Boys Basketball

Highland Shootout again lures talented teams from Illinois, Missouri

Junior EJ Liddell and the Belleville West Maroons, fresh off their championship in the Centralia Holiday Tournament, will play Poplar Bluff, Mo., in the 27th annual Highland Shootout at 4:45 p.m. Saturday.
Junior EJ Liddell and the Belleville West Maroons, fresh off their championship in the Centralia Holiday Tournament, will play Poplar Bluff, Mo., in the 27th annual Highland Shootout at 4:45 p.m. Saturday. BND photo

Now that fans have had a week to recuperate from the holiday tournaments, it’s time for another edition of the Highland Shootout.

The seven-game extravaganza, sponsored by the Optimist Club and in its 27th year, will be held Saturday at Highland High School. As usual, it will feature some of the top players in the country.

Among them are Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu and Tamell Pearson, Chaminade’s Jericole Hellums, Whitfield’s Torrence Watson, Belleville West’s EJ Liddell and Malachi Smith, Carbondale’s Darius Beane and Kani Acree, Vashon’s Cam’Ron Fletcher and Mario McKinney, Rockhurst’s Xavier Rhodes and Darrius Hughes, Champaign Central’s Tim Finke and Poplar Bluff’s Marcedus Leech.

It’s more than enough to have event organizer Matt Powers excited about the show a crowd of more than 3,000 will witness.

“Top to bottom, it’s one of the better lineups we’ve ever had,” Powers said. “Every game has a Division I player, at least, and almost every game has a Top-100 nationally ranked player in it. It’s a fun event. It’s grown to something big in Illinois, Missouri and the Midwest. We try to get the best of the best in Illinois and Missouri, and I think we’ve captured that, for the most part, this year.”

The featured game between Morgan Park (10-5) and Chaminade (8-2) will be at 6:30 p.m. Morgan Park senior guard Dosunmu has verbally committed to Illinois, while Chaminade senior forward Hellums has committed to North Carolina State.

The 6-foot-4 Dosunmu is a five-star recruit who is widely regarded as the best player in Illinois. He had offers from dozens of top Division I programs.

“You could say Morgan Park is the best team out of Chicago against, arguably, the best team in St. Louis with Chaminade,” Powers said. “Ayo Dosunmu is probably going to be a McDonald’s All-American. He’s the best player in Illinois.

“And they’ve got a sophomore, Adam Miller, who is nationally ranked in the Top 20. When Dosunmu was hurt a couple of weeks ago, Miller stepped in — he’s a guard — and scored 39 points. They possibly make up one of the best backcourts in the whole country.”

Slender senior Tamell Pearson is another star for the Mavericks. The 6-9, 190-pounder has committed to Alabama-Birmingham. Kenyon Duling, who has committed to Tennessee State, and Cameron Burrell also carry a load.

Chaminade is powered by the 6-7 Hellums, a North Carolina State recruit who averages nearly 25 points. Senior guard Jadis White, junior guard Keyyaun Batchman and 6-6 sophomore Luke Kasubke also are in the mix.

“Everybody around here knows they’re a perennial powerhouse,” Powers said of the Red Devils, who just two years ago had one of the top players in the country in Jayson Tatum. “Hellums is such a tough player and he’s fun to watch.”

Belleville West vs. Poplar Bluff

Liddell and the Maroons (12-1), ranked No. 3 in the state in Class 4A, will tackle Poplar Bluff, Mo. (7-5) at 4:45 p.m. The Mules should be an inspired team as they welcome back the 6-6 Leech, who hasn’t played yet this season because of an injury. Leech has offers from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa State, LSU and Miami.

“It’s going to be a good challenge to play Poplar Bluff,” said Maroons coach Joe Muniz, whose team defeated Champaign Central to win the Centralia Holiday Tournament last week. “They’re very good. They’re going to pose some problems for us. They’re not real big, but they’ve got guards who can shoot the ball a little bit. They’re well-coached and they play a control-styled game.

“They’re a tough, defensive-minded team that is going to get after us. We’ll have to play well to win.”

The 6-7 Liddell, a junior, recently received offers from Florida and Northwestern. Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas State, DePaul, Iowa State, Saint Louis University and Southern Illinois University Carbondale also have offered.

Liddell averages 22.5 points and 8.6 rebounds with 74 blocks. Smith, who has committed to Wright State, averages 15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, while junior Keith Randolph averages 10.1 points and 6.8 rebounds. Junior Lawrence Brazil III runs the offense at point guard and averages 9.6 points.

“Leech will match up perfectly with Liddell,” Powers said.

Edwardsville vs. Rockhurst

The Tigers (9-3) are led by seniors Jack Marinko and Caleb Strohmeier. Marinko, a 6-0 guard, averages 26.7 points. The 6-7 Strohmeier averages 15.8 points and 10.1 points.

Edwardsville, which split four games in the Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic last week, relies heavily on its defense and will need to be in step to contain Rhodes and Hughes.

Carbondale vs. Whitfield

Carbondale’s Beane (Southern Illinois University Carbondale) and Acree (Ball State), and Whitfield’s Watson (Missouri) will be the top players on the floor in this matchup at 1 p.m.

Watson averages 28.5 points and Whitfield (8-5) has a balanced attack in support.

Highland vs. Columbia

In a metro-east matchup at 3 p.m., the Highland Bulldogs (9-5) will employ their offensive balance against the Eagles (8-5), who are receiving solid contributions from senior Jordan Holmes (16.8 points, 6.8 rebounds) and 6-6 junior Jon Peterson (13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds).

Champaign Central vs. Vashon

In the finale at 8:15 p.m., Central’s 6-6 senior Finke along with up-and-coming 6-4 freshman Khailieo Terry will try keep the talented Wolverines under wraps.

Vashon’s McKinney has offers from Auburn, DePaul, Iowa, Saint Louis University, Tulsa, Xavier, Southern Miss, Kansas State, Missouri and Marquette. Fletcher, meanwhile, has picked up an offer from Kansas State.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm