Palatine at Schaumburg: Big game, literally
It's the big story in the Mid-Suburban West Friday night.
Literally. Very big, in fact.
The spotlight in the battle for the MSL West boys basketball title game will be on the bigs -- Chris Hodges from Schaumburg and Julian Campbell of Palatine.
Hodges is 6-foot-8 and Campbell is 6-foot-7 and while both of these bigs are versatile and can pull their games away from the basket, both also like to be true, back-to-the basket post players who can dominate in the paint like the big men of old.
Hodges and Campbell will square off at Schaumburg Friday night in a winner-take-all situation that will determine the outright champion of the MSL West Division. Both Schaumburg and Palatine enter the game tied atop the West Division standings with identical 6-2 division records in the final division game for both teams.
"That is going to be a really good head-to-head battle," Schaumburg coach Wade Heisler said. "And it's interesting to see two big guys go at it like that. There's not a lot of post play anymore. It's all 5-out motions and dribble drives and to see two big guys that can go back-to-the-basket with soft touches and jump hooks, it's going to be phenomenal to watch and be a part of."
The first time these two teams battled this season, which yielded a 9-point win for Schaumburg at Palatine, both Hodges and Campbell scored 20-plus points apiece.
Now, picture the two of them on one team.
It happens in the offseason as both Hodges and Campbell team up to play AAU basketball for the Illinois Wolves. Rolling Meadows star Max Christie is also on that super team.
"Chris and Julian are very good friends," Heisler said. "They spend a lot of time together during AAU and they are very close, but on the court, they bring out the best in each other. They want to compete against each other at the highest level."
Making history: It's been back-to-back 20-win seasons for Schaumburg, which is 22-6 heading into Friday's MSL West Division championship showdown with Palatine.
Just last year, the Saxons finished with a 23-7 record.
But it's been quite some time since Schaumburg has won an MSL West Division title, so the Saxons are excited for the chance to add another notch to their belt this season.
"I think it's been at least six or seven years, maybe around 2013, since we've won the West," Schaumburg coach Wade Heisler said. "It's been Fremd and Barrington winning a lot lately. Last year, we lost to Fremd for the West title in overtime and we have some key players back who played in that game and they still have that taste in their mouth. They remember that.
"We talk a lot about the history of our program like that, but we also talk about the guys on this team wanting to write their own story."
Senior step-ups: One of the hottest teams in the Mid-Suburban League is Wheeling, which has won 7 of its last 11 games.
As Wheeling has had an uptick in its record, two seniors have had an unexpected uptick in their games.
Both Javen Reid and Christian McLaughlin were role players last season who often didn't get much playing time.
Now, both are averaging around 11 points per game and are a big reason the Wildcats have won 7 of their last 11 games.
"It's been neat to watch the strides they have made," Wheeling coach Michael O'Keeffe said. "They are terrific role models for what you can do when you work your tail off."
Reid didn't play much basketball before high school, and even broke his leg in eighth grade, so his career got off to a slow start. Last season, he saw limited playing time.
But this year, he is one of the team's leading scorers, highlighted by a 29-point outburst against Buffalo Grove earlier this season.
"Javen has lived in the gym the last four years," O'Keeffe said. "When he first came to us, he really lacked organized basketball experience and he has really grown. His skills have improved and his basketball IQ has increased significantly."
Meanwhile, McLaughlin has added all kinds of layers to his game.
Last year, McLaughlin averaged about 3 points per game off the bench in a primarily spot-shooter role. Now, he's all over the court.
"His ability to finish at the rim this season has been outstanding," O'Keeffe said of McLaughlin. "Earlier this season, Christian was kind of struggling with his shot a little bit, but for the last month or so, he has been at an all-conference level with how he is scoring."