Two of the highest-rated basketball players in the nation will be on the court when junior EJ Liddell and the Belleville West Maroons face senior Quentin Grimes and the College Park Cavaliers, of The Woodlands, Texas, at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday at Washington High School, near Peoria.
The 6-foot-7, 228-pound Liddell, a forward who averaged 19.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks last season, has scholarship offers from Illinois, Missouri, Kansas State, Iowa, DePaul, Iowa State, Marquette, Saint Louis University and Illinois State.
Grimes, a 6-5, 195-pound guard, recently committed to Kansas. He averaged 28.1 points, eight rebounds and five assists last season, and had 51 points and eight rebounds in the Cavaliers’ 105-80 victory Monday.
“I don’t know if we’ll play against a better offensive guard than him this season,” West coach Joe Muniz said. “He’s a special player. You’re not a Kansas recruit and you don’t have schools like Kansas and Kentucky and Texas going after you if you’re not a quality player.
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“He’s got unlimited range. He really shoot it well off the dribble. He shoots it off the dribble for 3s, he shoots off the dribble for two and he will post people up.”
Muniz, whose team was 20-9 last season, said there’s no effective strategy to guard Grimes. Responsibility for containing him, therefore, will fall to all of his players.
“It’s going to take a team effort,” Muniz said. “We’ll have to guard him to where he feels like he’s playing against five guys every time he touches the ball.
“(Good players) are going to get their points. You’ve just got to make sure they don’t get too many and the others don’t get a lot, either.”
Muniz said the Maroons’ depth – he has 11 players he feels confident in using – could help them against a player like Grimes.
“We’ve got a variety of guys who can guard him,” Muniz said. “He’s too quick; he’s too good to just say one guy’s going to guard him. I just think he’s going to wear you out. So we’re going to have to have fresh bodies on him. Our depth is going to be at a premium.”
Muniz expects the Cavliers to be similarly challenged in stopping Liddell, who is ranked the third-best player in Illinois by 247Sports and a four-star recruit by Rivals.com.
“In our scrimmage, EJ scored from everywhere. But the thing I was most impressed with is he probably had five or six assists,” Muniz said. “He’s seeing the floor exceptionally well right now. He’s a tough matchup because he can handle the ball up front, he can shoot it, he can post you up. Right now, if teams come to double him, he’s really seeing the floor well.”
If West has an edge against College Park, it’s in the size department. In addition to Liddell, the Maroons have 6-5, 242-pound junior Keith Randolph, 6-3, 193-pound senior Malachi Smith and 6-4, 198-pound junior Marcellus Romious.
“I think EJ’s a tough matchup, and I think Keith’s a tough matchup,” Muniz said. “From what I’ve seen, they don’t have great size. It’s going to be a contrast in styles with our size and their quickness up top with their guards. But it’s a quality game for the second game out. It’s hard not to get excited about playing the caliber of team we’re going to go up against Wednesday.
“It’s two really good players, two really good teams going at it. This is what you sign up for when you get in tournaments like this. They’re a quality team and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”