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Jamari Thomas and Hillcrest take down TF North

sophomore guard jamari thomas was exactly the Hillcrest coach Don Houston He was looking for something extra for his already young but struggling squad at the time.

It didn’t bother Houston when Size brought the 6-foot-10 Thomas from the sophomore team to the varsity in December to boost the Hawks during the Big Dipper Classic.

Do you doubt Thomas? Never.

“He has no fear,” Houston said. “That’s what we needed at that position to help with what we already had. “He also played football and was a tough guy.

“He’s just a tough guy and we needed a fearless kid.”

On Thursday night, Thomas came off the bench and scored a career-high 15 points to help the host Hawks beat the South Suburban Red 63-35 over TF North at Country Club Hills.

Jovohn Ratliff outpaced Hawks by 20 points (16-11, 10-3) Maximilian Carmicle They added seven as they ensured at least a share of the conference title.

TF, North (13-10, 8-4) was in contention for the championship heading into the game but trailed 39-19 at halftime. Jaylen Blakes He scored 11 points, including nine in the first half. Naeim Evans There were 10 of them.

Thomas hit a couple three-pointers early in the second quarter and then decided to stick his nose in for layups, either shooting or getting fouled and converting free throws.

“I’ll take whatever the defense gives me,” Thomas said. “I’ve changed. They saw me shooting and then I tried to drive away. “I’m trying to simplify the game.”

Hillcrest’s Markell Slaughter-Harris (4) brings the ball up the field against TF North during the South Suburban Red game on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, at Country Club Hills. (Jeff Vorva/Daily Southtown)

Thomas confirmed that moving up to varsity took some adjustment, but said he was able to handle the pressure.

“Coach told me to play my game and play basketball,” Thomas said. “He told me not to be afraid. Just go to the rim.

The Hawks were 3-8 when they promoted Thomas. While he isn’t the sole reason the team has gone 13-3 since then, he does add another contribution to a team that includes five sophomores and five juniors.

“He can go inside, he can go outside,” Houston said of Thomas. “As I said, he has no fear. I want all my players to play like this.

“They have potential and if they play the way he does, the sky is the limit for us.”

Lemont (16-11, 9-3) plays Bremen on Friday. This result will determine whether Hillcrest will share the championship.

Hillcrest has won 38 conference championships since the 1975-76 season and 35 of the last 36 seasons; The only blemish came in the 2016-17 season, when TF North posted a 13-0 record.

TF North’s Jaylen Blakes shows off his wingspan defending against Hillcrest during the South Suburban Red game on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, at Country Club Hills. (Jeff Vorva/Daily Southtown)

When the Hawks started this season with a 1-2 record, a championship seemed unlikely.

“We were losing too many games,” Ratliff said. “But we kept fighting. Our execution got better. Our chemistry got better.”

Houston knows it’s tough to win this conference with three losses, but things are falling into place.

“It was weird, man, we needed a lot of people’s help,” Houston said. “And in many cases we still had to do our job. It’s been a different year for us.

“I’m not going to say anything rude because this was fun to coach. It’s a new group they need to learn from. We, as teachers, have to teach. “It was a fun year.”

Thomas, meanwhile, said he grew up and played basketball in Matteson since he was 4 years old. More than 10 years later, he still loves the sport.

“It takes my mind off a lot of things,” Thomas said. “I feel free. I just think about one thing and that’s what I do on the field.”

Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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