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Young's Jahlil Okafor and Curie's Cliff Alexander have squared off before. But if they meet Friday in the Public League final, there will be much more at stake. | John Booz/For Sun-Times Media
Hoops Report Three-Pointer
If Fremd can defeat Barrington and then Prospect in the Mid-Suburban League championship game, it will finish the season unbeaten and head into the state tournament with a 25-0 record.
Coach Bob Widlowski’s team would be among a select group that have finished the regular season without a loss. The bad news is that two recent teams that went into the tournament undefeated were upset prematurely.
In the last 15 seasons, only two Chicago-area schools — Benet (27-0) in 2011 and Crane (25-0) in 2003 — have finished the regular season with a perfect record. Benet was upset in the sectional semifinals by East Aurora, while Crane was stunned by St. Ignatius in the regional championship.
The last local team with a perfect regular-season record to reach Downstate was Thornton in 1997.
With Young’s Jahlil Okafor and Curie’s Cliff Alexander in his class, Benet big man Sean O’Mara is often lost in the shuffle of premier big men in Illinois.
O’Mara, a 6-9 senior who signed with Xavier last fall, is even overshadowed in his own East Suburban Catholic Conference by Marian Catholic star Tyler Ulis, a McDonald’s All-American.
But when it comes to dominant production, O’Mara doesn’t take a back seat to anyone. He’s averaging over 24 points and 13 rebounds a game while shooting over 60 percent from the field.
“What’s amazing is how consistently productive and efficient he’s been,” Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. “He’s become a more dominant scorer on the block. But what’s often overlooked is his presence, not just his production. He makes everyone around him better.”
O’Mara has done it against one of the toughest schedules in the state. Benet has played eight teams that were ranked at one point this season and eight that are currently in first place in their conference.
Plus, he’s been at his best against the best, scoring 39 points against both St. Viator and Larkin, 36 in an overtime loss to Marian Catholic, 30 against 22-win Rockford Auburn and 27 against Stevenson.
If Young and Curie each win Wednesday in the Public League semifinals, as expected, it would set up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown Friday.
But it’s the individual matchup that will have everyone buzzing.
Okafor and Alexander going toe-to-toe will be the biggest individual matchup in 16 years — and likely surpass any particular clash in state history.
In February of 1998, Young’s Quentin Richardson and Fenwick’s Corey Maggette were both McDonald’s All-Americans, ranked among the top 15 players in the country and playing for the area’s top two teams in a sold out Welsh-Ryan Arena. They didn’t disappoint in a memorable performance.
In Young’s 58-55 victory, Richardson had 28 points and 19 rebounds while Maggette finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds.
Hyde Park and Orr won’t lay down Wednesday, but if Young and Curie both advance, it will be Okafor’s and Alexander’s turn to leave a lasting memory.