Justin Dukes is a contributor to WARR.com
While taking in the sights and sounds of the second day of the 6th annual Chicago Elite Classic as a basketball fan there was a special energy in the air that made it very easy to lose track of time.
Mentions of the many sponsors (Nike, Gatorade, Power 92, FedEx, Vistria, Aramark and so on) along with the large number of scouts and basketball personalities blended with the fans and media members showing up in droves for an extended glimpse at some of the premier high school talent in the country showed how much the game continues to grow at this level.
After catching the final five games of Saturday’s action, walking away I would definitely say a team scouts should look out for is the Vashon Wolverines from St. Louis, who came out on top in their tough matchup with Chicago’s own Whitney Young high school, a state champion from 2017 with top players such as guards Xavier Castenada and Javon Freeman.
An undersized team built primarily of sophomores and juniors, Vashon themselves are a set of reigning state champions in Missouri and they bring together as interesting of a narrative as any team in my book.
Both teams seemed to have very opportunistic offenses in this game. The 32 points by explosive guard Mario McKinney seemed to be what tipped the scales in the Wolverines’ favor and had a few plays causing some members of the crowd to prematurely call him Derrick Rose Jr. However, in another year or so, I can definitely see the 16 year old, along with players such as forwards Kobe Clark and Cam’Ron Fletcher, shooting up the ranks of the nation’s top prospects.
“Our goal is to be the national champs,” McKinney said to me in our post-game interview. “Our goal is to three-peat. I’m trying to be the first one in Vashon history to win four (titles). I won my freshman and sophomore year. I want to win this year, and I want to be a nationally ranked team.”
Closing out the second game of the marquee matchups on a positive note for Chicago fans were the Simeon Wolverines, who scratched out a 54-50 win over another St. Louis power, Chaminade College Prep. Standout Talen Horton-Tucker finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, and most importantly forced the game-winning turnover in the fourth quarter for the Wolverines.
Horton-Tucker, a commit to Iowa State, put a good inside-outside game on display that Cyclone fans should anticipate greatly, as well as some good intangibles that definitely justify the signing. Guard Kejuan Clements, Zion Young and forward Messiah Jones were also key contributors in overcoming a 22-point, 7-rebound game from Chaminade’s Jericole Hellems, who with some fine tuning could become even more of a force inside.
Players like Kenwood Academy’s 6-foot-5 guard “RJ” McGee, with his formidable jump shot, or Gray Collegiate’s 6’9 center Michael Marsa made me laugh while observing them, not because of their games, not at all. I just had a hard time thinking of what I could do with either guy during my high school days as a 6’4 center with limited range and no handle of the ball. I certainly wouldn’t have been a standout during the match-up of the Broncos and War Eagles.
Thinking similarly, in watching the most physical game of the day between Sunrise Christian Academy and La Lumiere School, prospects such as guards Malik Hall and Charles Smith, center N’faly Dante and forward Isiah Stewart provided a glimpse into the next evolution of the game on display, an increasingly seamless melding of both the physical and mental abilities of players.
“I came in with mindset of wanting to win,” standout Morgan Park guard Ayo Dosunmu said post-game after his team’s blowout win over Champaign Central.
Having notably committed to Illinois this fall, Dosunmu still recognized the value of the entire Mustang squad in helping him get headlines.
“This team lets me to do what I do, but I’m still a team player and can fit in with coach’s offense and defense.”
This year’s Chicago Elite Classic was a definite success, which was rightfully held in one of the country’s hotbeds for basketball. NBA stars such as Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Jayson Tatum have represented in the classic’s past and it is only a matter of time before many more names from the classic will be representing in the NBA.