Week 1 Players of the Week and Weekly Notes

This is the first installment of the players of the week and weekly notes for the 2022-2023 season. It’s good to get back to the high school season and hopefully this week is a sign of the quality of intensity and talent that we’ll see all year long.

Players of the Week

Brady Kunka (Benet)

Kunka led Benet to a championship in the opening St. Charles East tournament, scoring 17 points in the final. A three-year player for Benet, Kunka looks like he will be among the top two guards in the Chicago area this year with his strength, athleticism, shooting, and defensive toughness. Kunka is a high-end D3 prospect.

Bryce Tillery (Hillcrest)

Tillery had games of 25 and 27, including a game where he spearheaded a huge comeback victory over a very good Bloom team. The size (5-foot-9) is no detriment for Tillery, making difficult shots in traffic, hitting threes, and bringing a level of maturity to the guard spot that makes everyone else better. The experienced floor general is hiding in plain sight for college programs in search of a tough lead guard.

Cam Christie (Rolling Meadows)

The Minnesota commit won MVP of the Fenton tournament with a number of impressive showings in blowout fashion. He had a few games over 20 points and contributed across the board as a passer and rebounder for the Mustangs. There were a few poster dunks mixed in as well for the preseason Mr. Basketball candidate.

Cole Certa (Bloomington Central Catholic)

Certa started off his junior campaign with three huge games, going for over 30 multiple times, including a 38-point game to begin the year. He can shoot it from distance, has a clean pull-up game, and has shown great improvement as an interior scorer. Now at 6-foot-5, Certa is fitting the bill of a Division 1 prospect.

James Stevenson (Momence)

Stevenson is producing once again in his final season for Momence. Playing as a 6-foot-7 point guard, he had lines of 24 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks, 24 points and 13 rebounds, and 32 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Look for Stevenson to flirt with some triple-doubles this year.

Jeremy Fears (Joliet West)

Fears wasted no time making his mark back on Illinois basketball. The Michigan State recruit led Joliet West to a comeback win over one of the 4A favorites in St. Rita with 17 points and had another 24 points, eight rebound, seven assist game in Washington, one of the top holiday tournaments in the state. He has changed the landscape of 4A.

JeShawn Stevenson (Lindblom)

Throughout the week, Stevenson continued to produce. The 6-foot-4 junior won MVP of the Stagg Thanksgiving tournament, capping it off with a 29 points performance. He also had two games of 32 points and a 24-point game as well. The arrow is pointing up for the athletic combo guard.

Rokas Castillo (Lemont)

Averaging 27 points during the week, Castillo made a statement for the guard-led Lemont team. He gets wherever he wants with the ball and has that extra chip on his shoulders that you look for in a backcourt player. Castillo was awarded MVP of their holiday tournament after causing havoc to opposing guards.

Tyler Franklin (Cobden)

The 6-foot-6 senior erupted for a school-record 57 points earlier in the week. Known as a stretch four, Franklin has both the perimeter skill to thrive on the outside and the bruising frame to dominate inside. He also had a game where he scored 27 points and grabbed an impressive 22 rebounds. Franklin is one of the better face-up forwards available in the 2023 class.

Xavier Sulaiman (Oak Lawn)

Sulaiman was dominant for Oak Lawn in their holiday tournament, going off for 33 points in the championship game and capping it off with one of the best dunks of the season  so far (see below). Shooting with confidence and getting to the rim at will, Sulaiman was hard to contain and should continue to lead an up-and-coming team.

5 Things I Loved To See:

1. Xavier Sulaiman’s End-of-Game Eastbay

PC: Twitter (@XavierSulaiman)

2. Top Programs Going At It Early

It’s always nice to see teams running towards the smoke to see where their teams stand to start the year.

Kenwood and Whitney Young squared off in what had the feel of a sectional final game. Dai Dai Ames took over as the game progressed, but Dalen Davis had some great stretches. Both teams featured some young talent as well, with Antonio Munoz, Aleks Alston, Nassir Rankin, Damajay Richardson, and other underclassmen making their presence felt.

Joliet West and the Fears brothers also knocked off St. Rita in a comeback win at the Washington tournament that featured the top sophomore, top three juniors, and top senior in the state. Both Jeremy and Jeremiah Fears went for 17 points while the frontcourt of Morez Johnson and James Brown was overwhelming at times with their size and athleticism.

Brother Rice ended up winning by a decent margin against Curie, but it was still an early test for both teams. Ahmad Henderson is a special playmaker who had 24 points and 6-foot-7 Khalil Ross has continued to progress on both ends. I really like juniors Tre Dowdell and Zavier Fitch. Dowdell is a strong guard with good body control and Fitch is an ideal face-up four who could give them another layer. Nick Niego hasn’t even played yet for them. Chikasi Ofama and Jeremy Harrington will be a problem on the inside for Curie again but it really looks like Carlos Harris could blow up this year.

Another notable game was Tillery and Hillcrest coming from a big deficit to knock off Jordan Brown, Jayden Watson, and a good Bloom team. Darrion Baker (Akron) is a multi-faceted forward for Hillcrest, but Tillery is the engine that makes them go. Both teams will be a threat come March.

Two big, athletic teams ran into eachother when Lyons knocked off Lincoln-Way East. Seniors Nik Polonowski and Jackson Niego combined for 40 points while the bulk of their frontcourt provided good resistance to LWE’s Kyle Olagbegi and George Bellevue. Tylon Tolliver had a nice game with 20 points in that one. Both teams will cause issues with how many long, active pieces they have.

St. Ignatius, one of the more talented starting groups in the state, knocked off a good New Trier team. Rich Barron was impactful as a shooter and finisher while both Reggie Ray and Phoenix Gill had nice showings. New Trier, led by Cornell recruit Jake Fiegen, is tough as usual and has some scrappy guards that will work around 6-foot-10 center Tyler Van Gorp.

3. Jackson Hupp’s Footwork and Mobility

The way Hupp has developed his frame and transformed his body over the last year are both noteworthy and commendable. He looks to be stronger, faster, and more agile, which is huge for a player who is around 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds. Hupp’s touch and advanced passing feel have been there, but his quick feet and balance on the interior are even more refined this year and he is changing ends with and without the ball very well.

Here are a couple clips of Hupp using his footwork, ball skills, and improved mobility to get to the rim. It’s still early the process, but his game and frame are trending towards him becoming a scholarship-level college prospect with Division 1 upside.

4. The “Charge King”

Jack Oberhofer is built more like an enforcer than a charge taker, but the 6-foot-1 Glenbard West forward seems to have mastered the art of drawing offensive fouls. What makes it so entertaining is that no one would pick Oberhofer out of the layup lines as the one who would be sacrificing his body to take charges and yet, he’s averaging multiple a game. You have to appreciate it.

5. Old and New Sophomore Guards Starting Out Strong

The 2025 class features a number of exciting guards, both returning and varsity newcomers, who are making their mark in the early going of the season. There are too many to account for in one post, but here are some who have made some noise so far.

In terms of returners, Joliet West Jeremiah Fears has made a big impact after showing well against national competition at Washington. Niles North’s Reid Olson put up 30 points earlier in the week and is playing well with Evanston transfer Yaris Irby, who had 29 points himself in that same game. Ian Miletic, a versatile 6-foot-6 prospect at Rolling Meadows, had 16 points and seven assists to open the year and then went for 13 points, eight boards, and six more dimes later in the week.

AJ Demirov of Crystal Lake South looks like a dynamic second option, averaging over 15 points and causing turnovers with his speed defensively after a mid-season call-up last year. Proficient shooter Sean Reynolds is playing a big role for DeKalb who started 4-0 out in Galesburg. Hinsdale South’s returning sophomores Jack Weigus and Ayden Farrere have been making good progress as scoring options for the Hornets.

The St. Laurence trio of Jacob Rice, EJ Mosley, and Khalil Jones continues to take steps in the right direction for a young team with Rice really emerging as a tough two-way presence. Jordan Tunis of Schaumburg was named all-tournament and looks to lead a new-look group. Bradley Longcor looks like a sure-fire Division 1 guard prospect and helped Quincy to an impressive opening tournament showing. JaiQuan Holman of Lanphier made all-tournament team in that same event. Now at Marist, Keshaun Vaval opened the year with 23 points. St. Patrick point guard EJ Breland is another promising lead guard who is shooting it well to start his 2nd year.

For the newcomers, St. Ignatius point guard Phoenix Gill looks like a potential star already, scoring 18 points in consecutive games and earning all-tournament team honors against tough competition. Glenbrook South is starting Anestis Hadjistamoulou, a heady point guard who has gotten to the basket, set up teammates, and given solid perimeter defense. Colby Smith is starting for a very good New Trier team and should get even more aggressive as the year goes on. DePaul Prep point guard Robert Walls earned all-tournament honors and stepped into a larger role seamlessly when star junior Payton Kamin went out.

Down in Mt. Zion, Lyncoln Koester is shooting the lights out with games of 23 and 16 to this point. I like how hard Stevenson point guard Aidan Bardic plays and the toughness he displays as a downhill driver. He will be a good player for them. Another young point guard, Athan Berchos of Andrew, has been a driving force in the backcourt for a team with weapons up front. Prospect point guard Ben Schneider erupted for 22 points in one game and Glenbard East’s new guard Josiah Calvin looks like a huge piece to their future.

Top Individual Performances During the Week:

Ben Oosterbaan (6’5 SG/SF, Hinsdale Central 2023) – 33 points
Braeden Carlsen (6’4 SG, Wauconda 2024) – 39 points
Chris Martin (6’6 PF, Mundelein 2023) – 28 points/12 rebounds
Cole Certa (6’5 SG, Bloomington Central Catholic 2024) – 38 points
Cooper LePage (6’1 PG, Crystal Lake South 2023) – 26 points/11 rebounds
JJ Hernandez (6’6 SF, Glenbard North 2024) – 31 points/4 steals/2 blocks
Kelton McEwen (6’1 PG, Bartlett 2024) – 37 points
Tyler Franklin (6’6 PF, Cobden 2023) – 57 points
Victor Brown (6’6 PF, Rich 2024) – 20 points/18 rebounds/4 blocks
Xavier Sulaiman (6’3 PG/SG, Oak Lawn 2023) – 33 points

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