair are familiar with one another, having played together before for travel club Mac Irvin Fire. 


“I’m really excited man,” Kotecki said. “Mekhi was my man on the Fire and to be going to college together is awesome.”


“I know Jackson well, we (played) together one year of AAU, so that felt good to team up with him again,” Cooper said. 

Kotecki is plenty confident in his growing offensive skills, but is aware teams came calling when they saw his defensive capabilities guarding players all over the floor. 


“They (Miami) really wanted me and wanted to build their team around having tall, versatile guys, guys that can play multiple positions, not just one position,” Kantecki said. “That was something I was looking for in a program.”


Kotecki picked up his first offer in June and admitted it was stressful to see so many players around him picking up offers before him. He had confidence in his own abilities, but wasn’t seeing the interest from coaches he expected. 


“You see all your friends that you play with getting offers and you’re like, ‘why am I not getting offers?’ And that starts going through your mind,” Kotecki said. “Just knowing from experience and having to play through that was tough, but I just had to power through that and I did and it worked out.”


The big man said that his coaches, from Matt Monroe with the Wolfpack, to his Fundamental U coaches, gave him the confidence to grow this summer. It proved to be the needed growth for colleges to come clamoring. 


“To go out there and play with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder and be like ‘yeah, I am better than most of these kids that are ranked higher than me and just trying to not worry about that,’” Kotecki said. “Just going out and whoever is put in front of me I’m going to lock them up and I’m going to go as hard as I can through the whole game.”


Both state semifinalists a year ago, (Bolingbrook in 4A and St. Ignatius in 3A), the pair, both verbal commits, bring a winning pedigree to coach Travis Steele’s first recruiting class at the helm of the RedHawks. The RedHawks already have Illinois ties. 

Deerfield graduate Jackson Kenyon is a rising senior on the roster. Senior guard Will Stevens is a Chicago native. Sophomore Bryson Tatum is an Urbana graduate. Steele was also once a men’s basketball assistant at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel. 


Cooper, a standout at the Ridgewood Shootout this summer, put much on display in his game that leads writers like yours truly to believe he will quickly be college-ready.  Coach Robert Brost’s Raiders do tend to churn out college-ready players with remarkable consistency. 


“This year I really want to get bigger and stronger and this season I’m hoping to get back downstate and get a ring,” Cooper said.


“I know we’ll be able to get back down to state,” Kotecki said. “I have the confidence in our guys. Even though we have a younger team, we lost a lot of seniors, I know the younger guys are going to be able to step up. We’re going to be able to get back down to where we were and hopefully further.”

Angelina Smith Takes Control for Injury-Bitten Bolingbrook

Angelina Smith Takes Control for Injury-Bitten Bolingbrook

Bolingbrook sophomore Angelina Smith puts up a three-pointer.

By Kaleb Carter

Angelina Smith’s emergence has been a steadying force for the Bolingbrook Raiders.

Things could have gone awry given injuries to two of the Raiders’ stars. All-state senior guard Kennedi Perkins — who has had Division I offers since 2017 — has missed games since late November. Sophomore transfer forward Tahj-Monet Bloom suffered a season-ending ACL tear after reeling in her own Division I offers since freshman year.

Instead of floundering, Smith has helped take command of the Raiders. She showed her leadership qualities in a 49-44 win over Joliet West in the Coach Kipp Hoopsfest at Benet on Monday.

“As a point guard I had the feeling, okay, this is our game, we got this,” Smith said. “I was so confident in my team, I was so confident in myself, my shots were falling, my teammates’ (shots) were falling and we were playing with confidence.”

Smith has taken that attitude into Bolingbrook’s daunting schedule, one that has the Raiders and coach Chris Smith asking more of her, especially since the injuries.

“She’s really controlling our offense, trying to make sure everyone is in the right place right now, getting everybody set up and really [being] our primary ball-handler,” Chris Smith said. “That’s the biggest thing is just being a primary ball-handler, getting everybody involved and creating that team atmosphere back and forth.”

Against the Tigers on Monday, the Raiders went up big in the first half, taking a 28-14 halftime break on the back of their defense and transition offense. Angelina Smith scored 12 of her game-high 15 points in the first half. She scored off the bounce, on jumpers and with a nifty post-move on the block toward the end of the first half. Bolingbrook overwhelmed Joliet West and Lisa Thompson, the Class of 2023’s top prospect per Prep Hoops Illinois, and kept the Tigers out of a rhythm in their half-court offense in the first half.

“When we are aggressive in the passing lanes and we have good on-ball defense and rotation, we’ve got to rotate well and rebound the basketball,” Chris Smith said. “We’re athletic enough we can get in the passing lane, create some havoc and create turnovers and look to get out in transition. We hang our hat on trying to be better defensively. That’s the key.”

Per Chris Smith, Perkins should be back in action before the end of January. Also returning for the Raiders in due time should be Yahaira Bueno, who Chris Smith called a true point guard.

The Raiders will play a more small-ball lineup when Perkins and Bueno return. That suits the team just fine.

“We’re so young. Ain’t so substitute experience,” Chris Smith said. “My (class of 2024) are getting a ton of experience. Angie has done a great job of taking over even though she’s only a sophomore, just taking over and giving the best she’s able to give. “

Seniors Kendall Winston — a short guard — and Miranda Fry — an undersized-post — have contributed immensely over the last few weeks. Fry brings an intensity on the defensive end that helps get the Raiders going.

“Miranda and Kendall (Winston), even though they were coming off the bench, they’re such good veterans,” Angelina Smith said. “They’ve been here around the program for four years now and having them, they know their role and they play their role really well. As a point guard I appreciate them and what they do because maybe sometimes the things people don’t always see and it leads to our wins.”

Of course, the Raiders’ successes have them thinking big. The Raiders’ lone in-state loss is to undefeated Sycamore. At 12-3 and unbeaten in the Southwest Suburban Blue, the Raiders still have Homewood-Flossmoor, Providence Catholic and Sandburg coming up in conference games.

“We’re trying to go down to state,” Angelina Smith said. “We’re trying to win state. I’m so excited to be on a team like this, such an amazing team with an amazing culture. Bolingbrook, we don’t just play for the team now, we play for the teams before us, the Ariel Massengales, the Morgan Tucks.”

Undefeated Richland County (Olney) Tigers understand their roles; Kennard leading Mt. Carmel

There’s nothing particularly flashy about what the Richland County (Olney) Tigers do. No magic tricks were needed to defeat the Mt. Carmel Aces 52-40, as Chase Travis and the Tigers improved to 18-0 and grabbed full control of the Little Illini Conference race.

Sophomore guard Ian Winkler and senior guard Drew Blank each scored a game-high 15 points, including some early buckets when Mt. Carmel was having some offensive success in the first half. Blank hit timely shots and a number of Tigers stepped up at the free throw line. 

With the game still hanging in the balance with 1:10 to go, junior guard Dawson Brown drilled a three-pointer right in front of the Tiger bench to put the Tigers up 46-40.

Senior wing Chase Travis, despite being held relatively in-check — Travis is averaging 20.1 points per game after scoring 12 Friday — has seen his teammates make timely plays again and again as the Tigers (18-0, 5-0 LIC) have won eight games by single digits. He had the go-ahead assist that put the Tigers up 42-40 and helped Olney end the game on a 14-0 run.

Richland County continues to find ways to get the job done, and keep its undefeated stretch going. 

“In the season and times that we live in right now, there are so many things able to go wrong with quarantining and things that we have had some keys guys miss games,” Travis said. “And we are so deep that we still win when we don’t have everyone or [are] not at 100 percent.

“I think we have different guys for different situations, so one night might call for other guys that provide more strength and toughness, while the next night will require a little more outside shooting,” Travis continued. “And I think people understand these roles and step up when it is their time.”

Travis has become one of southern Illinois’ top producers, showing an all-around game that frequently has him finishing smoothly and efficiently at the rim.

“The most important thing for me is the off-season work I put in, working on my game both on the court and a bunch of work in the weight room,” Travis said. “But last year helped me a lot because we had no seniors so I got to step up last year and fill that role.”

Defeating Mt. Carmel Friday in a raucous environment, gave the battle-tested Tigers another boost of confidence. 

“We need(ed) to be ready for them to give us everything they have, and we have to play well because life on the road is tough,” Travis said.  “So staying mentally tough is one of the biggest things we try and keep at the forefront of everything we do. But with all that being said, we did beat them twice and we have a really good all-around team, so there is still a confidence with that that needs to be brought to the game.”


The Tigers’ best overall state finish in coach Rob Flanagan’s tenure, a stretch that dates back to 1998, was third in 2A in 2008. The Tigers’ last regional title, which was in 2A, came in the 2011-12 season.

This year, Richland County is one of the smaller 3A programs in the state at 735 students. The cut-off for 3A currently for basketball is (685.1) and over.

As for Travis, his goals going forward remain simple. 

“Just keep showing up each game to give ourselves a chance to win,” Travis said. “A goal of mine has always been to be a part of the first 3A regional championship team at Olney.”


Mt. Carmel got 10 points from Blayne Sisson and 9 each from Gage Kennard and Gavin Smith. Smith in particular came through with timely buckets in the second half that gave Mt. Carmel life and several early fourth-quarter leads.

Kennard has been the team’s primary scorer, filling up the hoop to the tune of 22 points per game. 

“He has started since he was a freshman and has always been a great shooter, but this year he has really added a lot to his game,” Aces coach Tyler Buss said. “He’s scoring in a variety of different ways for us.” 

Buss said the team is at its best when wearing opponents down with its defense and pressure. That has led to strong second halves of play for the Aces.

Of the Aces’ five losses, three have come to Olney. The two squads could play a fourth time, as the Little Illini Conference Tournament looms. 

“We need to get back to what got us off to a great start,” Buss said. “We have hit a rough patch and we are really going to rely on our upperclassmen to lead us through this. We need to be more consistent on the offensive end. Not just shooting the ball but paying attention to detail and just cleaning up a lot of our actions. I really feel that at its best, this team is good enough to win a regional and sectional. But we have also shown if we don’t bring it on both ends we could get beat by just about anyone.”

This story has been updated with quotes from Aces coach Tyler Buss.


Maddy Fay Ramps Up Aggression For Surging Fremd Vikings

Maddy Fay Ramps Up Aggression For Surging Fremd Vikings

By Kaleb Carter

CICERO — The Fremd Vikings — technically the defending Class 4A state champions since there were no IHSA state playoffs played last season — are rediscovering their form. That fact was on full display at the Morton College Christmas Tournament, as Maddie Fay has taken the initiative and displayed the aggressiveness her coaches have been looking for from the 6-2 junior.

Fay scored 14 points in the Vikings’ 61-41 win over Marist in the semifinals of the tournament on Wednesday. Thursday she aided in Fremd’s 46-40 comeback win over Geneva to win the Morton tournament.

“It’s my junior year, I’ve got to step it up,” Fay said in an interview Wednesday after the Marist victory. “I really want the team to win, so I’m trying my best every game to get us the win.”

Fay was her team’s leading scorer (20 points, 10 rebounds) in a dominant showing over Batavia, 58-32, at Morton College as well. Fay also put up 18 points and 18 rebounds against Winnebago and scored 13 in an overtime win over Montini Catholic.

Fremd coach Dave Yates has seen this coming for Fay from a mile away.

“It’s what we challenged her to do her sophomore year,” Yates said. ”We saw those glimpses her sophomore year, she wasn’t consistent and that’s what we’re challenging her with right now is her consistency, and she’s doing that now. Her efficiency out there was crazy … she gets rebounds, she gives us (multiple) interior kids.”

IUPUI commit Brianna Woolridge — who has missed some game action — pairs with Fay to give the Vikings strength and rebounding that other teams will struggle with. Her 23 points led Fremd in Thursday’s win over Geneva.

Division I recruit and freshman Ella Todd (offers from Purdue, Michigan, Pittsburgh and others) is on the mend after sustaining an ankle injury and should play before too long. Norah O’Brien should also give the Vikings another shooter when she returns from a calf injury.

Fay, a lefty who says she spent much time in the offseason working on her right hand, has stayed aggressive, just as her coaches have preached to her since last season. Taking their lumps early in the season hasn’t fazed the relatively young group. Kace Urlacher, a 6-1 junior, gives the Vikings even more size. Junior Nikki Gonnella has been a steady contributor.

“We’re on a really good roll,” Fay said. “We started out the year with a few losses, and we knew we were playing tough teams coming into this tournament so we just wanted to keep winning, especially to get in the championship game.

“We’re taking better shots now, we’re moving the ball and we just have more patience on offense,” Fay added.

Fremd (14-4 before Thursday) has losses to St. Charles East (49-44), York (48-47), Lyons Township (47-39) and Winnebago (67-60), but with improved health, the Vikings are beginning to hit their stride.

“We’ve got lots of good pieces,” Yates said. “It’s not like we’re five kids. Izzy (Zavilla, a sophomore) comes in and hits a three. (Senior) Jill Sheehan comes in and hits a three. (Junior) Sam Bonsteiner gives us energy off the bench. We’ve got lots of bodies, let alone the kid that’s one of our best players at the start of the year, Ella Todd, is sitting on the bench.”

Fay saw some action on the team that won a state title her freshman year.

“It was so fun, I got some experience my freshman year with the state team, so that’s our biggest goal,” Fay said.

Putting it all together will be the focus over the next few months and in Mid-Suburban league play.

“I’m excited for January for us to start assembling all of us together, and I think we’ve got the potential to be really good,” Yates said.

“It’s my job to figure all that out,” he noted

Whitney Young, Skylar Jones Ready to “Wake Everybody Up”

Whitney Young, Skylar Jones Ready to “Wake Everybody Up”

By Kaleb Carter


Whitney Young is on a mission to prove its might among the best girls teams in the state. Some close early losses have given the Lady Dolphins proof that more work is needed to get where they want to be.

“We have the power to win, we just need to put all the pieces together,” junior Skylar Jones said. “And I think playing these tough teams around all these environments is going to make us better.”

The 5-11 wing is one of the better collegiate prospects in the state for the class of 2023. With college scholarship offers from Miami, Syracuse, DePaul, Illinois and others, Jones is keenly aware of what she’s capable of and how she’s perceived as a player.

“I’m not a sleeper in the state, I don’t think that at all,” Jones said. “Accolades are given, but I think it’s time for all of us to wake everybody up.”

For Whitney Young to do that, the Lady Dolphins will have to pull out wins against the types of top-notch teams they’ve not beaten consistently yet. Whitney Young has a 54-48 win over Homewood-Flossmoor, which was ranked No. 7 in Class 4A’s first Associated Press poll. The Dolphins have also beaten Carmel Catholic decisively at Kenwood’s Showdown In The Park, 67-51.

The Dolphins fell 69-60 to Stevenson at the Fremd Chicago Invitational Showcase in a game where the Patriots controlled most of the way. Whitney Young challenged itself in two games in O’Fallon, a 56-54 loss to the host and a 47-45 loss to Edwardsville.

Whitney Young coach Krissy Harper said that she has already seen Jones respond in the way the coach is looking for.

“She showed, ‘If my shot isn’t falling, now I’ve got to find something else I’m good at,’ so that’s why she turned it up on defense,” Harper said. “That’s why we schedule these kind of games. This is basically what state looks like. I want them all to be mentally prepared, but I definitely want Skylar right there with me.”

With Whitney Young sitting at 5-3, Jones wants her team to see this competition now to be better prepared for a potential city championship and state run. Between freshman phenom Destiny Jackson (scored 25 in the Stevenson loss), long and athletic senior Tanila Marshall (16 points versus Stevenson) and a complementary cast of Dolphins, Jones’ outlook for the next few months is highly optimistic.

“I think it’s good for us, because we’re such a young team, to play these hard teams now, especially because it’s going to be like this at state,” Jones said. “So we know what we’re going up against when we get down there. I think it’s good to take the loss now rather than the championship.”

Jones wants to find more confidence in her jump shot and to be a player who can deliver in those late-game moments.

“She’s really shown leadership,” Harper said. “Her mental part of the game is really starting to elevate And I think once she gets that 100 percent, she already has the skill level, so now she’s just working on that leadership.”

If the losses happen now but turn into wins to end the season, it won’t matter as much to Jones and the Dolphins in hindsight.

“Although it’s hard to take these hard losses and not play as we want to, I think it’s good for us to stay motivated and get ready for what’s really coming,” Jones said.

Nazareth sophomore Danielle Scully eyes long-term success

Nazareth sophomore Danielle Scully eyes long-term success

By Kaleb Carter

It’s one thing to have a strong class of players leading a basketball program. Most programs can cite a strong class and project how good that group of players will be in the future.

It’s another thing entirely to have the type of player that looks poised to fuel long postseason runs, the likes of which Nazareth Academy should enjoy over the next three years.

Putting 6-1 sophomore Danielle Scully on the floor has the Roadrunners destined for great things right now, too.

“Individually I thought that I had to take over because last year wasn’t really a show-up year for me,” Scully said. “I felt like I had to score more and felt like as a team we had to bond better. I feel like that’s really been helping us win these games, the chemistry.”

Scully’s size at the wing position puts her at a distinct advantage, as does her vision and court IQ.

“She’s a big kid with a strong body,” Nazareth coach Ed Stritzel said. “She’s got a Division I body already, but she can handle it at guard. The problem other opposing coaches have, they put a big kid on her and she out-skills you. If you put a guard on her, she’s good at going to the post she can finish in the post. She can do so many things.”

That ability to handle the basketball — in the open court, in transition, with a defender on her, and in the post — means she’s a threat to score or distribute to one of the Roadrunners’ other threats. Fellow sophomores Olivia Austin (6-1 forward), Amalia Dray (5-8 guard), junior shooter Grace Carstensen (6-0) or senior guard/wing and University of Chicago commit Caroline Workman (6-0) all provide plenty of punch. That keeps defenses from focusing all of their attention on Scully.

While Scully could just be an active post player, that’s not enough for her. Handling the ball and diversifying her game in travel ball with Illinois Lady Lightning helped her gain more confidence controlling possession on the perimeter and off the dribble.

“I’m trying to focus more on not being stuck in the post because I’m one of the taller, bigger girls,” Scully said. “I’ve been working on being able to guard guards and being able to work the guard position and dribble up the floor… and of course shoot.”

A point of emphasis for Sculy, as far as the coaches are concerned, is defensively.

“We keep on her about getting better on the defensive end,” Stritzel said. “We keep telling her ‘Affect the game on both ends. We know you affect the game on offense.’”

In a 50-21 Brenda Whitesell Tournament title game victory over Sandburg, Stritzel said he saw the types of off-ball defense in terms of steals and help defense that could help take her all-around game to another level.

It’ll be a need for Nazareth, which has scheduled a daunting row of non-conference games. The Roadrunners host DeKalb County heavyweight Sycamore, which has size and a Division I commit in Faith Feuerbach. The Roadrunners also play Peoria Central Saturday at Fremd’s Chicagoland Invitational Showcase.

“I want to see us go into these games we have coming up, they’re very hard games and I want to see us take it on with confidence, not go in nervous because we know they’re good teams and I just want to see us destroy them,” Scully said.

Scully, satisfied after the tournament championship, still had her mind on something more.

She had a sly smile on her face when pondering the coming months

“It’s very likely that you will catch us downstate.”

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.”


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. 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)
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