July 24, 2021

Michael O’Brien’s high school basketball notebook

I’m sure the roar of a packed gym this Thanksgiving will take my breath away. It’s hard to even imagine a state championship game in Champaign.

Those things will come in time. Right now I’m grateful for the Riverside-Brookfield summer shooting. R-B basketball coach Mike Reingruber has turned the area’s traditional summer high school team event into a major live event. It is a must for universities across the country.

It was nice to see college head coaches like Brad Underwood and Juwan Howard in the gym. It has been two years since they had the opportunity to see a local boy play in person.

But that is not what it means to most of us today. It was an opportunity for the Chicago basketball community to reconnect after a difficult year.

Much was different. Nick Irvin was decked out in western Illinois purple with an Adidas logo on his shirt. The former Morgan Park coach is now a college assistant. Paris Parham, now DePaul’s assistant, introduced me to DePaul’s new coach, Tony Stubblefield.

Successful junior college coach Steve Christiansen recently left Triton to take an assistant job at NIU. Gary Decesare is back in town, this time as a coach at De Le Salle.

Familiar faces in new places. It’s been a long time since everyone was together.

Two important faces were missing. Donnie Kirksey, who trained everywhere and knew everyone, and Bogan’s coach, Arthur Goodwin, both died this year. I also thought of Howard Moore, who is still dealing with the aftermath of the horrible car accident his family suffered in 2019.

Moore was one of the men I always sat down and talked to at length at Riverside-Brookfield. His smile and kindness were a bright spot on what could occasionally be a challenging day.

That was not the case this year. All the little squabbles and grudges that crop up and persist from season to season are now gone. Basketball spent the year on the back burner.

All of that will come back soon. Friday at Riverside-Brookfield felt like the first day back to the office for the basketball community. It was good to be there, heartwarming to see everyone and appreciate how special Chicago basketball is and the important place it occupies in many of our lives.

So let’s move on to basketball. Some tidbits of the day:

-Remember the name of Antonio Muñoz. The young freshman was a bit dazzling in games against Bolingbrook and Joliet West. Muñoz blocked shots, dived and generally flew all over the court. It was the most significant freshman debut I’ve seen at Riverside-Brookfield in a while.

-DePaul Prep is going to be fine. The Rams lost their entire starting lineup, but have completely recharged. Big man Dylan Arnett looks like he could be a force this season. Alex Gutierrez is solid and 6-5 sophomore Payton Kamin is very promising. Senior Trevon Thomas was one of the real eye-openers of the day. He could be a top-tier player next season.

-Start the hype in Glenbard West. Everyone was in the gym watching the Hilltoppers dominate Simeon in the first half.

-Downers Grove South is one of those teams that always seems to get my attention in R-B. That was the case again this year. Senior guard Jaylen Montgomery is a graceful scorer, Harold Dismukes can shoot and Pat Laurich, senior 6-7, made the difference.

-The new Trier sneaked in on everyone last season. That will not be the case in November. Trevians are real. They are talented and play with fire. Jackson Munro, 6 to 8 years old, is already a household name in recruiting circles. Senior Noah Shannon dazzled in the second half of a win against St. Rita.

-Hillcrest has recharged, which won’t surprise anyone. As usual, the Hawks have a group of 6-6 and 6-7 athletic trees. The name to watch out for is second-year guard Isaiah Green. He was very impressive and will soon be on college radars.

“Why aren’t more people talking about Deandre Craig?” He is clearly one of the best guards in the state. Mount Carmel isn’t a traditional basketball powerhouse, but that’s no excuse for the lack of excitement around it.

-Jeremy Fears Jr. was sitting by the bench in Joliet West. That was a tempting and frustrating sight for Joliet West fans. The nationally ranked junior is expected to remain at La Lumiere this season. But his brother, rookie Jeremiah Fears, made his Tigers debut. Young Fears has the same confidence and arrogance as his older brother. He helped keep Joliet West competitive against Young in the last game of the night.