Kenwood opens season at No. 1; coach Mike Irvin says he will ‘let the players do the talking’

By Chicago 5 Min Read

Mike Irvin is ready to try something new this season.

The outspoken Kenwood basketball coach, who stood at center court and repeatedly screamed, ‘‘There is a new sheriff in town,’’ after the Broncos beat Joliet West in the Chicago Elite Classic last season, says this year will be different.

‘‘This is the year of calmness,’’ Irvin said. ‘‘I’m going to let the players do the talking.’’

Irvin doesn’t mean his players literally will be talking. The three Division I-bound seniors that form the core of the Sun-Times’ preseason No. 1 team aren’t trash-talking types. They are polite, intelligent kids on track for successful futures — with or without basketball.

DePaul recruit Chris Riddle is 6-5. Jaden Smith, a 6-11 senior, has signed with Arizona State. Calvin Robins, a 6-5 senior, has scholarship offers from multiple schools, including several in the Ivy League.

‘‘They all got better,’’ Irvin said. ‘‘Every single kid on the team. That’s dedication and hard work. We aren’t talking; we are going to show. Show that all these kids put the work in.’’

Kenwood’s 2022-23 season ended with a stunning 67-47 trouncing at the hands of Downers Grove North in the supersectionals.

‘‘You are never supposed to go into a game underestimating a team, and I guess you could say we did that,’’ Riddle said. ‘‘We didn’t follow our game plan. I watch that film almost every day; it replays in my head. I don’t ever want that to happen again.’’

  • No Shot Clock, Ep. 156: Revealing the preseason Super 25 rankings

Aleks Alston is one of the most intriguing stories this season. The 6-9 wing might be the top prospect in the junior class, but he missed the majority of last season with an injury. He wasn’t available in the playoffs.

‘‘Alston is a huge part of this team,’’ Robins said. ‘‘If he hits one, it is over with. We have so many offensive weapons.’’

Kenwood has more than enough size and scoring on the wing and in the paint. The backcourt lacks experience, other than senior Edwon Duling, but the talent is exceptional. Sophomore Rajan Roberts and freshman Devin Cleveland are ranked among the top five players in the state in their classes.

Irvin describes Roberts as a powerful, confident Will Bynum type of player. Cleveland is one of three freshmen in the area expected to take the state by storm.

‘‘He’s probably the best 14-year-old I’ve coached,’’ Irvin said. ‘‘His skill level reminds me of Jabari Parker. Cleveland is probably the best guard I’ve seen with skills at a young age. He can be one of Chicago’s greats if he stays on that path.’’

Irvin is 66-18 in his three seasons at Kenwood. He has been hammered with criticism that he’s just an AAU coach, just a recruiter. But his club team, the Mac Irvin Fire, has receded from the spotlight a bit since he took over at Kenwood.

‘‘I’m just about these kids getting better and getting an education and hopefully moving on in basketball,’’ Irvin said. ‘‘And we’d like to win some championships along the way.’’

Kenwood opens the season Monday against Hansberry, part of a seven-game shootout at Rich.

‘‘I can’t wait to get started,’’ Alston said. ‘‘I have so much energy saved up for this season. We are all ready to show what we can do.’’

The Broncos’ first major showdown is against Thornton, the No. 2 team in the preseason, on Dec. 1 at the Chicago Elite Classic at Credit Union 1 Arena. That matchup, full of AAU and high school drama, will be the first test of Irvin’s new philosophy.

‘‘I don’t have to talk this year,’’ Irvin said. ‘‘We are the No. 1 team. I’m not chasing anyone. They are chasing us.’’

The preseason Super 25 will be posted online Thursday and in the newspaper on Saturday. To hear the full list revealed now, listen to the No Shot Clock high school basketball podcast.

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