North Chicago competed in the State Farm Holiday Tournament held in Normal after Christmas. They finished third in the big school tourney, defeating Normal U-High and Culver Military Academy, losing to Rockton Hononegah in the semifinals and downing Grayslake Central 64-61 in the third place game.
The Warhawks are coached by Gerald Coleman. He has a bunch of mighty-mites, undersized players with tremendous quickness and athleticism. What they lack in size, they make up for it with aggressiveness. They came from behind to defeat Culver, and Coleman says that is common for his team.
"The type of team we have, we're used to being down 8-10 points, but we don't quit. We have a lot of quickness.
"We're very small, but we're used to it so we're fearless. I think in the last three years, I listed a kid at 6'-5", but he was really 6'-2 and 1/2". We try to use our quickness to make a play."
Sophomore Aaron Simpson is not the only quality player, but he is the one the others look to for leadership and clutch scoring.
"Aaron Simpson is our leader on offense," Coleman explains. "He's a great offensive player, and he's a great kid to be around. He's averaging 26 points a game.
"I think he needs to understand he has teammates. He's trying to put all the pressure on himself. He feels he's got to do things to get the offense going instead of letting it come to him. But he'll be fine. He's just a sophomore."
Simpson reminds one of former Illinois standout Dee Brown. He doesn't have Brown's charisma and floor presence, but he can explode on a defender at any time with his speed. And he is accurate from the three point line. Defenders must be aware of him at all times. Slightly built, he looks shorter than the height Coleman lists for him.
"Actually, he's growing. I think I have him listed at about 6'-1." Some people think he'll get to about 6'-3." He's a lot taller than you think he is."
That may be true, but his older brother is much shorter than him. He is probably a second guard rather than a point guard, so his size is a deterrent to some college recruiters. Regardless, he is someone Illinois is looking at strongly.
Coleman provides further description of Simpson's game.
"His best attribute is his offense. He can light you up. In one of our games, he had 28 points the first half. And you'll never know he had them.
"He's working very hard on his defense. I think once he brings along his defense and gets a little stronger and gets some upper body strength, he's gonna turn into a major Division I player."
Simpson got into early foul trouble against Culver and had to sit major portions of the game. It was against his will, and Coleman eventually relented and put him back in the game. He's glad he did.
"Actually, he wanted to come back in. He never wanted me to take him out. I feel if you want to be a prime time player, you have to learn to play with 3-4 fouls.
"True he's just a sophomore, and maybe he wasn't ready for that. There were a couple calls that didn't go his way, but he proved to me today that he can play with four fouls."
All he did was pop three straight three pointers and added a couple driving floaters to rally the Warhawks to a come-from-behind victory. And his speed and quickness helped disrupt the taller but slower Culver guards into numerous turnovers.
One must wonder how good North Chicago would be if 6'-9" native son Quincy Miller, a top five player nationally according to some rating services, hadn't transferred to Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Coleman realizes how potent his team would be with Miller in the lineup. But there were higher priorities involved.
"We had Quincy all through grade school and his freshman year. But what was best for Quincy was what he did. If we'd had him in our school, we're talking a different game. But for him personally, the decision they made was really best for him."