The City Game: Chicago Elite Classic Cements Windy City Status as Basketball Mecca

The City Game focuses coverage on the game of basketball at the amateur levels in and around the city of Chicago

By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)

Cities across the United States have laid claim to being the so-called “Mecca” of basketball. New York is particularly vocal about it, as is Philadelphia, Los Angeles, the entire state of Indiana.

Chicago could claim equality or superiority will all of them, going back to the days Cazzie Russell starred for Carver in the 1960s. However, the number of Chicago ballplayers going on to star at the highest level — the NBA — had thinned in recent years, with Anthony Davis being the most recent Chicagoan to achieve true elite status.

Davis, for his part, stated this year that Chicago was the true mecca of basketball, and fellow Cook County brethren Doc Rivers backed him up. This year’s Chicago Elite Classic was their opportunity to back up that claim and showcase the talent the city and surrounding suburbs has to offer. While the Chicago schools didn’t win every battle with their out of town foes, the city’s finest proved their talents can match up with anyone in the country.

South Suburban Power Represents

Bloom Township has a lot of hype to avoid this season. They were ranked No. 1 in the Sun-Times preseason poll and a LOT has been written about their “core four” senior lineup of Dante Maddox Jr., Keshawn Williams, Donovan Newby and Martice Mitchell. Their match-up with Atlanta’s Pace Academy wasn’t much of one, as the Blazing Trojans rolled to an 84-54 victory, but the team isn’t having trouble staying focused.

“At any moment, we know it can be gone. At any moment, we know this all can be over,” said Maddox Jr. following the game. “So our goal, every time on the court, is to dominate.”

The Cal State-Fullerton recruit led the Trojans with 30 points and controlled the game from the point. Even without Newby available, Bloom showed definitively why they’re a favorite to win the state title. Their commitment to putting their city on, both Chicago and Chicago Heights, runs concurrent to that championship drive.

Mitchell, an Englewood native, put it succinctly: “I got that Chicago mentality because I’ve lived there most of my life. I got that dog in me.”

Top Recruits Faceoff

Adam Miller isn’t a Chicago native. He hails from Peoria, itself a rich breeding ground for basketball talent, and transferred to Morgan Park from Richwoods High School after his mom moved the family north.

Now in his senior year, the smooth left-hander and Illinois commit put in supreme work last week against Christian Brothers and highly-regarded recruit Caleb Love, leading the Mustangs to a win in overtime. Miller scored 21 points to Love’s 26, but he displayed all the talent that fans in Chicago, Peoria, and Champaign have come to cherish.

“Even if they’re not Illinois fans, people all around they like me because I’m a humble guy and I have good character. So, a lot of people just know me well and they cheer for me,” Miller said to the Peoria Journal Star after a November tournament in Washington, Illinois.

Miller, Brandon Weston and the Mustangs are gunning for another state title in Class 3A, which would be Morgan Park’s third in a row and fourth in the last five years.

City Powers Find Their Match

Simeon and Whitney Young found themselves on the losing end in Saturday’s marquee matchups, but not for any disparity in star power. Simeon let a lead slip away late against St. Frances Academy of Baltimore, while DJ Steward’s game-winning attempt was just off the mark as Whitney Young lost to Duncanville (TX).

Simeon’s Ahamad “Black Cat” Bynum, nephew of NBA veteran and Crane grad Will “The Thrill” Bynum, led all scorers with 21 points. The Wolverines were held the lead for 24 of 32 minutes, but a 47-33 rebounding advantage, as well as some missed free throws in the fourth quarter, doomed Simeon.

As Simeon head coach Robert Smith said following the game, “We’re not going to beat an elementary school when you give somebody 23 offensive rebounds.”

Steward gave the Saturday night crowd their money’s worth. He poured in 21 points, several coming from well beyond the college three-point line, but the Dolphins couldn’t catch Duncanville, the reigning Texas Class 6A state champs. Steward got a good look from the left corner with about three seconds left, but the shot hit off the front of the rim just before time expired.

The CEC tournament gives area schools and stars a great opportunity to play their peers from across the country, but does present some difficulty for Simeon and Whitney Young, often the tournament headliners. Both Smith and Young head coach Tyrone Slaughter help organize the tournament each year and have to split their focus leading up to it. Both teams also played their first games of the season less than 10 days prior to Saturday’s matchups.

Neither team was giving themselves any excuses, and Smith was very expansive in his thoughts on the CEC’s lasting legacy.

“This is about the whole city of Chicago. We just want to represent the best we can, on and off the court,” he said. “Just show people from out of town the way we play basketball, the pride and tradition of basketball, and then just show them our beautiful city.”

That brand of basketball, as described by Simeon and St. Frances players, is defined by toughness. St. Frances’ Jordan Toles connected it to Baltimore, saying his teammates played with the same toughness.

It’s that toughness, on display all weekend, that gave credence to Anthony Davis’ claims. Chicago is indeed the crucible for some of the best young basketball players in the country, whether they’re playing in a Division I college arena or a suburban high school gym.

Chris Pennant covers professional and amateur basketball for WARR Media

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