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.”
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.
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.