The Blue Catholic League is completing one of the most successful basketball regular seasons in the history of the storied conference.
On Monday, Brother Rice (26-3) and Mount Carmel (26-4) flexed their muscles in and out of league, picking up huge wins along the way. Just like DePaul Prep (26-2).
While outsiders have bemoaned the Catholic League’s dominance of football over the years, the conference has surreptitiously risen to the top of the men’s basketball landscape.
And now? Well, let’s hear from Brother Rice’s Marcos Gonzales.
“I think it’s the best conference in the state,” Gonzales said.
I’m with you, Marcos. Catholic League Blue was clearly the best in the state this winter.
It helps that the Chicago Public League is down a bit, but CCL Blue stood out.
Besides the trio at the top of the rankings, Loyola (24-6), De La Salle (18-11) and Fenwick (16-10) have had strong seasons and are well positioned to have strong playoff runs.
St. Ignatius (15-13) finished fourth last season in Class 3A and brought back some key pieces from that team, but the Wolfpack went just 2-5 in the CCL Blue. No other conference has such a talented seventh-place team.
“There’s harshness everywhere,” Gonzales said. “Us, Mount Carmel, Loyola, De La Salle and a bunch of other teams.
“It’s always fun, especially with some of these teams that are rivals. It’s always good to beat them. I’m just having fun and playing with a smile on my face.
Coaches had to endure the difficulty of constantly preparing to face a tough opponent.
“This is my 27th year coaching in the Catholic League, and it has to be one of the best years in the league,” Mount Carmel coach Phil Segroves said. “There are obviously great players, but there are very good coaches.
“Tom Kleinschmidt at DePaul, Tom Livatino at Loyola, Conte Stamas at Brother Rice. We have guys who coach their kids hard and teach them well, and we have good players to boot.
Here’s what impressed me the most. The Blue Catholic League lost all-star talent last season.
DeAndre Craig of Mount Carmel, Ahmad Henderson of Brother Rice, Evan Jackson of De La Salle and Richard Barron of St. Ignatius were all-state players who graduated.
During the offseason, the league also lost its three highest-profile players when Illinois recruit Morez Johnson, North Carolina commit James Brown and Iowa State recruit Nojus Indrusaitis all left St. Rita.
Somehow, with that star power gone, the league got better.
“Basketball is a team game,” Segroves said. “When you have coaches who can help 17- and 18-year-olds buy into the team concept, amazing things can happen.
“Even though there may not be a single kid that’s going to go to Duke or North Carolina or Michigan State, there are some really good basketball players all over the league.”
When it comes to the state playoffs, the Catholic League has seen plenty of small-school success over the years, but championships in the upper grades have been few and far between.
St. Joseph’s Class 3A title in 2014-15 is the league’s only championship in either of the top two classes since the system began expanding to four classes in 2007-08.
This season, the top five teams in the league are all ranked first or second in their respective sections.
The 3A bracket is set up so that Mount Carmel, top seed in the Hinsdale South Section, DePaul Prep, top seed in the St. Viator Section, and Brother Rice, seeded second behind the section host Wildcats Thornton, may we all have it declared before we meet you.
This is the conference’s chance to prove it has truly reached the top and bring back some hardware from Champaign.
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