The Southwestern Conference and the rest of the metro-east was rich with top high school basketball talent for the 2017-18 season.
Two teams from south of Interstate-64, Belleville West and Okawville, won state championships. A third, Pinckneyville, finished fourth in class 2A.
Many of those players return for the new season. Profiled alphabetically, here’s a list of 17 players to watch for 2018-19:
Nate Brede, Wesclin
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The son of former major league outfielder and Wesclin head basketball coach Brent Brede, the 6-7 senior played a key role on a Warriors team which won 26 games and a Class 2A regional title a year ago. Brede averaged 12.8 points, shot nearly 50 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and had 71 3-pointers for the season, while also averaging 6.4 rebounds per game. Stronger this season, Brede opened this season with a 35-point effort in the Warriors win over Mascoutah.
Ray’Sean Taylor, Collinsville
The 6-1 Taylor was not only one of the top sophomores in the St. Louis area a year ago, but also one of the best overall players, averaging 16.6 points, 5.1 points and 4.3 assists for a Kahokos team which finished 17-14. This season, the super-quick Kahoks guard will lead a junior dominated Collinsville squad thought to be one of the top teams a Southwestern Conference which features defending Class 4A state champion Belleville West along with a top Class 3A team in East St. Louis. Taylor scored 18 points in the Kahoks season opening rout over Marion.
Terrance Hargrove Jr. , East St. Louis
Had the 6-7 Hargrove not been injured late in an overtime loss to Marion (71-68) in the title game of the Class 3A Centralia Sectional, the Flyers might well have been at the state tournament a year ago. Instead with Hargrove, a Class 3A all-state selection, finished his junior season averagign 18.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and three blocked shots as he helped East St. Louis finish 16-11. After finishing an excellent summer by committing to attend St. Louis University, the outgoing Hargrove opened his senior season with a 20-point effort in a win over Chicago Orr earlier this week.
Karson Huels, Gibault
A Class 1A-2A all-area player a year ago, the 6-foot Huels is one of the top perimeter shooters in the metro-east and will team with Logan Doerr as one of the top backcourts in southern Illinois. Huels aveaged 17.5 points and shot better than 38 percent beyond the 3-point arc with 77 3’s a year ago. Through two games this season, Huels is scoring at a 17 ppg clip with eight 3’s for Gibault (1-1).
EJ Liddell, Belleville West
The best high school player in the state and one of the best in the nation a year ago, Liddell has been even better in the first two games of his senior season, scoring a career high 39 points in the Maroons opening night win, averaging 31.5 points while pulling down 23 rebounds and adding 11 blocked shots against great competition at the Washington Tournament of Champions. The reigning Illiinois Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year, the 6-7 Liddell signed to attend Ohio State University on Monday and has his sights set on leading the Maroons to another Class 4A state title.
Sam LaPorta, Highland
The best Class 5A wide receiver in the state, LaPorta can more than hold his own on the basketball court as he proved a year ago. Leading the Bulldogs to an undefeated Mississippi Valley Conference championship (10-0), LaPorta had a team best 11.2 ppg average while pulling down nearly seven rebounds and dishing out 4.3 assists a game. LaPorta is also a natural leader who has a knack of making big plays at the right time. This season, he will team with Steven Torre, Jake Kruse and Brady Feldman on one of the top Class 3A teams in the metro east.
Luke Ervie, Freeburg
If you haven’t heard of this Midgets junior, you may soon. As a sophomore a year ago, the 6-1 Ervie averaged 15.6 points. made 49 3-point field goals, shot 43 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and pulled down better than four rebounds per game. Freeburg coach Matt Laur said Ervie already has considerable interest from several NCAA Division II and III schools.
Jon Peterson, Columbia
Perhaps overshadowed at times by high scoring Jordan Holmes a year ago, Peterson still managed to average 13 points and shoot better than 53 percent from the floor, the 6-7 Eagles forward is a rare combination of a player who can score both inside and step out and hit the 3-point jumper. Peterson also averaged 6.3 rebounds per game a year ago.
Donovan Clay and Malik Smith, Alton
Super quick and athletic, Smith and Clay return to lead a Redbirds team which, once again, is good enough to beat any team in the St. Louis area on any given night. Both 6-3 with the ability to run the floor and shoot the 3-point jumper, the duo combined for 27 points per ame a year ago. Through two games in 2018-19, Clay and Smith are combining for 40 points per night.
Emmitt Gordon III and Antwan Glasper, Madison
Good things continue to happen for the Trojans program which is coached by hometown legend Maurice Baker and assistant coach Phillip Gilbert. Madison could be one of the top Class 1A teams in the state if Glasper, a 5-8 guard who averaged 19 points last season at Lovejoy and Gordon, a former second team all-Southwestern Conference player at Granite City blend into the Madison system. Gordon, a super-fast 6-1 guard, averaged 16 points a year ago for the Warriors. The Trojans also have 6-5 Khari Jackson, another transfer from Lovejoy to help out.
Bryce Bultman and Carson Parker, Nashville
Expected to be one of the top Class 2A teams in southern Illinois under veteran coach Wayne Harre, the Hornets have a pair of all-area players returning to aid their cause. Bultman, a 6-4 senior, was a first team selection who averaged around 13 points, while Parker, who also averaged in double figures, is a 6-3 junior who was a second team selection.. Both should be amng the top players in the River-to-River Conference.
Lawrence Brazil III and Keith Randolph, Belleville West
While EJ Liddell is one of the top players in the nation, West coach Joe Muniz has repeated several times that the Maroons don’t win the ‘18 Class 4A state title withour Brazil and Randolph who return as two of the elite seniors in the St. Louis area. Brazil, the Maroons point guard, averaged 10.7 points and shoit 37 percent from beyond the 3-point line, while the 6-5 250-pound Randolph averaged 10.1 points and nearly seven rebounds. Both Brazil and Randolph are at their best in high pressure situations.
Wyatt Krohne, Okawville
One of the perimeter shooters in the metro-east, Krohne was huge in the Rockets postseason run which ended in the Class 1A state title a year ago. The 5-10 senior averaged 9 points but shot better than 48 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and finished the season with 59 3’s.