Tough Week for Our Lions

By Dan McGrath

Four games in five nights would be an unheard-of burden for an NBA team, even one that practices “load management” and rests its top players.

Load management is an unheard-of luxury for a high school team, but four games in five days was a taxing reality for the Leo Lions, from Jan. 20-24. And a tough stretch it was, as they sandwiched Catholic League losses to Mt. Carmel (75-41) and De La Salle (56-35) around nonconference setbacks against Glenbrook South (85-52) and Perspectives MSA (58-40) to stand at 5-16, 1-8 for the season.

But don’t tell Leo forward Keeland Jordan it was taxing. The lithe, long-armed senior went for 82 points total in the four games, including 25 with 14 rebounds and three blocks against Perspectives.

Problem was, the other Lions managed just 15 points among them, while Perspectives had four double-figures scorers, including Ahdrean Ellis, a former Lion, with a team-high 15.

Jordan had 21 in the first half of the Glenbrook South game before Coach Phil Ralston went to a gimmick defense specifically designed to deny him the ball. The tactic worked, as Jordan finished with 23 points, one fewer than Glenbrook’s Rodell Davis, who had 22 in a free-flowing first half as he and Jordan matched each other shot for shot.

“First time I’ve used a 1-2-2 with a chaser in a long time,” Ralston said. “I felt we had to. Mr. Jordan is a nice player.”

Foul trouble and De La Salle’s long, rangy defenders limited Jordan to 14 points three nights later, but the Lions’ real undoing was turnovers—the meter shut down at 20. Small, inexperienced guards against a quick, athletic press was a recipe for big trouble.

Four Meteors scored 12 points apiece, including former Lion Tavariyuan Williams, who’s making a miraculous recovery from a shooting that hospitalized him for more than a week back in August. Jordan never did foul out, but he missed most of the second quarter after picking his third and a good portion of the third after being nailed with his fourth—both offensive fouls.

The Mt. Carmel game was Alumni Night at Leo, and the near-capacity crowd on hand to salute the late Bill Holland ’73 was treated to two minutes of impressive basketball as the Lions jumped out to a 7-0 lead.

Then talent asserted itself. The Caravan (9-0 Catholic League, 20-2 overall) responded with 13 straight points and was off and running.

Carmel’s Deandre Craig, a quick, powerful, 6-foot-1 guard with a Division I college future, was quietly effective with 17 points, 10 in the second half. On defense he was a nightmare for Leo’s young guards, forcing them into hurried, ill-advised passes that led to a slew of turnovers.

The Caravan’s alternative weapons were heard from as well as senior guard Anthony Ciavarino scored 13 of his team-high 20 in the first quarter and younger brother Angelo, a junior forward, collected 12 of his 14 in the second. Along with Craig and 6-foot-5 center Lee Marks, they were part of a vigorous defensive effort that suggests Carmel will be a handful for any and all Catholic League opponents.

Jordan scored 20 for Leo, but the other eight players Coach Jamille Ridley used combined for 21 points total.

Bill Holland, a former Leo football captain, student body president and Class of  ’73 valedictorian, passed away in June, and his family and friends are funding a scholarship in his honor—it has been awarded to a current sophomore. Proceeds from Alumni Night ticket sales and the sale of special “Blackout Night” T-shirts were added to money previously raised and will cover tuition and fees for another Bill Holland Scholar beginning next year.

Off until Sunday, the Lions will have time to catch their breath before they face Public League campaigner Marshall (11-9) in the Breast Cancer Awareness Shootout at Orr High School. Tipoff is at 10:30 a.m.

Mt. Carmel Bests Our Lions

By Dan McGrath

It was Alumni Night at Leo, and a near-capacity crowd on hand to salute the late Bill Holland ’73 was treated to two minutes of impressive basketball as the Lions jumped out to a 7-0 lead over Catholic League powerhouse Mt. Carmel.

Then talent asserted itself. The Caravan (8-0 Catholic League, 19-2 overall) responded with 13 straight points and was off and running to a 75-41 victory  on Friday, Jan. 20, saddling the Lions (1-7, 5-14) with a seventh straight conference loss.

Carmel’s Deandre Craig, a quick, powerful, 6-foot-1 guard who is a Division I prospect, was quietly effective with 17 points, 10 in the second half. On defense he was a nightmare for Leo’s young guards, forcing them into hurried, ill-advised passes that led to turnover after turnover.

The Caravan’s alternative weapons did just as much damage, as senior guard Anthony Ciavarino scored 13 of his team-high 20 in the first quarter and younger brother Angelo, a junior forward, collected 12 of his 14 in the second. Along with Craig and 6-foot-5 center Lee Marks, they were part of a vigorous defensive effort that suggests Carmel will be a handful for any and all Catholic League opponents.

Senior Keeland Jordan scored 20 for Leo, but the other eight players Coach Jamille Ridley used combined for 21 total.

Bill Holland, a former Leo football captain, student body president and Class of ’73 valedictorian, passed away in June, and his family and friends are funding a scholarship in his honor. Proceeds from Alumni Night ticket sales and the sale of special “Blackout Night” T-shirts will be added to money previously raised to cover tuition and fees for two Leo students.

The Carmel game was the first of a weekend triple-header for the Lions. They face Glenbrook South in a nonconference game at Leo (1:30 tipoff) on Saturday, Jan. 21, then travel to north to play Perspectives in the Whitney Young Shootout at 1:30 on Sunday, Jan. 22.

Lions Lose to DePaul

By Dan McGrath

DePaul Prep handed Leo two of its five losses last season and was supposed to be better than 10-6 overall, 1-4 Catholic League after finishing third in the IHSA Class 2-A state tournament last season. 

But returning starters (and Leo nemeses) Jaylan McElroy and Payton Kamin have been sidelined with injuries, and the Rams have struggled. 

Leo, of course, doesn’t want to hear about missing players after being decimated by transfers. 

The team first-year Coach Jamille Ridley has cobbled together put forth a typically committed effort at DePaul on Friday, Jan. 13, but the 51-28 final was indicative of the gaps in talent and depth the Lions were facing. Even without their two best players, the Rams went to work on defense and cruised to a 23-point win. 

The tone was set during a plodding first quarter in which Leo had more turnovers (six) than points (two). DePaul put up 13 points, and the 11-point advantage gave Coach Tom Kleinschmidt the freedom to go to his bench early and often. 

Fourteen Rams played and 10 of them scored, with Jonas Johnson, Maurice Thomas and P.J. Chambers collecting nine points apiece. 

In fact, there wasn’t a double-figures scorer in the game as Keeland Jordan led Leo with nine points despite foul trouble and a scoreless first half. 

The Lions fell to 5-12 overall, 1-6 CCL with their sixth straight Catholic League loss. 

St. Francis Gets Revenge Against Lions

By Dan McGrath

Unfortunate that not a single survivor of the thousand-point, thoughtlessly inhumane beatdown the Leo Lions administered to St. Francis de Sales last season was on the floor for the Pioneers in the rematch at Leo on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

How they would have savored St. Francis’ 67-55 victory.

Too bad it only sort of counts.

After the humiliation of a winless season in 2021-22, struggling St. Francis intended to compete at the frosh-soph level only in the Catholic League this season. But a new coach and enough transfers showed up in the weeks before school started that the Pioneers were able to field a varsity team—a quick, tough, athletic team at that. 

The Catholic League schedule had already been drawn up, however, so it was determined that St. Francis’ varsity games would be recorded as nonconference skirmishes. 

Transfers, you say? While St. Francis was loading up on them, Leo was losing five returnees from last season’s 25-5, CCL championship team in the wake of Coach Jamal Thompson’s resignation. Regardless of what it means in the CCL standings, Tuesday’s exercise proved that the Pioneers’ newcomers were superior to the Lions’ holdovers.

St. Francis closed the first half on an 11-2 run to lead by nine points (34-25) at the halftime break. That lead would grow to 14 and shrink to seven over the course of the second half, but Leo never seemed in any danger of winning as tireless Brandon Lowe Jr. (30 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) and hiccup-quick Aden Stuckey (12 points, six assists, three steals) controlled play at both ends of the floor.

The Pioneers were on every loose ball, they controlled the backboards and they made 17 of 21 free throws. 

Leo (5-11) got 29 points, six rebounds and three blocks from Keeland Jordan, but the Lions seemed a step slow all night and never did solve St. Francis’ 2-2-1 press, which kept them out of any semblance of an offensive flow while forcing 22 turnovers.

The resumption of Catholic League play sends the Lions to DePaul Prep on Friday, Jan. 13. The Rams (1-4 Catholic League, 10-6 overall) handed Leo its only loss in CCL play last season, then administered another overtime loss in the Joliet Supersectional to deny the Lions a trip downstate.

Revenge would be nice, but unlikely, given recent developments and present circumstances.

Lions Storm Back to Defeat U. of C. Lab School

Regardless of where this challenging basketball season ultimately takes the Leo Lions, they will have at least one memory to savor.

It came on Thursday, Jan. 5. After spotting the Maroons from the University of Chicago Lab School a 21-point halftime lead, the Lions stormed back and sneaked out of Hyde Park with a 64-62 nonconference victory.

Keeland Jordan was his typically reliable self with 26 points, seven rebounds and three blocks and fellow senior Jachi Lewis scored 16 of his career-high 20 in the second half as Leo (5-9) halted a four-game losing streak. But it was little-used junior Isaiah Gibson who turned in the play of the night when he waited for traffic to clear, then flipped in a short shot from a tough angle just left of the bucket to break a 62-all tie as time expired.

“A character-builder, that’s for sure,” Coach Jamille Ridley said in a refreshingly upbeat locker room. “A lot of contributions from a lot of people. Very satisfying.”

The unthinkable prospect of a Chicago Catholic League team suffering a running-clock beatdown at the hands of an Independent Schools League campaigner seemed possible as the Maroons powered their way to a 40-19 halftime lead. The Lions were guilty of 17 turnovers, and they had no answer for guards Benjamin King and Xavier Nesbitt, who had a combined 37 first-half points after Nesbitt drilled a three-pointer from just inside the halfcourt stripe as the buzzer sounded. 

But King went to the bench with four fouls after an 11-0 third-quarter run brought Leo back into the game. He drew his fifth early in the final period, and for the rest of the night the Maroons resembled Nesbitt and four guys from sixth-period gym class. 

Though Nesbitt finished with a game-high 33 points, a box-and-one defense effectively controlled him, with senior Kevin Jackson doing the heavy lifting. Nesbitt’s teammates didn’t exactly pick up the slack, managing three points total as Leo outscored U-High 24-11 in the final period to steal it.

“They stayed with it and never quit,” Ridley said. “I’m proud of the guys.”

The Lions had little time to savor their most satisfying win of the season. They were right back at it on Friday, Jan. 6 for the resumption of Catholic League play at Loyola Academy.

Lions Wrestling Schedule

JANUARY 28
CCL Sophomore Championships
Providence High School
1800 W. Lincoln Highway
New Lenox, IL
Sophomore
Start Time: 9 a.m.

FEBRUARY 4
IHSA Regionals
St. Laurence High School
5556 W. 77th Street
Burbank, IL
Varsity
Start Time: 9 a.m.

FEBRUARY 10
IHSA Sectionals
Coal City High School
655 W. Division St.
Coal City, IL
Varsity
Start Time: 5 p.m.

FEBRUARY 11
IHSA Sectionals
Coal City High School
655 W. Division St.
Coal City, IL
Varsity
Start Time: 9 a.m.

FEBRUARY 16
IHSA State Finals
University of Illinois
Champaign, IL
Varsity
Start Time: TBA

FEBRUARY 17
IHSA State Finals
University of Illinois
Champaign, IL
Varsity
Start Time: TBA

FEBRUARY 18
IHSA State Finals
University of Illinois
Champaign, IL
Varsity
Start Time: TBA

FEBRUARY 21
IHSA Team Sectionals
TBA
Varsity
Start Time: 5 p.m.

FEBRUARY 24
IHSA Team State Finals
US Cellular Arena
Bloomington, IL
Varsity
Start Time: 9 a.m.

FEBRUARY 25
IHSA Team State Finals
US Cellular Arena
Bloomington, IL
Varsity
Start Time: 9 a.m.

Lions Can’t Catch Up to Stagg

By Dan McGrath

Going 0-for-Elmhurst is not an ideal way to close out the calendar year, but Coach Jamille Ridley chose to look on the bright side after his Leo Lions completed an 0-4 showing in the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic with a 55-51 loss to Stagg on Thursday, Dec. 29.

“We played hard and we competed, and if we can do that consistently and cut down on our mistakes, we’ll get better,” Ridley said.

Playing their fourth game in four days and their second at the inhumane hour of 8:30 a.m., the Lions came out with admirable energy and led most of the first quarter before falling behind by two (27-25) at the halftime break.

They looked like a tired team during a listless five-point third quarter, during which Stagg’s lead grew as large as 12 points. But with three freshmen playing major minutes and little-used junior Isiah Gibson contributing seven points off the bench, the Lions made a game of it in the final period, though they couldn’t get any closer than three points back.

Keeland Jordan scored 23 points with 12 rebounds for the Lions, who fell to 4-9 with their eighth loss in nine games. They hit just 38.4 percent of their shots, including 5-for-18 on three-pointers, and a 30-19 rebounding advantage was negated by 22 turnovers.

Domas Narcevicius buried six of nine three-pointers and finished with 20 points for Stagg (8-6), while David Ortiz scored 11.

Ridley planned to give his team a few days off to rest their tired legs before the resumption of Catholic League play at Loyola on Friday, Jan. 6. The Ramblers (10-4 overall, 2-1 Catholic League) are a typically feisty bunch defensively, allowing just 37 points per game while scoring 46.

Lions Battle But Fall to Schaumburg

By Dan McGrath

For slightly more than a quarter, senior Keeland Jordan and his Leo teammates played some of their best basketball of the season on Tuesday, Dec. 27 against Schaumburg in the consolation bracket of the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York High School in Elmhurst.

The Lions shaved a 13-point second-quarter deficit to six (23-17) at halftime, then opened the third period on a 9-0 run courtesy of Jordan—he had 13 points in the quarter and outscored the Saxons (13-10) by himself.

But he went to the bench with four fouls in the midst of five straight empty possessions, during which Schaumburg used a 7-0 spurt to reclaim a three-point lead. Three minutes into the final period, an ill-advised drive to the bucket resulted in an offensive foul on Jordan that finished his day, as well as Leo’s, for all intents and purposes. The Lions would manage just five points thereafter as the Saxons pulled away to a 53-40 victory.

“Once again I can’t fault the effort,” Coach Jamille Ridley said after the Lions fell to 4-7 with their sixth loss in seven games, ”but we have to make better decisions, exercise better judgment.”

It’s worth noting that two freshmen and two sophomores were among the seven-man rotation Ridley employed for much of the day. But their inexperience showed as Leo shot 29 percent for the game, including 3-for-18 (16.7 percent) on three-pointers, and turned the ball over 16 times. Jordan went for a game-high 20 points, with seven rebounds and two blocks, but none of his teammates managed more than five points.

Schaumburg, by contrast, got 10 points apiece from Jordan Tunis, Tyler March, Clark Easley and Javonte McCoy, with McCoy collecting seven rebounds, three assists and four steals as well.

The Lions will have to sleep fast, as they were scheduled to return to Elmhurst to face Minooka (1-10) at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday. The Indians shot more three’s than two’s in Tuesday’s 43-40 loss to Glenbard West.

Lions Can’t Handle Lake Forest

By Dan McGrath

Lake Forest was one of three Class 3-A or 4-A teams Leo handled with relative ease en route to a 3-1 showing at last season’s Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York High in Elmhurst. 

The 52-31 beating which the Scouts put on the Lions in the first round of this year’s “Tosh” on Monday, Dec. 26, was fairly indicative of how much Leo’s fortunes have changed in 12 months. 

The Lions were shorthanded, with four players benched for disciplinary reasons. They had more turnovers (five) than baskets (one) in a first-quarter sleepwalk which ended with them on the short end of a 12-2 score. Lake Forest was shorthanded itself, with Clemson signee Asa Thomas sitting with an ankle injury. 

Sophomore Emmanuel Walker’s three-pointer got the Lions back within 10 as the third quarter opened, but two turnovers handed the Scouts five quick points, and their lead would never shrink below 15 again. Leo shot 33 percent for the game (10-for-30), was outrebounded 28-12 and committed 15 turnovers.

Lake Forest improved to 5-5, while Leo fell to 4-6 heading into Tuesday’s 10 a.m. meeting with Schaumburg (4-7) in the consolation bracket.

“That’s maybe a winnable game if we’re at full strength, but it’s more important that we instill discipline in this program,” Coach Jamille Ridley said. “We competed and I can’t fault the effort, but I’m disappointed in the selfishness that cost us four players.”

Senior Jachi Lewis worked his way to 11 points with seven rebounds and Amare Hall willed his way to nine points for the Lions. Lake Forest used 15 players and 13 of them scored, with Tommy Aberle collecting 14 points and Noah Portalatin contributing 13.   

Lions Basketball Schedule

JANUARY 29
vs. Marshall at Orr High School
730 N. Pulaski Rd.
Chicago, IL
Tip Off: 10:30 a.m.

JANUARY 31
at Montini
19W070 16th St.
Tip Off: 7 p.m.

FEBRUARY 5
at Evergreen Park Shootout
at Evergreen Park High School
9901 S. Kedzie Ave.
Evergreen Park, IL
Tip Off: TBD

FEBRUARY 7
Leo vs. St. Laurence High School
Tip Off: 7 p.m.

FEBRUARY 10
at Fenwick High School
505 Washington Blvd.
Oak Park, IL
Tip Off: 7 p.m.

FEBRUARY 11
Rich South High School
at Danville High School
202 E. Fairchild St.
Danville, IL
Tip Off: TBD

FEBRUARY 14
Leo vs. St. Rita High School
Tip Off: 7 p.m.