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Defending Class AA State Title winner Peoria Central is the early favorite to take the crown again.

2003-04 preseason top teams in Illinois

By Frank Rusnak
    The key to this team is unselfishness, ball movement and great guard play. Coach Chuck Buescher has a gem of a team in this year's Lions of Peoria Central. Leading this squad will be two high-major recruits in Brandon Lee (Northwester) and Shaun Livingston (Duke) to go along with a strong supporting cast. Who will finish behind Peoria Central is the only question left to be asked in the preseason.

  1. Peoria Central: The defending Class AA State Champions, the Lions are the obvious pick to repeat. They return their main nucleus outside of Bradley freshman point guard Dan Ruffin. The state’s top player, Duke-bound Shaun Livingston, leads this team and will fill in at whatever position needed. Northwestern-bound Brandon Lee, a 6’1” combo guard, will add to the perimeter attack along with 5’9” senior guard Jacob Motteler. Junior big man DeAndre Miranda will provide a solid post presence for coach Chuck Buescher’s team. It looks like 6’6” power forward Dustin Warfield, a Peoria Richwoods transfer committed to Lewis University, will be eligible which will give this team an extra push as one of the nation’s top teams.

  2. Homewood-Flossmoor: The Vikings come at you with a front-line of 6’6”, 6’7” and 6’8”. Not to bad for coach Roy Condotti’s club. Julian Wright, the state’s top junior, will play every position on the floor at 6’8”. Senior Brian Nussbaum, a 6’6” forward, will provide versatility. Cyrus Tate is a relentless worker in the post at 6’7” and 6’1” senior Excell Hardy and the football team’s quarterback Freddie Barns will operate from the backcourt. Depth will also be a strong point for this team.

  3. West Aurora: With three Division I starters, talent will not be in question for this team. Leadership is something that will be asked for out of coach Gordie Kerkman. Shaun Pruitt, a 6’9” post player committed to the Illinois, will control the painted area. The senior backcourt of 6’2” Jaeh Thomas and 6’4” Justin Cerasoli will be one of the state’s best combinations. Cerasoli is committed to Seton Hall. Look for 6’2” sophomore guard Travis Marion to make a name for himself this season.

  4. Belleville West: The Maroons advanced to the Elite Eight last year and look to do the same with a revamped lineup, featuring O’Fallon transfer Xavier Price. Price, a 6’2” guard, is committed to Purdue. Division I prospect J.B. Jones, a 6’2” senior guard, returns as the team’s leader. Look for star wide receiver Arthur Sargent to provide extra versatility and size at 6’4” with long arms and a wiry frame. Sean McPeak will provide low-post stability at 6’5”.

  5. Von Steuben: The lone Chicago Public League representative to advance to the Elite Eight last season, coach Vince Carter has the majority of his squad returning. Senior forwards, both 6’5” and two of the state’s best athletes, Ryne Hamblet and Demetrius Evans along with 6’1” junior point guard Angel Santiago will help make the Panthers go. Look for unsung heroes 6’3” senior Bryon Johnson and 6’5” Paul Warren to be keys for how far this team goes.

  6. Hoffman-Estates: The backcourt of seniors Bryan Mead and Jonny Reibel has some of the best chemistry you’ll find in high school basketball. Reibel is an expert at finding Mead, who is money wherever he releases the ball. The 6’0” Reibel is deceptively quick and crafty at getting to the hoop when the passing lanes are cut off. Mead is a well-built 6’4” shooter for the Hawks. Six-foot-5 senior Brandon Jung will be a reliable third-option.

  7. Farragut: Rutgers recruit Ollie Bailey is one of the Chicago Public League’s best players at 6’8” and a relentless worker. The backcourt of 6’2” senior Rodnell Harris and 6’3” sophomore Chris Singletary will be tough to contend with. If 6’5” junior Johnny Logan can get into better conditioning-shape, he could be a force for William “Wolf” Nelson’s team.

  8. Pekin: With the addition of 6’3” Washington transfer Jordan Morris, coach Joe Stoner’s team has just elevated its status to legitimately compete as one of the top teams in the Mid State Six. Bradley-bound Jeremy Crouch, a 6’4” combo guard, and Rice-bound Matt Hagen, a 6’9” post player, are four-year varsity veterans. Look for 6’6” junior power forward Kyle Meyers to play a big role as well.

  9. Hales Franciscan: The defending Class A state champions come back with almost all their weapons from one year ago. Leading the Spartans will be 6’4” junior post Nate Minnoy. A strong banger, Minnoy also has the ability to take his man off the dribble. Look for senior guard Jerrod Haynes and sophomore guard Jerome Randle to provide stability in the backcourt for coach Gary London. Junior wing Mike Robinson is an overlooked ingredient to this team’s success.

  10. Limestone: DeAaron Williams is the heart and soul of this team. A 6’5” high-flying forward, Williams, a Wisconsin recruit, Williams led the Rockets in Peoria Central’s only loss last year. Dave Mott’s team returns four starters including Williams’ cousin Kelly Peterson, a 6’3” guard.

  11. Bloomington: This junior-dominated team is athletic, versatile and can shoot. Dodie Dunson will take the point guard responsibilities and Brandon Holtz the shooting guard position. Both have played on varsity since their freshmen year. Watch for 6’3” junior Wesley Ware, who has a capable three-point shot and is fearless around the hoop. Brandon Holtz’ little brother Brent, a 6’1” sophomore who also is Bloomington’s quarterback, should also play a role.

  12. Niles West: Valparaiso recruit Jarryd Loyd is one of the quickest point guards in the state and he has a prime option in junior slinger Sead Odzic. Junior guard Jackie Hunt, a 6’2” pogo stick, will add another offensive option for the Wolves. Victor Colon, a freshman starter last season, is coming off an injury, but should be close to 100 percent.

  13. Schaumburg: The senior combination of Zach Pancratz and Craig Reichel will try to finish out their last year of high school ball on a high note before they both leave for Northern Illinois University together. Pancratz, a 6’4” combo guard, has a light-you-up jump shot. Reichel, a 6’8” post, has a soft touch and good post moves for the Saxons.

  14. Downers Grove South:  Junior Bryan Mullins will lead the Mustangs as one of the best high school point guards in the state and a true winner. An Elite Eight qualifier, coach Paul Runyon’s team also returns 6’1” post player Sam Carson, also a gridiron star, and 6’1” shooting guard Trey Bowens.

  15. Rich Central: Transfers Tyrone Brazelton (Rich East), Marlon Mixon (Rich South, Hillcrest) and Jarvis Walker (Bremen) will help coach Glen Hefferman’s system. Look for a starting lineup of Brazelton, Walker, 6’2” Brandon Long, 6’4” Fred Washington and 6’6” Mike Harrington.

  16. East St. Louis: St. Louis recruit Tommie Liddell will make this team go at the point forward position. A 6’5” athletically skilled player, Liddell and the Flyers invite Cahokia-transfer Darian Luster, a 6’5” small forward. High-flyer Demario Edwards, a junior, is one of the state’s top athletes at 6’5”.

  17. Westinghouse: If the pieces to this puzzle fall correctly, coach Quitman Dillard could have another state title contender on his hands. Led by senior do-everything guard Jamarcus Ellis, the best player in the Chicago Public League, the Warriors are a talented team. Dante Lewis, a 5’9” point guard and Jimmy Hill, a 6’2” shooting guard are two rising juniors in the city. Look for 6’7” post player DeAndre Thomas to have a breakout season.

  18. Centralia: This team is led by 6’7” post Matt Shaw, a rugged low-post performer committed to Southern Illinois. First-year coach Gus Gillespie comes from a solid tenure with Robinson High School. Look for 6’2” athletic junior Jeremy Moss to make a difference. Sophomore Joey Parker, a 6’1” hard-nosed guard, will provide an extra body for the Orphans.

  19. Julian: Junior guard Brandon Ewing is a winner and is expected to take the Jaguars far. Look for 6’8” senior Lorenzo Eckford to make a name for himself while holding down the painted area for coach Loren Jackson. Luther Andrews is a versatile performer at 6’4” that will add an extra punch for the team. The Jaguars will get a boost from one of the state's top scorers last season in Tilden-transfer Marlon Johnson.

  20. Thornton: Senior shooting guard Robert Bush is expected to be the high-scorer for first-year coach Troy Jackson’s team. Look for the combination of 6’6” junior power forward Donnell Lyons and 6’6” sophomore center Joevan Catron to form one of the best, young front-line combinations in the state. Senior guard Marcus Randle-El, a football standout, along with fellow senior guard Tyranne Mitchell will provide depth and speed for the Wildcats.

  21. Hillcrest: The junior backcourt of 5’8” Maurice Acker and 6’2” Jerel McNeal is tough to stop for coach Tom Cappel’s team. Acker, an unselfish, assist-master has a prime target in the athletically-gifted McNeal. Look for contributions from 6'2" Reggie Bossie and 6'1" James Smith.

  22. Belleville Althoff: Look no further than Kevin Lisch for the reason to the Crusaders’ success. The 6’2” junior is a tough, hard-nosed performer with a terrific jump shot and the ability to carry a team on his back.

  23. Simeon: The question remains: Will long-time coach Bob Hambric let 6’2” freshman Derrick Rose play varsity. No freshmen have played varsity at Simeon under Hambric, while a long line of talented players have walked the halls of the school. Rose is special. Look for 6’5” senior wing man Calvin Brock to lead the Wolverines. With a long, wiry, athletic assortment of players Anthony Newell, a 6’5” senior, and Brandon Alexander, a 6’6” senior will both be playing above the rim. Also look out for junior point guard Tim Green.

  24. Thornwood: A talented, athletic and versatile group is what coach Bob Curran has this year, but that’s nothing new for the South Holland school. Senior Andre Muse will lead this group as a 6’4” athletic sharp-shooting swingman that can lay on tight defense. Fellow senior Cordell Liggins, a 6’5” post will provide strength down low. Junior guard Lonte Ward is a quick, scoring-minded guard. Junior forward Darnell Westbrook is getting ready for a break-out season and has the athletic ability and size at 6’7” to be one of the state’s best.

  25. Prairie Ridge: The combination of 6’6” Brett Cole and 6’5” Todd Babington will carry the Wolves far in the Fox Valley. Cole is a gritty shooter that plays with a great competitiveness. Babington has already committed to play at Austin Peay.

  26. Leo: Senior Frank Clair will get most of the credit for this ball club. The 6’6” swingman has committed to Northern Illinois and can hit the outside jumper or take his man in the post. First-year head coach Noah Cannon has plenty of other talented individuals on this team that play with a chip on their shoulders and a toughness they get from the football team. Look for senior forward Alan Downing to continue to make a name for himself as one of the state's top scorers. Guards Keelan Donald and Terrence Robinson will be factors at the guard position and 6'7" Tracy Robinson will provide scoring punch at the forward.

  27. Champaign Centennial: Guard-oriented, the Chargers will be guided by Dayton-bound Trent Meacham, a 6’2” wiry, coast-to-coast guard. Senior wingman Steve Holdren can flame it from outside and has surprising athleticism. Look for 6’0” junior guard Zach Manolakes to make an impact, as well.

  28. Rockford Jefferson: Next year will be their year, but the J-Hawks shouldn’t be too bad this year with an imposing front line of 6’9” junior Matt Nelson, 6’6” sophomore Robert Eppinger and 6’5” Matt Peterson. With athletic, quick guards as well, Jefferson can make some noise come March.

  29. Leyden: Another team that might have next year as it’s coming out year; the Eagles have size and athleticism. Particularly, 6’8” junior post Aaron Jimenez and 6’5” junior forward Marcus Green will be the team’s focal points. Coach Ken Davis has done a wonderful job putting this program on the right path.

  30. Pickneyville: Look for 6’8” Daniel Maddox, an underrated post player, to lead the Panthers into action. Junior wing, 6’4” Mason Woodside could be a surprise for coach Dick Corn’s ball club.


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