Boys Basketball

Ranked teams, top recruits set to showcase their talents at Bank of O’Fallon Shootout

Belleville West senior EJ Liddell is making an official visit to the University of Illinois this week.
Belleville West senior EJ Liddell is making an official visit to the University of Illinois this week.

The Bank of O’Fallon Shootout will again showcase many of the top teams and players in Missouri and Illinois at O’Fallon High School’s Panther Dome.

Defending Class 5A Missouri state champion Webster Groves will battle Class 4A Illinois power Belleville West in one of seven marquee matchups at the annual event, which begins Friday with three games and continues Saturday with four more, all of which feature state-ranked teams and future NCAA Division I players.

Event organizer and O’Fallon assistant athletic director Cory Patton said Thursday that 10 of the 12 teams competing are ranked among the top eight in their respective states. Patton expects great turnouts as the Shootout moves to two days for the first time.

Action begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday, when Decatur MacArthur takes on Jennings, which is ranked eighth in the Missouri Class 4A state poll. Belleville West, ranked third in Class 4A, will battle O’Fallon at 7 p.m. in a Southwestern Conference game. Pinckneyville, ranked second in Class 2A, will battle Whitfield (Mo.), ranked third in Class 3A, in the day’s final game at 8:30 p.m.

On Saturday, O’Fallon will battle Normal West, ranked seventh in Class 4A, at 4 p.m. Bolingbrook, ranked fourth in Class 4A, will play Springfield Lanphier, ranked third in Class 3A, at 5:30 p.m. St. Louis Chaminade, one of two teams to beat Belleville West and ranked third in Class 5A in Missouri, takes on Chicago Curie, ranked second in Class 4A, at 7 p.m. Webster Groves will take on Belleville West in the finale at 8:30 p.m.

west chaminade
Belleville West’s Lawrence Brazil III drives against Chaminade’s Luke Kasubke during the Chick-fil-A Classic basketball tournament championship game Saturday, Jan, 20, 2018, at Belleville East High School. Jimmy J Simmons Special to the News-Democrat

“You’ve got got a lot of really good teams and you’ve got some top 100, some top 50-ranked players in the nation who will be here this weekend,” Patton said. “You’ve really got three of the top players in Missouri in Carte’Are Gordon and Courtney Ramey, of Webster Groves; and (Jericole) Hellems, of Chaminade; and the top two juniors in Illinois in EJ (Liddell), of Belleville West, and (Francis) Okoro, of Normal West.

“We’re really excited about that ... the talent from game one on Friday to game seven on Saturday is exceptional.”

Tickets are available at the Bank of O’Fallon or online and cost $7 for Friday, $10 for Saturday or $15 for both days, Patton said Thursday. All tickets are general admission. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the gate.

Here are some of the top players for fans to keep an eye on at the Shootout:

Francis Okoro, Normal West: A native of Nigeria, the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Okoro is the top-ranked junior in the state and is regarded as a four-star prospect by 247Sports, and ESPN. Okoro already has scholarship offers from a dozen major college programs, including Illinois, Purdue, Kansas, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Missouri.

EJ Liddell, Belleville West: The No. 2-ranked junior in Illinois behind Okoro, the 6-7, 220-pound Liddell averages 21 points and 8.7 rebounds for a deep and talented West squad. Also a four-star recruit according to 247Sports and Rivals, Liddell has offers from several schools, including Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Florida, Marquette, Saint Louis and DePaul.

Jalen Hodge, O’Fallon: Interest in the Panthers’ 6-1 guard has picked up in recent weeks, thanks mainly to a good senior season. One of the top scorers in the St. Louis area, Hodge is averaging 21.4 points and shooting nearly 50 percent from behind the 3-point line (45 of 98).

Cardell McGee Jr., Springfield Lanphier: The 6-4 McGee is one of the top guards in Illinois and leads the No. 3-ranked Class 3A team in the state in most categories, including scoring (17.8 ppg), steals (4.0) and assists (5.0). He has scholarship offers from DePaul, Middle Tennessee State and Illinois State.

Maurice Commander, Chicago Curie: A transfer from Chicago Marist over the summer, Commander has been a stabilizing force for one of the top-ranked Class 4A teams in the state. He is the No. 5 ranked guard in the state and will being playing college basketball next season at Chattanooga.

Joseph Yesufu and Kaleb Thornton, Bolingbrook: The 5-11 Thornton and 5-9 Yesufu are two of the top guards in the shootout. Thornton, who has drawn interest from UTEP, Toledo and Chicago State. Yesufu, a junior, is getting interest from Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, DePaul and Toledo, among others.

Armon Brummett, Decatur MacArthur: A senior who had NCAA Division I offers in football, Brummett signed with Bradley University in Peoria. The 6-4 forward is averaging 18.1 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Generals (12-7).

Jericole Hellems, Chaminade: Hellems is a gifted small forward who is averaging a team-best 23.3 points. A four-star recruit according to 247Sports, he will play college basketball for the North Carolina State Wolfpack next year.

Torrence Watson, Whitfield: The leading scorer in the St. Louis area and a University of Missouri recruit, the 6-5 Watson is coming off a 58-point performance as Whitfield (15-6) rallied for a 74-66 win over De Smet on Tuesday. Averaging 31.4 points, Watson turned down offers from Ohio State, West Virginia and Butler, among others, to sign with the Tigers.

Courtney Ramey and Carte’Are Gordon, Webster Groves: One of the top senior guards in the nation, Ramey still has not made a college choice yet. A member of the Class 5A state champions a year ago, the 6-3 point guard is averaging 18 points and 7 rebounds for a 12-6 squad. Gordon, a 6-8, 245-pound forward averaging 17 points, made the home folks happy late last year when he signed with his hometown Saint Louis University Billikens.

At a glance

The schedule for the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout is as follows:

Friday, Feb. 2

  • Jennings vs. Decatur MacArthur, 5:30 p.m.
  • O’Fallon vs. Belleville West, 7 p.m.
  • Pinckneyville vs. Whitfield, 8:30 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 3

  • O’Fallon vs. Normal West, 4 p.m.
  • Bolingbrook vs. Springfield Lanphier, 5:30 p.m.
  • Chaminade vs. Chicago Curie, 7 p.m.
  • Belleville West vs. Webster Groves, 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at the Bank of O’Fallon or online and cost $7 for Friday, $10 for Saturday or $15 for both days. All tickets are general admission. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the gate.