Basketball Mid Year Review

The absence of a Thanksgiving tournament and three COVID-caused cancellations poked holes in Leo’s basketball schedule, leaving the Lions with 13 games played as opposed to the 16 to 18 most of their rivals have logged over the first six weeks of the season.

Coach Jamal Thompson has no complaints about his team’s 11-2 record, which includes a 6-0 Catholic League mark following a weekend home sweep of Marmion and Providence-St. Mel that stretched Leo’s winning streak to five.

“A lot of that is the result of our defense—for the most part, we’ve played excellent defense,” Thompson said.

Leo is allowing 48.7 points per game and has held five opponents under 50.

The Lions’ guard-dominated lineup features good ballhandlers who are adept at creating good shots for each other. The tallest starter is senior Austin Ford, generously listed as 6-foot-3, but the Lions have held their own on the boards despite a size disadvantage in almost every game.

“We have emphasized team rebounding all year—everybody has to rebound, and the guys have bought into it,” Thompson said. “Austin and Cam (Cleveland) have been strong on the boards, and the other guards are going down there and getting us four or five rebounds a game as well. It’s what we have to do.”

But it’s not unreasonable to suggest the party’s over. There’s no St. Francis de Sales or Providence-St. Mel on the remaining schedule, which features five more January games. The five opponents—Hillcrest, Montini, Loyola, Mt. Carmel and Pontiac in the Herscher Shootout—have a combined record of 65-27.

In February the Lions draw Catholic League leaders Brother Rice (16-2) and DePaul Prep (13-3) at home and St. Rita (12-5) on the road, plus Oak Forest (16-3) in the Evergreen Park Shootout.

“But that’s good,” Thompson said. “You improve by playing better people. I’m happy with where we are. We’ve played pretty well, but there’s room for improvement, definitely, and if we keep putting in the work we’ll keep improving.

“By tournament time, we should be a very good basketball team.”

Lions Victorious Against Marmion

It speaks to the standards set during a 10-2 start to a season that there’s fault to be found with a 16-point victory, but that was the case for the Leo Lions at home against Marmion Academy on Friday, Jan. 14.

The Lions’ 70-54 win featured too many stretches of poor shot selection and indifferent play, particularly during a third quarter in which energetic Marmion (7-8, 2-5) simply took it to their hosts, outscoring them 20-10 and trimming what had been an 11-point halftime deficit to a single point.

Coach Jamal Thompson benched four starters at one point in an effort to shake up his team, and the move got Leo’s attention. Cameron Cleveland knocked down three three-pointers in the final period and junior Keeland Jordan came off the bench to take over underneath as Leo used a 10-0 run to reassert itself and remain unbeaten (5-0) in the Catholic League.

The Lions’ first home game in a month kicked off a four-game week. They’ll make up a Jan. 7 postponement vs. Providence-St. Mel at Leo on Saturday (Jan. 16) at 5 p.m., then visit Hillcrest on Tuesday (Jan. 18) at 6:45 p.m. and Montini on Friday (Jan. 21) at 7.

A successful start to a busy week, but not necessarily a satisfying one.

“When we run our offense and move the ball, we get good shots, shots we’ll make,” Thompson said. “Too many times tonight we settled for the first shot available. Plus we knew they had good shooters, and we let them make nine three’s. That’s unacceptable.”

The Cadets’ Sean Kavanaugh made five three’s on his way to a game-high 20 points, and Collin Wainscott made four while scoring 15. Four of those bombs landed during Marmion’s 20-point third quarter.

But the three was also a pretty good weapon for the Lions, who made eight of 21 from deep, four by Cleveland (19 points) and two by Christian Brockett (10 points plus three assists and three steals). Jakeem Cole had 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals and Tyler Smith tacked on seven assists and two steals to his eight points.

But the player of the game may well have been Jordan, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the final period, shooting 7-for-10 with two dunks that brought the crowd to life. He also took down eight rebounds.

“He gave us a huge lift off the bench,” Thompson said. “Next man up. That’s the way it has to be for us.”

Lions Smash the Meteors of De La Salle

By Dan McGrath

OK, basketball is a game in which size matters—we hear it so often that we get it.

Occasionally, though …

Saturday, Jan. 8 was one of those occasions. 

Jakeem Cole, generously listed at 6 feet and a slightly built 150 pounds, was the smallest player on the floor, but also the most dominant as the Leo Lions pummeled De La Salle and its college-sized front line, 71-55 at De La Salle.

The Meteors were fresh off an eye-opening road win over a 10-1 DePaul Prep squad, but they simply couldn’t deal with Cole, who hit five three-pointers and scored a career-high 29 points. Nineteen of those points came in the first half as Leo built a lead that reached 24 points and never got below 10 no matter how desperately De La Salle rallied.

The Lions ran their offense, took care of the ball (just eight turnovers), held their own on the boards with the taller Meteors, made 16 of 21 free throws and knocked down a season-high eight three-pointers in improving to 9-2 overall and 4-0 in the Catholic League. Their best performance of the season?

“We played well,” Coach Jamal Thompson conceded. “We worked on shooting in practice Friday—pretty much all we did was shoot the ball. I think it paid off.”

Tyler Smith scored 13 points for the Lions, Cameron Cleveland had 12 points (and seven rebounds) and Austin Ford contributed nine points and nine rebounds as Leo took charge early and maintained control.

“I think we showed what we can do when we run our offense, share the ball and take good shots,” Thompson said.  

DaJuan Bates scored 16 for De La Salle, but he’d gone for 40 when the teams met at Leo in the pandemic-influenced spring season back in March. The Meteors won that game by 14, 65-51. A lot sure can happen in 10 months.

By mutual agreement, Leo’s Tuesday game at Yorkville Christian has been canceled. “That’s a long way ro go on a school night, in the middle of a pandemic,” Thompson said. 

So the Lions are off until Friday, Jan. 14, when they’ll face Marmion (6-6, 2-3) at Leo.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I like where we are,” Thompson said. “We’re playing well.” 

Lions Register an Eye-opening Win Against Thornwood

Leo’s 3-1 showing at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic in late December attracted some notice in high school basketball circles. All four of the Lions’ opponents were Class 4-A schools, and only unbeaten and top-ranked Glenbard West proved superior to 2-A campaigner Leo.

After a New Year’s weekend break, the Lions were back at it on Tuesday, Jan. 4. And they registered another eye-opening win, grinding down Thornwood 56-46 in a nonconference game at South Holland to improve to 8-2 in what has begun to look like an intriguing season …

… unless COVID interferes. Leo’s Friday game against Providence-St. Mel at Leo has been postponed because of COVID issues within the Knights’ program.

Thornwood’s Thunderbirds brought a 9-4 record into Tuesday’s game and compete in the Southland Conference, one of the area’s strongest. But they had no answer for the suffocating defensive pressure Leo’s guards applied in forcing 26 turnovers, three of them on 10-second violations.

As Thornwood’s guards struggled, its long, athletic forwards rarely saw the ball and turned into spectators, unable to take advantage of superior size all over the floor.

“We really got after it on defense and gave a good effort,” Lions Coach Jamal Thompson said. “If we’d made our layups we might have won by 20.”

Leo’s so-so shooting and some carelessness with the ball enabled Thornwood to cut a 16-point deficit in half early in the final period, but the Lions regrouped and began finding Austin Ford behind the Thunderbirds’ press—the senior swingman scored eight of his game-high 17 points in the final period. Ford also took down 12 rebounds and Cam Cleveland had eight to go with his 11 points as Leo held its own with the taller T-birds on the boards.

Jakeem Cole had 12 points with four steals and Tyler Smith contributed 10 points, four assists and four steals as the Lions achieved admirable balance. Sophomore Christian Brockett took one shot and scored one point, but was in the middle of everything nonetheless with six steals and seven assists.

Leo is 3-0 in the Catholic League. With the Providence-St. Mel game on hold, the  Lions will next face De La Salle (0-3, 4-13) at De La Salle on Saturday, Jan. 8. Tipoff is at 5 p.m.

The World Renowned Choir Performed at Halftime at Soldier Field

Leo Boys Choir Kicked Off Bears Halftime Entertainment on January 2

The school that played football in front of 120,000 Chicago fans in 1937 took center stage at historic Soldier Field for live halftime show

By Bill Figel, Community Contributor,

The Leo Boys Choir regaled the Soldier Field halftime crowd Sunday with their rendition of the Blues classic “Sweet Home Chicago” during the Bears and Giants game. “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” was also featured in the Leo Boys Choir’s halftime performance Sunday during the Bears Game. 

Leo High School’s return engagement at Soldier Field speaks volumes as to how much the South Side school has evolved from its days as a gridiron powerhouse to a coveted choir group singing at halftime of the Bears contest against the New York Giants at noon.

Leo represented the Catholic League in the 1937 Prep Bowl against Austin that drew a crowd estimated at 120,000, still regarded as the largest crowd for an American football contest.

A commonplace fundraising engine, the Chicago Mayor’s Charity Game, also known as the Mayor Kelly Bowl, pitted the champion of the Chicago Catholic League against the champion of the Chicago Public League. Reportedly, everyone from politicians to firefighters were buying and selling tickets for the game.

The Chicago Tribune reported the game “raised $100,000 for the City’s Christmas Fund used to clothe needy kids.”

Hitting all the right notes will trump hitting the open receiver Sunday. Soldier Field’s halftime show was the setting for Leo Boys Choir, regarded for its versatility and harmony on and off the field.

“Presenting the arts expression of Leo to a broader audience is landmark for us,” said Leo Principal Shaka Rawls. “While sports has been our calling card for decades, academics, the arts, debate, chess and especially choir has opened doors for Leo and each Leo student heading into the world.”

Pandemic pressures have caused Leo choir to audible, adjusting its schedule to generally accommodate audience schedules. The challenged has not dampened the choir’s enthusiasm and the extensive practice has elevated their collective voice.

“When the young men perform as they did at the Four Seasons earlier in December, their spirits are lifted along with their audience,” said Choir Director Ms. LaDonna Hill. “Our young men have a resiliency that permeates beyond the choir. These life lessons dealing with adversity and still giving their best will serve them well in life.”

Leo was a repeat Prep Bowl champion in 1941-42, beating Tilden both years. In a 1956 Prep Bowl appearance the Lions enjoyed a satisfying 12-0 victory over neighborhood rival Calumet.

Leo’s most recent to visit to Soldier Field garnered a victory over Lane Tech of the Chicago Public on Friday, August 25, 2018 as part of the annual Kickoff Classic tripleheader marking the beginning of the Chicago-area high school football season. At the time it was and the Lions’ first Soldier Field appearance in 43 years, dating back to 1974 season, when a Bob Foster-coached Leo team dropped a 24-8 decision to Brother Rice in a Catholic League playoff semifinal.

The Catholic League joined the Illinois High School Association in 1974 and became eligible for IHSA-sanctioned state playoffs that robbed both the Catholic League playoffs and the Prep Bowl of much of their luster as CCL teams set their eyes on state championships. Mount Carmel, Loyola Academy and Providence Catholic have been particularly successful in that pursuit.

“What a great opportunity for our young men to perform, singing on a field where so much history has been made,” said Leo Coach Michael Holmes, a junior starter for the Lions at tight end and defensive end on the 1974 team. “We’ve been working hard to raise Leo’s profile, and being invited to sing at Soldier Field is an indication that those efforts are paying off.”

Lions Bounce Back to Beat Lake Forest in Jack Tosh Tourney

In familiar Leo basketball fashion, the young Lions showed their resiliency Thursday night bouncing back quickly from a loss to top-seed and top-ranked Glenbard West 69-46 Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York High School in Elmhurst.

Thursday night, Leo (7-2) beat Lake Forest 58-55 in the consolation bracket with balanced scoring: Austin Ford, 19; Jakeem Cole, 14; Cameron Cleveland, 13; Tyler Smith, nine.

While scoring tells one story, the box score reveals the rapid growth of this young team entering tough Catholic League play in earnest after the holidays.

Leo only turned the ball over seven times, dished out eight assists and, most importantly, converted 12 of 17 free throws to shore up weaknesses that have “dogged” the Lions early on.

“Because of the pandemic we only had two practices going into the tournament, but I knew once we started playing the guys would improve on the turnovers and free throws,” said Leo Coach Jamal Thompson. “And we did.”

“Absolutely, the guys ability to improve from day to day shows we’re getting ready for Catholic League play.”

Thompson treats every road trip as a teachable moment for Leo and reminds his players that the way they handle themselves is a direct reflection on the school they represent – Leo.

After the Glenbard West loss, an anonymous contributor to Leo’s scholarship fund made a phone call to his only contact at Leo, an alum.

“I just want to tell you how impressed I was with how hard those Leo kids played and how well they handled themselves,” he said Wednesday night.  “They never quit. Watching those young men made me glad my wife and I sent a check in last year to help a place like Leo.”

Said Coach Thompson:  “We tell the boys all the time that you never know who is watching you and how important it is to live up to the ideals set for Leo by those who came before.”

COVID exposure continues to be a concern with the Leo administration taking all measures in keeping everybody safe.

We will keep you abreast of further developments, advise caution and continue to pray for your health and safety. Games streamed on YouTube can be found @JackToshHC.

 —The Leo Team

Lions Fall to Glenbard West at Jack Tosh Tourney

The Leo Lions fell to top-seed and top-ranked Glenbard West 69-46 Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York High School in Elmhurst.

Glenbard West’s length and extended zone proved too much for the younger, outsized Lions, who suffered a power outage in the second half of its third consecutive night of play.

Jakeem Cole’s seven-point burst in the opening quarter staked Leo to a 16-15 lead.  Leo trailed 26-23 at half after a cold-shooting second quarter but kept it close with a strong defensive effort and box out work on the boards.

A 22-2 run by Glenbard West to open the second half left Leo spent and forced to scramble. The effects of three straight nights playing in a top-flight tournament began to show; Leo trailed 51 – 30 at the end of three quarters.  Glenbard West was only playing back-to-back games after drawing a bye Monday night due to a Covid-related forfeit.

Cameron Cleveland kept the game relatively close with 17 of Leo’s first 37 points. He finished with 22 points, followed by Cole’s nine.

Glenbard West began substituting late in the contest in preparation for a matchup in the semi-finals against Rolling Meadows.  Leo moved to the consolation bracket for a 6 p.m. meeting with Lake Forest Thursday.

Glenbard West provided a gauge for Leo, who played a similar “tale of two halves” against City power Curie, who also beat the Lions, now 6-2. The overachieving young Lions will likely retain its ranking because of the strength of the two opponents who beat them, both seeded at the top of their tournaments, Jack Tosh and Pontiac respectively.

COVID exposure continues to be a concern with the Leo administration taking all measures in keeping everybody safe.

We will keep you abreast of further developments, advise caution and continue to pray for your health and safety.  Games streamed on YouTube can be found @JackToshHC.

 —The Leo Team

Lions Smack Batavia at Jack Tosh Tourney

The Leo Lions beat Batavia 51-36 Tuesday night in the second round of the 2021 Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York High School in Elmhurst.

Leo advanced to Wednesday’s 5 p.m. showdown with top-seeded Glenbard West (11-0), regarded as the No. 1 team in the area by prep sports outlets.

A scrappy Leo team brought its defense to bear on the taller Batavia squad.  At the outset of the fourth quarter, Jakeem Cole’s three-pointer off a well-executed three-man weave extended Leo’s lead to 36-26 and gave the young Lions control of the contest. Cole finished with 10.

Leo was led by Jerrod Gee, Jr.’s 13 points, followed by Cameron Cleveland’s nine points and five rebounds. Leo shot 52% from the field but the same from the charity stripe. Leo was outrebounded 35-20 but outhustled the bigger Batavia team for long rebounds and loose balls, many converted into layups.

Knotted at 21 at half, Leo outscored Batavia 30-15 in the second half. For the game, an outsized Leo was victorious on the strength of 12 steals, 11 assists and a vast improvement on its turnover rate from opening night.

The 32-team Tosh Classic is quickly gaining favor as the strongest overall field in this year’s holiday tournament realm, led by the undefeated Glenbard West.  The Hilltoppers are the No. 1 team in the Chicago Sun-Times’ metro-area rankings, and 6-foot-10 senior Braden Huff is considered one of the state’s top college prospects. He led a balanced attack in a tidy 67-40 victory over St. Patrick.

COVID exposure continues to be a concern with the Leo administration taking all measures in keeping everybody safe.

We will keep you abreast of further developments, advise caution and continue to pray for your health and safety.  Games streamed on YouTube can be found @JackToshHC.

 —The Leo Team

Leo Dominates in First Game of Tosh Holiday Tourney

After two nonconference games were postponed last week, Leo beat Naperville North Monday 50-37 to open the first round of the 2021 Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York High School in Elmhurst.

Leo moved to 5-1 and advances to Tuesday’s 6 p.m. second-round matchup against Batavia, which escaped with a win over Stagg in overtime earlier in the afternoon.

Leo busted out to a 15-0 lead over Naperville North holding the Huskies scoreless until 3:42 of the second quarter. The Lions led at half 26-11.

In a contest that was never close, Leo was led by Jerrod Gee, Jr.’s 12 points, followed by Cameron Cleveland with nine and Tyler Smith with eight. Leo shot 53% from the field but only connected on two of 13 three-point attempts. Leo held a rebound edge of 27-16 but committed 21 turnovers.

The 32-team Tosh Classic probably boasts the strongest overall field in this year’s holiday tournament realm, with Glenbard West the unofficial top seed.

The undefeated Hilltoppers are the No. 1 team in the Chicago Sun-Times’ metro-area rankings, and 6-foot-10 senior Braden Huff is considered one of the state’s top college prospects.

Bolingbrook, Rolling Meadows and Lake Forest are among the Tosh Classic’s other top contenders.

Leo, in the same bracket as Glenbard North, faces a potential quarterfinal matchup on Wednesday, if both teams advance from the second round.

Leo’s nonconference basketball games at Bremen on Monday, Dec. 20, and vs. Fenger at Leo on Wednesday, Dec. 22, have been postponed.

COVID exposure continues to be a concern with the Leo administration taking all measures in keeping everybody safe.

We will keep you abreast of further developments, advise caution and continue to pray for your health and safety.

Games televised on YouTube can be found before gametime


—The Leo Team


Welcome Back to Our World-Renowned Choir

By Dan McGrath

The Christmas/semester break rolls in at an optimum time for Leo High School, in part because the week leading up to it was challenging on several fronts.

Leave it to the world-renowned Leo Choir to bail us out and restore our equilibrium.

After a 20-month hiatus brought on by COVID restrictions, the Choir is back and sounding better than ever. They simply stole the show as the headline act at the Harold Washington Cultural Center’s Winter Wonderland Christmas Pageant on Saturday, Dec. 18. The 1,000-seat auditorium was up and clapping along to the Choir’s signature version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and Rob Smith’s mesmerizing rendition of “Hallelujah” prompted a standing ovation. Freshman Keith Harris’ “Give Love This Christmas” drew a similar reaction. 

Rob Smith is a two-sport athletic standout with college aspirations, but a serious knee injury in the season’s first football game has cost him his senior year of football and basketball. A tough break, but rather than pout or feel sorry for himself, Rob has poured himself into music. “Hallelujah” is a really tough song to handle, but in his debut as a soloist, Rob delivered it like a seasoned pro. We’re very proud of him.

Choir members are among the best ambassadors Leo has—not only talented singers but good students, good citizens and all-around good guys. Our peerless Choir Director LaDonna Hill is a Leo treasure and a Leo Hall of Famer, as of October 2021. And Leo High School is a special place that remains relentless in its mission: to prepare young men for lives as responsible, productive, engaged citizens. 

Factor in a 4-1 basketball team that’s No. 19 in the Chicago Sun-Times’ metro area rankings and it’s a good time to be a Leo Lion.