Commentary

It's Wayne's World in Chicago

Originally Published: February 25, 2010
By Christopher Lawlor | ESPN Recruiting

Wayne Blackshear, a multitalented junior guard from Morgan Park in Chicago, has been called many things.

Prolific. As in scoring -- he's averaging 29 points per game.

Selfless. His team-oriented attitude transcends the game.

Fearless. Ever see him drive down the lane, pull up for a jumper or squeeze between double-teams?

Stingy. That's his frugal defensive approach; when he's sitting low in a stance, good luck beating him.

One thing he's not is vocal.

Wayne Blackshear
Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com Wayne Blackshear is Louisville-bound.

"I'm working on it," Blackshear said. "Since our team has a bunch of vocal guys, I'm not needed. Since I'm a leader, it's something I'll work on."

Blackshear, the nation's No. 12-rated junior, became his team's early-season go-to player after regaining his eligibility following last February's transfer from Curie (Chicago). In December, after Blackshear torched St. Rita, an emerging Chicago Catholic League program, Falcons coach Gary DeCesare cracked, "At least we held him to 34 points."

Kidding aside, the Chicago Public League-champion Mustangs emerged recently as favorites to travel downstate next month for the Illinois Class 4A state tournament.

And while Blackshear, the 6-foot-5 off guard, triggers up-tempo style on both ends, the collection of talent on Morgan Park's roster meshed at midseason to lead the improbable city championship run.

Nick Irvin, the second-year coach, is the brains of the operation. His cool demeanor on the bench can be traced back to his father, Mac, a highly successful Chicago-area AAU coach. Irvin also harks back to his playing days, when he studied under Don Pittman at Carver High in Chicago and Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State.

[+] EnlargeWayne Blackshear
Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com Blackshear helped Morgan Park to the Chicago Public League title.

What's the common theme among the three?

"They never panicked on the bench," Irvin said. "They remained cool and never seemed to sweat. I once asked Tark about that, and he said it's never good for players to see their coach get nervous. I take the same approach today."

Last week, Morgan Park (20-5) topped Marshall 61-60 in the city final, and it was nerve-racking as the clock wound down. But true to form, Irvin wouldn't let his players see him sweat, literally.

When Blackshear's running, one-handed shot kissed off the glass for the decisive basket with 13 seconds remaining, the Mustangs rallied to win the program's fourth CPL title since the tournament first tipped off in 1901.

Blackshear was a one-man wrecking crew in the semifinals, posting a double-double with 41 points and 19 rebounds in a 76-74 overtime win over Hyde Park.

"He's the best player in the state; I've seen how hard he works and what he means to our team," senior Leron Smith said.

Blackshear, who selected Louisville over a host of major programs in December, isn't the only future Division I player on the squad. In fact, Irvin figures at least "eight or nine players off this team will sign letters [with Division I schools]," he said.

Irvin feels talent abounds at the South Side magnet school. Here's his proof:

• Smith: "He and Wayne are natural-born leaders," Irvin said. At 5-10, Smith averages nine assists but is a lockdown defender who has kept in check CPL star guard Ahmad Starks (an Oregon State recruit). Mid-majors Central Michigan and Montana State also are interested.

Billy Garrett: Only a freshman, he's already logging quality minutes. He scored 10 points in the semifinals versus Hyde Park.

• Cortez Spencer: The 6-6 senior post snatches 10 rebounds per game but is known for his toughness and pressure defense.

Jerome Brown: At 6-5, he's receiving correspondence from Illinois, DePaul, Central Michigan, Illinois State and Southern Illinois. He contributes 14 points per game, stretching the defense from long range.

Markee Williams: The 5-10 freshman is mature beyond his years. "I'm a leader; I play every possession like it's my last," Williams said.

If you include 6-2 freshman Terrance "Speedy" Quinn and 6-9 freshman Xavier Taylor, whom Irvin calls "Chicago's next great big man," it's clear to see why Morgan Park is pointed to the future.

The immediate future still includes games this weekend against North Chicago and Foreman (Chicago), but the 4A Oak Lawn Regional awaits Wednesday against either St. Rita or Kennedy (Chicago). If the Mustangs move on to the Hinsdale Central Super Sectional, possible foes include Chicago schools Simeon, Mount Carmel or Hyde Park.

The road to Carver Arena in Peoria for the 4A tournament is long and brutal, but Williams is confident.

"In January we clicked without Wayne for two weeks when he was injured," he said. "With him, we are great."

Class 4A teams have been forewarned.

Knight fever

Brandon Knight just keeps scoring and scoring and scoring. When he'll stop, well, at least we'll know. Knight, rated No. 3 in the ESPNU 100, recently broke the Broward County (Fla.) scoring record and now is assaulting the national chart.

Heading into Saturday's Class 3A regional final, Knight, of Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has 3,421 career points, according to the National High School Sports Record Book. His point total is good for 24th all time.

His latest output was a 48-point effort in 99-69 blowout of Glades Central in the Region 4 semifinals Tuesday. Knight connected on five 3-pointers and cleared 13 rebounds, recording a double-double in the rout.

If Pine Crest beats University School (Fort Lauderdale) on Saturday in the final, Knight and his teammates would book passage to the 3A state tournament for at least one more game.

Knight surpassed Kenny Boynton Jr., currently a freshman at the University of Florida, for the Broward record. His record-setting points came on a crowd-pleasing dunk.

By the way, Knight, a 6-4 uncommitted guard, has no shot at the national career scoring mark. That's because Greg Procell netted 6,702 points from 1967 to 1970 for a Louisiana high school.

Select company

Jordan Brand Classic organizers officially announced coaches for their ninth annual senior all-star game on April 17 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The East squad will be led by Greg Wise of Yates High in Houston. His assistants are Charles Smith of Peabody Magnet (Alexandria, La.) and Doug Lipscomb of Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.).

The West is headed by Michael Peck of Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), with assistance from Dr. Mark Mugiishi of Iolani School (Honolulu) and Pat Strickland of Jefferson (Portland, Ore.).

Peck's team is the reigning champion of the National High School Invitational. In Texas, Wise's nationally ranked team is the favorite to repeat as the Class 4A state champion next month.

The four assistants are accomplished in their own right. All four are serious contenders for championships in their respective states this season.

Must-see games

The weekend arrives early this time of year when the basketball games heat up. If you're in the area for these games this weekend, check one out.

Thursday, Nevada Class 4A state semifinals, Reno: Canyon Springs (North Las Vegas)-McQueen (Reno), 4:40 p.m., and Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)-Bishop Manogue (Reno), 8 p.m. Gorman earned a berth Tuesday when 5-9 guard Johnathan Loyd scored 16 of his 25 points in the first half, when the Gaels led 40-30 en route to a 79-62 win over host Palo Verde (Las Vegas) in the Sunset Region final Tuesday. The final is Friday at 8 p.m.

Friday, Churchill (Eugene, Ore.) at Thurston (Springfield, Ore.), 7 p.m.: With Oregon's Class 5A state playoffs starting Tuesday, the Midwestern League playoffs will determine the three teams headed to the postseason. This one will determine the third and final seed at the Colt Coliseum, with North Eugene and Marshfield playing in Coos Bay for the No. 1 seed. Churchill already beat Thurston 51-50 on Jan. 29.

Saturday, Western Wayne Showcase, Romulus, Mich., 11 a.m.: What a way to send off the regular season with a five-game, all-day bonanza in suburban Detroit. The lineup is Fordson (Dearborn)-Thurston (Redford), 11 a.m.; Dearborn-Crestwood (Dearborn Heights), 1 p.m., Edsel Ford (Dearborn)-Annapolis (Dearborn Heights), 3; Belleville-Garden City, 5 and Romulus-Robichaud (Dearborn Heights), 7. Romulus is Michigan's top-ranked Class A (large schools) team, and in the fifth game of the day, it will tune up before embarking on its quest for a state title. Keep an eye on Belleville forward Mohamed Conde.

Sunday, Mountain State Academy (Beckley, W.Va.) at Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), 3 p.m.: It's Senior Day on the rural southwest Virginia boarding school's campus, as the Warriors (27-3) honor players such as Doron Lamb (McDonald's All-American), Pe'Shon Howard (Maryland recruit), Juwan Staten (Dayton), Roscoe Smith (Connecticut), Martins Abele and Baye Moussa Keita (Syracuse). OHA is a virtually assured of a berth in the National High School Invitational in April, but MSA could enhance its tournament candidacy with a win.

• Monday, Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia) versus Archbishop Carroll (Radnor, Pa.), 8:30 p.m.: This one decides the Philadelphia Catholic League championship. That alone is appetizing, but playing the game at the famed Palestra (aka the Cathedral of Basketball) on the University of Pennsylvania campus is worth the trip. Neumann-Goretti already won the regular-season matchup and this one might not be the last. A year ago, the Saints won the PCL title over Roman Catholic (Philadelphia) only to see Carroll beat them in the Pennsylvania Class AAA quarterfinals en route to the state crown. Neumann is clearly the favorite here and in AAA, but Carroll coach Paul Romanczuk is a wizard on the sideline. Neumann's Tony Chennault (committed to Wake Forest) and Carroll's D.J. Irving (Boston University) are go-to players. At 6:30 p.m., the girls' title game will be contested.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.