Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.
By David Cordova
It’s December 3rd, a Saturday night and it’s bone-chillingly cold in Chicago, Illinois. Even though it’s technically still fall, you just know that winter’s coming. That’s all good, because on this night, it’s all about the game of basketball.
Thousands of people descend onto the Credit Union 1 Arena (formerly known as the UIC Pavilion) on the campus of the University of Chicago-Illinois, located on the West Side of Chicago, for an annual high school basketball showcase that is regarded to be one of the best in the nation. This event is the Chicago Elite Classic.
Since 2012, the event has been a haven for many of the best teams in Chicago, the state of Illinois & teams to come and perform in front of the crowd in the Windy City. Plus, it is known that the fans in Chicago love their basketball. After all, not too far from the Credit Union 1 Arena, actually just six minutes away is the home of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, the United Center, the place where Michael Jordan did seasonal work for three & a half seasons before his second retirement in 1999.
Also in Chicago, you have plenty of Division I teams. Aside from UIC, who plays in the Missouri Valley Conference, but you also have DePaul (Big East), Loyola-Chicago (Atlantic 10), Northwestern (Big Ten) and Chicago State (independent). But high school basketball is also king in this town.
There’s plenty of heavy hitters in this town on the high school scene in both the public & Catholic school leagues. However, this season, there are three in particular that stand above the rest. They are: Simeon, Whitney Young & Kenwood Academy.
All three programs have national schedules and are the cream of the crop when it comes to landing top-tier talent in Chicago. However, all three represent certain parts of the city. Simeon & Kenwood on the South Side and Whitney Young is on the West Side. Year after year, players from many of the city’s AAU programs, most notably MeanStreets & the Mac Irvin Fire, both of whom play on the Nike EYBL circuit, will more than likely be on the rosters of one of these three teams.
On the Wolverines, you start off in the backcourt of seniors with 5-foot-10 Jalen Griffith, 6-foot senior Michael Ratliff and 6-foot-1 Kaiden Space & then you have the front court of seniors in 6-foot-6 Sam Lewis, 6-foot-8 Wesley Rubin & 6-foot-9 Miles Rubin. This squad is coached by none other than Robert Smith, who is currently in his 20th & final season as the leader of the historical program, which boasts NBA alumni such as Nick Anderson, Derrick Rose, Kendrick Nunn & Jabari Parker.
With the Dolphins, there is a solid crew that consists of 6-foot senior guard Dalen Davis, 6-foot-6 senior forward Daniel Johnson, 6-foot-1 junior guard Sean Brown, 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Antonio Muñoz & 6-foot-3 senior guard Marcus Pigram. Tyrone Slaughter, the longtime head coach, has had a good assortment of talent come through his program. Amongst them are NBA pros such as Jahlil Okafor, DJ Steward & Javon Freeman-Liberty.
With the Broncos, led by head coach Michael Irvin, there is 6-foot-2 senior guard Darrin “Dai-Dai” Ames, 6-foot-10 junior forward Jaden Smith, 6-foot-6 junior forward Calvin Robins, 6-foot-1 junior guard Edwin Duling, 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Aleks Alston & 6-foot-1 junior guard Isaiah Green.
One thing that can be said about the Chicago Elite Classic is that it is also like a Homecoming event. During the event, the VIP section was filled with alumni from Simeon & Whitney Young. Also in the building was Chicago native & rapper G-Herbo, watching the games from his court side seat. The general public in the Chi definitely support the youth.
Whitney Young got to square off against Washington, D.C’s own National Christian Academy in one of the best games in the event. Through 32 minutes of the game, the Dolphins played neck-and-neck against NCA. But the game would be decided by Davis, a Princeton signee, as he rebounded a missed shot in the waning seconds, and would throw up the ball at the basket, with the ball going in, and sending Whitney Young off right with the victory, 54-52.
In the next game, the Wolverines would go up against St. Rita, a Catholic high school on the Southwest side of the city that is one of the best in Chicago, with some premier talent, such as 6-foot-10 sophomore forward James Brown, 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Morez Johnson, Jr., 6-foot-6 junior guard Nojus Indrusaitis & 6-foot senior guard Joseph Worthington-White. With star talent on both sides, one would’ve thought it would’ve been a much closer game.
However, the Wolverines’ senior-laden experience and the inability of Mustangs to make shots and also the foul calls made against them made it a rout, 86-59, in favor of Simeon.
The final game, which would be the main event, would put the Kenwood Broncos against the Joliet West Tigers, one of the best teams in the state out of Joliet, Illinois, which is nearly an hour away from Chicago. The Tigers had some gems of their own in 6-foot-3 senior guard Jeremy Fears, Jr., 6-foot-2 sophomore guard Jeremiah Fears, 6-foot-9 senior forward Matthew Moore & 6-foot-2 junior guard Justus McNair.
In addition to this being a matchup between two of the best teams in the state of Illinois, but it was also a matchup between two of the best guards in the state in Ames (signed to Kansas State) and Fears, Jr. (signed to Michigan State), both of whom were also rated in SportsCenter Next’s Top 100 rankings in the Class of 2023.
From the beginning of the game, it was chippy and competitive between both teams. It was a game that was worth the price of admission, as neither team would let up on the other. The Tigers held a ten-point lead, 35-25, going into halftime. But in the second half, the Broncos turned the tables on their counterparts & they took over the game from then on. Despite Joliet West holding their own throughout the game, the Broncos would not relinquish the lead & would go on to win, 72-66.
This game will forever be looked at as a classic & it will be known as a matchup between two of the best players & teams in the state. The matchup definitely lived to the hype and all the excitement that came from it. The organizers of the event put forth some great matchups for the faithful of the Windy City. It was another great year for the Classic. If you’re ever in Chicago during the first Saturday in the month of December, this is an event that is a must-see. It is as top-notch as top-notch can be.