By Pat Disabato Daily Southtown

A shortened high school boys basketball season might not produce the customary excitement of the normal four-month journey.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any intriguing story lines to watch during the condensed six-week season, which tips off Monday or Tuesday for the majority of Southland teams.

Buckle up. It’s going to be short and sweet.

Here are a few angles to keep an eye on:

Remember the Titans

This was supposed to be a breakout season for Tinley Park, which won 18 games in 2019-20 and was returning five starters. Well, make that four starters.

When 6-foot-8 forward AJ Casey transferred over the summer to Whitney Young, much of the expectations for a record-setting season went with him. Casey is ranked No. 21 in the nation for the 2022 class by 247sports.com and has more college offers than this space permits.

I’m certain returning starters Keon Richardson, Malachi Haythorne, AaReyon Munir-Jones and Maurice Evans will be out to prove the Titans are more than a one-player show.

The loss of a generational talent in Casey, however, will have an impact.

We’ll see how much.

Oak Forest forward Robbie Avila makes a move to the basket against Oak Lawn during a game on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020.
Oak Forest forward Robbie Avila makes a move to the basket against Oak Lawn during a game on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020. (Gary Middendorf / Daily Southtown)

Taking the limelight

One of the benefits of Casey’s departure is it will allow for other deserving players to step into the spotlight. Look no further than Oak Forest junior Robbie Avila, a 6-9 forward.

Avila has been overshadowed by Casey since the two were teammates at Arbor Park Middle School and then as competitors in the same conference.

No more.

With Casey gone, Avila is the top prospect in the South Suburban Conference.

Avila has offers from DePaul, Toledo and Cleveland State. College recruiters want to see if he has taken the next step in his development. My sources insist Avila is going to turn heads.

I can’t wait to see.

Watch out for the Vikings

Last season, Homewood-Flossmoor junior Christian Meeks was stuck behind RJ Ogom, Joel Watts and Josiah Palmer.

With that trio off to college, the 6-6 Meeks takes center stage. He’s a strong forward who attacks the basket. At 210 pounds, he’s difficult to defend in the paint. He was dominant at times a year ago.

If his perimeter game shines, Meeks could emerge as one of the area’s most exciting two-way threats.

Mount Carmel guard Deandre Craig looks over the St. Laurence defense during a Class 3A regional semifinal game in Burbank on Wednesday, March 4, 2020.
Mount Carmel guard Deandre Craig looks over the St. Laurence defense during a Class 3A regional semifinal game in Burbank on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (Gary Middendorf / Daily Southtown)

A star in the making

Mount Carmel sophomore Deandre Craig flashed serious potential last season as a freshman.

Now 6-1, he grew three inches and looks primed to put up big numbers for the Caravan, who are ready to emerge as an area power.

Laying the foundation

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and turning Evergreen Park into a consistent winner will take time for first-year coach Jim Sexton. The Mustangs, who don’t return any starters, are coming off a 10-21 season.

Junior Malik Kelly, a 6-4 forward, and freshman Nolan Sexton, the coach’s son, offer a glimpse into what should be an exciting future, however.

The freshmen class has a ton of potential and should flourish under Sexton’s generous 3-point offense. Fans just need to have a little patience.

Blazing a different trail

I don’t know the last time I’ve encountered such an extreme difference in expectations than with Bloom.

A year ago, the Blazing Trojans were riding four four-year starters and the addition of 6-6 power forward Christian Shumate. Expectations were all about winning the Class 4A state title.

Of course, they didn’t, losing to Marian Catholic in the sectional semifinals. Without a single starter back and a reliance on underclassmen, Bloom will be flying way under the radar.

Rich East guard Gary Clay Jr. makes a move against Thornton during a game on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020.
Rich East guard Gary Clay Jr. makes a move against Thornton during a game on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. (Gary Middendorf / Daily Southtown)

Keeping an eye on Rich

While it was sad to see the closing of Rich East, Rich Central and Rich South, combining three programs into one makes Rich Township a legitimate force.

The senior trio of 6-6 forward Devonta Blevins, 5-9 point guard Semaj Greer and 6-3 guard Gary Clay Jr. will give opponents fits. And in the long term, the Raptors have the potential to give Thornton and Bloom an annual run for their money in conference.

Enjoy the ride.

Original article: chicagotribune.com

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