Category Archives: Girls

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.”

Harlem’s Mya Davidson Commits to Lindenwood, Comforted By Mother’s Wisdom

During the college commitment process, Harlem senior Mya Davidson’s mother gave her the comforting advice she needed to make a decision.

“She really emphasized, the college you choose has to feel like a home away from home,” Davidson said. “And that’s what Lindenwood was for me when I first set foot on campus, it … really felt like home.”

A skilled player on the NIC-10 runner-up Huskies a season ago, Davidson learned that lesson and others from her mother during her recruitment. Mya’s mother, Lauren, played at the University of Indianapolis — a fellow Great Lakes Valley Conference member with Lindenwood.

“I was talking to a few D-I’s, a few D-II’s,” Davidson said. “I’ve always had interest since starting freshman year (AAU and travel), and I’ve been in constant communication with them but not really offers and visits.”

Davidson got her offer from Lindenwood on July 13 and received one from McKendree as well. Davidson said her mom’s love of basketball was passed down to her early on, and she knew from the time she started playing the game that she wanted to play in college. Now, Davidson has a game that her future coaches love.

“They really don’t want to change much about me,” Davidson said. “They say I’m really versatile and they just want to enhance what I already have.”

Davidson, a 6-3 wing, scored a team-leading 13.2 points per game as a junior. She added 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.1 blocks per game, shooting 50% from the floor on 10.6 shots per game. She was named to the NIC-10 all-conference first team.

“Mya is so versatile in both her offense and defensive expertise,” Harlem coach Beth Meyer said. “She can score and defend both inside and out — and she is confident in doing so.”

This summer with Midwest Wildcats, a Rockford AAU travel squad, she worked on improving her perimeter game — she shot just 18 three-pointers as a junior, though she made 6. She said she feels comfortable taking smaller girls to the basket and handling the ball on the perimeter with bigger post defenders on her, knowing she can beat them off the dribble. 

“I don’t consider myself much of anything because I can do most of it, but I guess I consider myself more of a wing,” Davidson said. 

Meyer noted Davidson’s footwork and how she is ‘smooth’ in attacking the hoop from anywhere on the floor. That contributes to her ability to finish inside with finesse. 

“As she transitions to the next level, I think she will be a long guard who plays primarily from the perimeter,” Meyer said. “We want to do everything we can to help her develop there.”

For Harlem, critical contributors Myah Udell and Julie Bailey will be back at guard as seniors, as well as junior guard Keyara Bailey. 

With Grace Vyborney, Davidson’s cousin to the fold as a rising junior, the Huskies are hoping to make a run at defending NIC-10 champs Hononegah. 

“I feel like with our team, everyone should not be afraid to be a leader, and that’s something coach Meyer hounds in,” Davidson said. “Everyone should be able to talk, your voice matters. We want to be a really good team and talk a lot more.”

Illinois natives on the 2020-21 Lindenwood roster:

  • Senior Hennessey Handy (Joliet native ad Plainfield Central graduate)
  • Senior Julia Ruzevich (Orland Park native, Marist graduate)
  • Senior Kate Ruzevich (Orland Park native, Marist graduate)
  • Junior Blair Borrowman (New Canton native, Western-Payson graduate)
  • Freshman Kendra Lee (Arlington Heights native, Buffalo Grove graduate)

Tatiana Thomas Commits to Kent State, Continues Bolingbrook to MAC Pipeline

'Throwback' Tatiana Thomas Commits to Kent State, Continues Bolingbrook-to-MAC Pipeline

Tatiana Thomas is a throwback player of sorts in the mind of Bolingbrook girls basketball coach Chris Smith. 

“She does what she’s supposed to do,” Smith said. “You can get on her and she’s going to say, ‘Yes coach, my fault coach, I’ll do better next time coach.’ There’s never no disrespect from her at all.”

He says Thomas doesn’t take plays off, and that she has a burning desire to compete.

“Whether she does something positive or negative, she’s always positive,” Smith said. “No matter if I have to get on her and be hard on her, she’s always positive.”

After notable receiving interest from Division I programs as far back as 2019 — Thomas was offered by Marquette that June — the 5-11 forward committed to Kent State on July 3. 

“They’ve been recruiting me for a year-and-a-half, and at first I just had a lot of different schools talking to me so I wasn’t pinpoint on one school,” Thomas said. “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.”

Currently, four other Lady Raiders are on MAC rosters: De’Ahna Richardson at Western Michigan, Jayden Marable at Northern Illinois, Jahari Smith at Central Michigan and Treasure Thompson (LSU transfer) at Eastern Michigan. 

There wasn’t too much of an adjustment period for Thomas after her transfer from Montini before her junior season, as she exploded for 22 points in her first game with the program. Before she had even made the decision to play at Bolingbrook last summer, several of her future teammates took her on a trip to a mall to make her feel welcome. 

“I meshed with the girls really well,” Thomas said. “They’re all super nice and welcoming.”

Thomas can fill out the stat sheet in a number of ways — note her seven-steal performance against Homewood-Flossmoor — and Smith says rebounding ability sets Thomas apart from her peers. 

“She is notorious on the boards and as a defensive presence,” Smith said. “Offensively she can hit the mid-range, attack off the bounce and use her quickness.”

Despite not being the primary scoring option on the team, her all-around ability yielded her Southwest Suburban Conference Blue Division Athlete of the Year honors. And now she can potentially repeat that honor as a senior.

While the Raiders haven’t spent much time in competition this summer — Smith likes his teams to work on conditioning and skill development during the June team period — Thomas was content with the time used to further bond with teammates and prepare for the upcoming season. She’s been playing more of a shooting guard and wing spot for travel squad Illinois Lady Lightning this summer, a program that she has been part of for years. 

“I’ve definitely improved over the last year,” Thomas said. “I do a lot more outside shooting and I handle the ball a lot more. For my travel team I play the two instead of the three or four. I do play those positions still, but I’ve been mostly a two (this summer). I’m really excited to be able to go to Kent State and for them to work with me. I feel like they’re going to make my skillset so much better from what it is now.”

Kent State coach Todd Starkey told Thomas that he likes her game as is and that made Thomas feel comfortable and appreciated, she said.

“If I go to Kent State, I’ll be able to be an impact player and I’ll be able to help my team,” Thomas said. “If that means I were to be able to sit on the bench, I would do that and be the best bench player ever.”

“I really want to make sure I keep myself in shape, especially not just during the high school season but after going into college so I don’t feel like I’m going to die at the college workouts. I want to do that and I want to improve my outside game, my shot, my mid-range and get my handles better before I go off to college so I have a better transition.”

With another bonafide Division I recruit back this season in Angelina Smith, and a strong core of returning players who saw major time for Bolingbrook a season ago, Thomas enters her senior season ready to focus. 

“It’s a big relief to know where I want to go and have it all figured out and stuff, so I don’t have to be stressed out through my whole senior year so I can focus on my grades, basketball and just having fun,” Thomas said. 

GBN’s Brooke Blumenfeld Overcomes ACL Injuries, Commits to NIU

Glenbrook North's Brooke Blumenfeld Overcomes ACL Injuries, Commits to NIU

Brooke Blumenfeld is the first commitment in NIU's 2022 class. (Photos courtesy Brooke Blumenfeld)

The summer before her junior year, everything was going right for Glenbrook North forward Brooke Blumenfeld.

As a sophomore in 2019-20, she led the Spartans to their best record since 1992-93, and their first regional final since 1999. Despite limitations from COVID-19, her recruiting was picking up, and she’d just received an offer from Northern Illinois. Playing for her AAU program Wolverinas, Blumenfeld scored 19 points in a game — her high with the team.

Just seconds into her next game, everything changed.

“It was the first possession,” Blumenfeld said. “I cut across the lane, my teammate threw me the ball. And it was almost like I was trying to go up for a right-handed layup, but my feet were planted. So when my body twisted, my right leg didn’t move with it.

Blumenfeld tore her left ACL in eighth grade, but initially didn’t think this injury was as severe. 

She was wrong.

The ligament was torn again, an injury that typically takes nine months or more to recover from — this time in the right knee. She said she was in disbelief after receiving the diagnosis, that it was almost an “out-of-body experience” for some time afterwards.

“The first thing that popped into my head was, ‘I can’t play,’” she said. “‘I can’t play the sport I love. I went through this once, why is this happening to me?’”

Still, Blumenfeld said giving up basketball was never a consideration. Even though she knew how much work the rehab process would be and that she’d miss junior year, she had no choice but to come back once again.

“It’s just kind of who I am,” she said. “I love waking up early and going to practice. I love the feeling after a practice. … If there’s a party, I’d rather be in the gym. That’s where I feel most comfortable. It’s my escape from the world. I really don’t know who I’d be without [basketball].”

“She’s a gym rat,” Glenbrook North head coach Nick Capalbo said. “I’ll open the gym up whenever she wants to come in. She puts a lot of work into her game — she’ll stay for hours after practice, come in every day in the summer, [use] the weight room. She’s super driven, especially with this injury.”

Without Blumenfeld, the Spartans struggled, finishing 3-12 in the shortened season. But she was there with her teammates, their biggest cheerleader in the empty gyms.

“She’s a big personality, which I love,” Capalbo said. “It’s super great to have your best player be such a leader. … I remember that something happened in a game and the whole bench went crazy, and Brooke jumped up, with a [torn] ACL, so high and so excited. And she did a chest bump with one of our players, and she hit the floor.

“I was so concerned that she was going to get hurt again when she was recovering,” he added. “But she was just so excited and happy. … That’s just her personality right there.”

brooke-blumenfeld-niu-1

Blumenfeld Commits to Northern Illinois

Despite missing her junior season — a crucial year in recruiting — Blumenfeld made her college decision on June 26, staying near home at Northern Illinois. Still, proximity wasn’t the biggest factor in the choice.

“Northern, they kept their offer [to me], and they easily could have taken it [away],” Blumenfeld said. “But they didn’t. Through the nine months, there were some schools that dropped me. … All the way through, Northern stuck with me. 

“That just says a lot about the program and how they see me not only as a basketball player, but they care about me as a person,” she continued.

With their first commitment in the 2022 recruiting class, the Huskies are getting a 6-0 forward who was one of the best players in the Central Suburban League South as a sophomore, averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds per game.

As the Spartans’ biggest player, she spent most of her first two years near the basket. 

“Freshman year she was just our strongest, biggest player, and she could make some layups,” Capalbo said. “Her jump shot is outstanding right now. … Her ability to go to the basket now, she’s worked on her left hand, her right hand, she’s worked on her post moves. Right now she’s getting that three down, that’s her next phase, what we’re working on this summer.”

For Blumenfeld, the work on her jump shot has been an effort to diversify her game.

“People, they figured out my game sophomore year was driving to the basket, I can finish around the rim,” Blumenfeld said. “They figured that out, so coaches now have [defenders] sag off me because they think I can’t shoot. In the summer league games, that’s my time to, when they’re sagging off, pull up and hit the three. And I think that just opens my game up a lot.”

That versatility should help Blumenfeld fit the role of the modern collegiate power forward, and fit in with Northern Illinois’ system.

“The way they play, it’s a lot like my AAU team,” Blumenfeld said. “They play fast, they like to push it up the court. 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.”

This summer Blumenfeld said she’s working on gaining back all of her explosiveness, but she has been healthy playing for both Glenbrook North and the Wolverinas. Capalbo expects her to compete for conference player of the year this winter, and both have their eyes set on a regional title and beyond. No matter what, she’s put in the work to have a chance at both, and then to play at the next level.

“I tore my ACL once, and then I did it again when everything was at my peak — my recruiting, how I was playing,” Blumenfeld said. “I’m back from that. People have doubted me, but I know what I want to do, and I’ve done it.”

Princeton Commit Taylor Charles Takes Leadership Role for Burlington Central

Taylor Charles’ defensive prowess has had colleges inquiring about her since middle school. 

“That defensive presence, at the rim specifically, she has incredible ability to change the game from the inside of the basket and out,” Burlington Central coach Collin Kalamatas said. “Not only the shot-blocking element, but her presence around the basket really discourages (other teams).”

The 6-2 Charles, who comes from an athletically gifted and academic-focused family, averaged 10.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in 2021’s shortened 15-game season. It was her first with the Rockets after spending her underclassmen years at Montini. It was numbers like those that brought programs such as Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Virginia Tech, Purdue, DePaul, Colorado and others calling.

The Burlington Central senior, with her collegiate decision behind her — Charles committed to Ivy League power Princeton on June 22 —  has been able to focus on the aspects of her game that could make her a major part of the Princeton rotation immediately after high school. 

“I think I fit in really good with how they play,” Charles said of Princeton. “They’re more defensive-oriented and that being my favorite part of the game … I also think I’ll be able to help them on offense. I have that ability.”

In the meantime, she’s taking charge as a vocal leader on a long-successful program at Burlington Central. The Rockets have a record of 205-54 over the last nine seasons between coaches Mark Smith and Kalamatas — who enters his third year as head coach. Burlington Central will look to Charles to a great degree after the loss of seniors Avery Andersen and University of Indianapolis signee Elana Wells. 

This summer, the Rockets have taken on tough competition from the likes of St. Charles North, St. Charles East, Carmel Catholic, Geneva, Sycamore and Huntley, among others. Kalamatas said Charles has stepped into a bigger leadership role this offseason.

“It’s been a really good experience for her as well as the other girls to slide under Taylor’s wing a bit and learn a lot about the game from her,” Kalamatas said. 

He also said Charles’ ability to get up the floor with long strides makes her a big weapon in the fast break. Charles said she wants to expand and better her mid-range game.

Three-year varsity players Rylie DuVal and Becca Caratti will be integral parts of a team that lost its leading scorer in Wells. Still, Burlington Central returns key contributors from a 12-3 squad that did not lose a Fox Valley Conference game a season ago. 

“I’m just trying to get all of my team motivated,” Charles said. “I think this season especially we’re going to have to play as a whole unit. Nobody can do it themselves. I’m really just trying to build confidence in all of my teammates.

“I just really want to help my team win,” she added. “Of course try to score, block as many shots I can, but I’m not one who has ever really been focused on the stats.”

Both of Charles’ parents are engineers. Looking forward to college, she hopes to study pre-med and ultimately become a neurosurgeon. She’ll jump into a Princeton program on great footing, finishing 26-1 in 2019-20 (the Ivy League cancelled its 2020-21 season due to the pandemic).

“They’re coached by coach (Carla) Berube, she’s an ex-UConn player,” Charles said. “The season before COVID … they were a top-25 team. They’ve been competing at a high level, a good level and the fact she can make that with academics is unmatched.”

Kalamatas’ look into the recruiting process provided him an unfamiliar insight into the Division-I recruiting cycle. Princeton’s desire to bring Charles aboard was notable.

“Most of the teams that had interest from really early on like the Michigan and Illinois types, they didn’t contact me at all,” Kalamatas said. “But there were a handful of schools including Princeton and Yale and Davidson that did reach out to me and talked to the head coaches a handful of times.”

Charles is the third Illinois girls prep player in the Class of 2022 to commit to an Ivy League program after Morton’s Katie Krupa (Harvard) and Evanston’s Lola Lesmond (Yale, after senior year at a prep school in Massachusetts) did so. 

“She’s such a good kid, you see it immediately talking to her, talking to her family,” Kalamatas said.

“I’m really happy she made that decision,” he added. “I know she had her pick of a lot of the top power conferences, but this is the best thing for her to play immediately, get a good education and be set for life.”

Girls Notebook: Butler College Prep trio picking up major college interest; Kenwood and Whitney Young opening eyes

Butler College Prep’s triumphant trio of Camille Jackson, Xamiya Walton and Christin Brewer are helping the Lynx take on all comers this summer, showcasing talent that has had Division I colleges calling steadily.

Class of 2022 guard Camille Jackson returns for one last go around after leading her squad to consecutive Noble League championships. 

At Morton College’s summer league, the Lynx played tough against one of the better programs in the state in Kenwood, and then ran past St. Ignatius Thursday. The scores mattered less than the chemistry displayed on the floor for one of Chicago’s better small class programs. 

Camille Jackson takes a jumper.

“We’re on a roll and we have a lot to accomplish, but it also means we’re getting better as a program,” Jackson said. 

With collegiate offers rolling in at the Division I level, Jackson has expressed the most interest in DePaul and Illinois. 

“So far, I’m narrowing it down, getting closer to making an announcement, but it’s been DePaul and Illinois so far,” Jackson said.

Jackson isn’t the only one drawing interest from big midwest programs.

Walton (class of 2024), has wowed due to her handles and shooting ability. Loyola, Illinois, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Western Michigan, Memphis and Xavier have all extended offers. 

“It feels really great with these colleges showing interest because it’s what we work for,” Walton said. “Seeing the hard work pay off, it’s showing that you should be where you are and deserve everything. It’s really nice talking to these colleges, staying in touch and stuff and talking to new schools every week.”

All three of the Lynx expressed that competing against the state’s best teams helps prepare them for the regular season. For Butler, that means continuing its dominance of the Noble League.

“I feel like it’s a big accomplishment,” Brewer said of winning a second consecutive Noble title last season. “We didn’t have that much time to practice and have a season so to win it as a team, it was really good.”

Butler’s Christin Brewer drives into the paint against St. Igantius

“Once they said we’d have a Noble championship, we said we’d win it,” Walton said. “So I think that was nice to get us going for the summer league and we’re hoping to let this roll into next season.”

Lynx coach Xaver Walton, Xamiya Walton’s father, expressed that he felt Brewer would have drawn more attention from strong college programs if given the chance with a full season last year. 

A St. Ignatius player and Butler’s Camille Jackson battle for the ball.

And while Brewer, a 6-1 forward with improving ball-handling skills, is hoping that she is playing college ball next year while studying business administration, she’s fine focusing on the now. 

“This summer we’ve got out of this (Morton) tournament [becoming] more conditioned working as a team, bonding, [learning] how to play together,” Brewer said.

That doesn’t mean the Lynx don’t have big goals.

“We’ve been stressing we want to be state champions for our (class), Jackson said, with her teammates in agreement 

Young’s Jones and Jackson drawing attention  

Whitney Young’s lengthy class of 2023 forward Skylar Jones showcased the athleticism and skill on the block that showed why schools like DePaul, Syracuse and Miami have felt the need to extend an offer. Tanila Marshall, a now-senior, combines with Jones to give the Dolphins an improving and athletic presence around the rim. 

Jones was part of a Dolphins group that went undefeated in 12 games over the course of the summer league. 

“Skylar just got back from Louisville camp,” Whitney Young coach Krissy Harper said. “She is definitely a player to watch and everybody should know about her.”

Harper added about complementary guard Olivia Vick (class of 2023), who combos with Lily Montalvo (2023) for a swift and skilled backcourt: “Dead eye shooter. She’s actually working now on her mid-range and putting the ball on the floor and expanding her game. But if you leave her open for the three, she will knock it down.”

On top of all that returning talent, Young adds freshman point guard Destiny Jackson who already holds offers from Illinois and Ohio State.

“Our freshman is so good,” Harper said. “She came in with confidence. As a point guard you need that. She’s leading the team and she’s doing an excellent job.”

Broncos finding form

Kenwood’s Whitney Dunn (2022) has led the way in the absence of injured top prospect Brianna McDaniel (2022) while getting help from a supporting cast that’s finding its way. Freshman Ariella Hennigan showed talent in bursts, while Ayanna Jackson (2023), Jazelle Young (2023) and Ariana Williams (2024) proved exciting, especially so against Butler. Jackson in particular was a playmaker of note, scoring in the post, making timely passes and more.

It will be exciting to see DonYeil Bolton, a senior forward with multiple college offers, and McDaniel this winter when they return to the floor. 

Camille Jackson of butler tries to drive past Whitney Young of Kenwood while Jazelle Young (32) readies defensively.

First look at Example Academy

Example Academy, perhaps the most talented program in the summer league, is a newly founded prep program with players carried over from Example Sports’ AAU program. With a boatload of Division I and other collegiate-level talent, the likes of Jasmine Brown, Kennise Johnson-Etienne, Madisyn Saracco, Nakiyah Mays-Prince among others will be highly coveted and written about aplenty in the coming years. 

More shots from the Morton College Summer League

Wisconsin Coaching Staff Key to Tessa Towers Commitment

Batavia girls basketball coach Kevin Jensen has had his fair share of athletes go on to collegiate athletics, but Monday may have been the first time he was yelping for joy after hearing a college decision.

Tessa Towers, a 6-5 rising senior, made official her commitment to the Wisconsin Badgers after a visit and offer on June 16. Towers met with prospective future teammates and picked up good vibes immediately. 

Towers

“I just have a feeling this is it,” Jensen recalls Towers telling him.

Jensen’s response: Why wait or prolong what seems to be a natural fit?

“It’s a dream come true,” Towers said. 

“I could just see how they treat their players there and it’s just amazing,” Towers said. “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 shared the thrill of her decision with those closest to her.

“My family, they’re all so excited for me,” Towers said. “My mom, she was so excited as well. She loves Wisconsin. She was so excited for me to get the next chapter of my life done.” 

The Badgers women’s basketball program, featuring multiple Illinois natives already, is heading into its first season under coach Marisa Moseley. Brooke Schramek of Naperville (Benet Academy) and former Lake Forest star Halle Douglass will be sophomores. Both Illinois natives played over 17 minutes per game as freshmen as the Badgers went 5-19. 

A unanimous all-conference player in the DuKane Conference this past season, Towers is a double-double machine with top-level strength on the block. Jensen said that there are things about her game that would surprise observers who just see Towers for her size, citing her ability to run the floor, improving leadership qualities and overall athleticism.

Jensen believes Towers has plenty of untapped potential and certainly has high hopes for what she can do for the Badgers. But for now, he has reason to be thrilled about a Batavia Bulldogs team that has as much talent as any in his decade-plus tenure in the role. Towers is central to that.

“She has the capability to be utterly dominant,” Jensen said. “She could put up a 20-rebound game like nothing. She could get six blocks like nothing. She’s not going to do it every night, but you might see a 30- or 40-point night this season. Even if he doesn’t have those things, she affects the game in so many ways.”

In a 5-11 season, Batavia found itself in close games with some of the Chicagoland suburbs’ stronger area programs like Burlington Central (a 63-60 loss), South Elgin (56-49 win), Lake Park (losses by 59-55 and 72-69), Geneva (a 60-57 loss) and St. Charles North (a 49-46 win).

The Bulldogs will face another tough schedule in 2021-22, but with a fellow Division I recruit Brooke Carlson — a rising sophomore — back to lead the way at point guard, Batavia has plenty of reason to be optimistic about the upside of this squad. Jensen said Carlson is one of the toughest and most explosive players he’s ever coached. 

“I think we’re pretty good as a pair,” Towers said. “Me and her, we work so well together. She is such a great passer … She can move the ball around so well. I feel like me and her this year are going to be unstoppable.” 

With the Bulldogs competing with a renewed hunger at the Geneva and Morton College summer leagues, Jensen can’t help but have a certain ring to his voice as he anticipates what’s to come.  

“I can see in a lot of their eyes, even what we’ve done in the summer, the level of focus and the level of seriousness in which they’re taking even the little things, from my standpoint,” Jensen said. “It’s really fun to see.”

Towers wants to expand her shooting range and level of comfort further from the basket this season. She’s just fine taking her time before ultimately taking her quiet, but growing confidence to Madison.

“I want to help my team as much as I can,” Towers said. “I just want to have a great senior year this year and play our hardest and make it as far as we can.”

Girls Underclassmen to Watch: Black Diamond Conference

AMIAH HARGROVE | CHRISTOPHER

POWER FORWARD | Fr. | 6-2

23.1 PPG | 11.2 RPG | 1.5 APG | 3.0 BPG 

  • First Team All-State: AP 
  • First Team All-State: IBCA
  • First Team and MVP: Black Diamond West Division
  • All-South Team: Southern Illinois Coaches Association
  • Led Christopher turnaround from 5-24 in 2019-20 to 10-1 overall, 9-1 conference record in 2020-21 as outright Black Diamond West champs
  • Offers: Illinois, Missouri State, Arkansas State

AWARDS

OFFERS

COACH'S COMMENTS

“For most of the year, we started four sophomores and a freshman. We are only graduating two of the fourteen players on the roster this year. Our entire starting lineup will be back next year. I was proud of the way the girls competed this year. After going 5-24 last year, it was a major turnaround. Part of that turnaround was adding a phenomenal freshman in Amiah Hargorve. The other part was the experience that the now sophomores gained as freshman at the varsity level last year. We held teams to 35 points a game on defense.” – Coach Seiger Shurtz

MAKAYLA DEJEAR | CHRISTOPHER

GUARD | So. | 5-4

7.9 PPG | 2.5 RPG | 1.5 SPG 

  • All-Conference: Black Diamond West Division
  • Team-high 21 three-pointers made
  • Hudl Profile

AWARDS

CARSON BELANGEE | HAMILTON COUNTY

GUARD | So. | 5-7

8.7 PPG | 3.0 RPG | 2.1 APG | 1.1 SPG 

  • All-Conference: Black Diamond East Division

AWARDS

KAELEE KARCHER | HAMILTON COUNTY

FORWARD | So. | 5-8

8.1 PPG | 3.1 RPG | 1.4 APG  | 1.6 SPG

  • All-Conference: Black Diamond East Division

  • Scored career-high 19 points against Fairfield

  • Also all-conference volleyball player

AWARDS

KATE BOOK | FAIRFIELD

GUARD | So. | 5-7

4.6 PPG | 56.8 FG% 

  • All Conference: Black Diamond East Division
  • 4.6 points, shot 56.8% from the floor

AWARDS

ISABEL SHEPHARD | EDWARDS COUNTY

FORWARD | So. | 5-8

  • All-Conference: Black Diamond East Division 
  • Scored 20 points twice as a freshman
  • Hudl profile

AWARDS

Girls Underclassmen to Watch: Big Twelve Conference

With the shortened 2020-21 hoops season in the books, Illinois-Basketball.com is on a mission this offseason to make note of some of the best returning players in the state.

We’ve been tracking all-conference honors and other awards since the season ended, and have reached out to every coach in the conference for statistics and other info.

Below are the top-performing underclassmen from the Big Twelve Conference.

Big Twelve Conference Girls Underclassmen

DENALI CRAIG-EDWARDS | PEORIA

WING | So. | 6-0

17.5 PPG | 11 RPG | 3 APG | 2 SPG 

COACH'S COMMENTS

“Exceptional understanding for the game, athletic, strong, creates numerous mismatches with her versatility, size, and tremendous 3-point shooting.  She is also an Exceptional Student with a 4.0 GPA.” – Coach Meeche Edwards

AWARDS

AALIYAH GUYTON | PEORIA

GUARD | FR. | 5-7

17 PPG | 3 RPG | 4 APG | 3 SPG 

COACH'S COMMENTS

“Point guard/Shooting guard with phenomenal understanding for the game.  Ability to finish around the bucket and create opportunities for her players.  An excellent shooter and slasher, with tremendous work ethic on and off the floor.  She is another exceptional student with a 3.9 GPA.” – Coach Meechie Edwards

AWARDS

COLLEGE OFFERS

Vanderbilt

JA'KIYA JORDAN | PEORIA

GUARD | Fr. | 5-10

6 PPG | 2 RPG 

COACH'S COMMENTS

“Exceptional ability to finish around the bucket, and create mismatches as well with her ability to shoot from beyond the 3-point line and standing at a strong 5’10”.  Great room for growth and the hunger to get better everyday. For her age, understands the game well, works hard, and is another exceptional student with a 4.0 GPA. – Coach Meechie Edwards

MYA WARDLE | PEORIA NOTRE DAME

GUARD | Fr. | 5-7

12.6 PPG 

  • IBCA Class 3A All-State Special Mention

  • First team All-Big Twelve

AWARDS

COLLEGE OFFERS

Eastern Illinois

ELIZABETH DALY | PEORIA NOTRE DAME

FORWARD | So. | 6-0

5.6 RPG 

  • First team All-Big Twelve

AWARDS

SOPHIA FEENEY | NORMAL COMMUNITY

GUARD | So. | 5-4

14.8 PPG | 5.3 RPG 

  • First team All-Big Twelve

AWARDS

KAMRYN HEIDER | RICHWOODS

GUARD | Fr. | 5-7

  • First team all-Big Twelve

  • Had a 22-point, 6 3-pointer, 6-steal, 8-assist game

AWARDS

ASHLEY WILCOX | NORMAL WEST

GUARD | So. | 5-8

  • First team All-Big Twelve

AWARDS

KATIE BARGER | BLOOMINGTON

POINT GUARD | So. | 5-8

  • Honorable mention All-Big Twelve
  • 12-points, 13-rebound, 4-assist game vs. Manual
  • 16-point, 8-rebound game against Champaign Central.
  • Hudl profile

AWARDS

AVERY LOSCHEN | CENTENNIAL

GUARD | So. | 5-6

AWARDS

ADDY MCLEOD | CENTRAL

GUARD | So. | 5-5

  • Honorable mention All-Big Twelve

  • Champaign News-Gazette honorable mention

  • Scored 19 in a win over Manual, 16 in a loss to Peoria Notre Dame

AWARDS

MCKENZIE SPRAGUE | URBANA

GUARD | So.

  • Honorable mention All-Big Twelve

AWARDS

‘The Missing Piece:’ Okaw Valley grad wins National Player of the Year

From tiny Bethany, Illinois (population 1,216), Drury University junior Paige Robinson seemed destined for big things from the outset of her basketball career. 

Okay Valley girls basketball coach Brad Ackers saw it from the beginning of her time on the team there. Ackers calls Robinson a gym rat and said he’s not all that surprised by her success.

“Paige’s IQ is off the charts in terms of the game of basketball and her instinct,” Ackers said. “She’s as skilled as any player I’ve ever been around in terms of ball-handling and shooting. That’s been apparent pretty much from the get-go.”

The junior for the NCAA Division II national runner-up Drury Panthers received a phone call recently that may not have shocked her high school coach, but certainly took her aback.  

Robinson had been named the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division II National Player of The Year. 

“I got a random phone call from my head coach (Amy Eagan),” Robinson said. “Didn’t expect it whatsoever and I started bawling my eyes out. It just proves my hard work paid off.”

Robinson, boasted averages per game of 21.1 points, 4.8 assists, 2 steals and 2.4 3-pointers, and sank 39.6% of her three-point shots this season. Robinson said it was her defense that perhaps had improved the most.

“I was always known as a scorer in high school, and even in my freshman and sophomore year (of college),” Robinson said. “I think I’ve matured as a player and as a person on and off the court.”

The award was handed down just before the Panthers played in the Division II national semifinals in Columbus, Ohio. Robinson had already collected Great Lakes Valley Conference regular season and conference tournament MVP for the Panthers, who went on to fall in the national championship game to defending champs Lubbock Christian 69-59.

When Robinson was being recruited by Drury, while also drawing Division I interest simultaneously, a piece of confidence in Robinson’s abilities from the Drury staff stuck with her. As the 2017-18 Mattoon Journal Gazette & Charleston Times-Courier Player of The Year, Robinson had put many excellent pieces of her game together.

“When I was getting recruited my coach was telling me you’re the missing piece to a national championship and that just really stuck with me,” Robinson said. “That was a huge part in me coming to Drury and I’m glad I’m here.”

Drury was undefeated in 2019-20 before the pandemic brought a premature end to the campaign. Getting as far as Drury has this season, after losing several important seniors from that group, fell largely on the shoulders of the Okaw Valley graduate. 

“We had a lot of people thinking we weren’t going to make it as far as we did,” Robinson said. “We had a few seniors graduate. We had a girl before me, Hailey Diestelkamp, she was the national player of the year and everyone thought that since she was leaving and Daejah Bernard was leaving they thought that we weren’t going to make it all the way. So we just used that as a chip on our shoulders and carried that with us throughout the season.”

The Panthers won by single-digits in the national quarterfinals and semifinals in the Greater Columbus Convention Center. That came after a round of 16 home victory over national power Ashland (OH). 

The game being played at the convention center is the latest in a line of slights that women’s basketball advocates have highlighted toward the end of this past season most notably. 

Robinson said each team at the championship game was allotted 36 tickets apiece, and the game was played in a ballroom. 

By comparison, the men’s Division II title game was played at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana, an arena with a seating capacity of 11,000 with seemingly several hundred in attendance (official attendance listed as 1,080). 

“I think when people think of D-II, they think of those kids who couldn’t have made it D-I, but a lot of us had D-I offers and we could easily go up to D-I and compete with those kids,” Robinson said. “I think if people watch us, they can see how high of a level we play at and how much we deserve as athletes. It was disappointing like I said to play at an arena like that, but I think if people give us more support, they’ll see why we think we deserve more.”

The Panthers came from behind multiple times in the tournament to get to the final, and even came from down 20 to within four points in the title game. 

Robinson, who is currently treating some nagging injuries while entering offseason mode, is already thinking of what it’ll take to elevate things to another level next season for the Panthers. 

Paige Robinson dribbles down the court in an NCAA tournament game against Ashland. (Credit -Terry Griffin, DU sports communications)

Not that Robinson isn’t used to playing through trouble. As a high schooler, Robinson fought through what she didn’t know was a torn labrum sustained in Okaw Valley’s conference tournament, and played through the pain to the state semifinals. Ackers also mentioned other injuries Robinson has gutted out. 

“She’s a killer,” Achers said. “She just is.”  

It takes more than nagging injuries to keep her off the floor. 

“We take away It takes a lot of hard work to get there,” Robinson said. “We’re not just going to walk in to the season next year and just expect to get that far. We took a tough loss in the middle of the season, and I think that shaped us into then team we were at the end of the season.”

Next season, Robinson will see how a storybook season fits in the puzzle of the Division II landscape. 

“Losing it last year due to COVID and then actually getting all the way this year, it was a huge stride for us,” Robinson said. “Hopefully we’ll be back there next year.

« Older Entries