Making Sense Of Curie Mess

Stanley Johnson, pictured here with his high school coach Gary McKnight of Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), chose the University of Arizona over Kentucky. He along with three other national top 6 recruits announced their intentions on Friday and the decisions have major ramifications for college basketball next season. Photo: Ronnie Flores

Gary McKnight’s program at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) is ranked No. 1 by, but was dropped from the top spot by USA Today after Curie (Chicago) was stripped of its 24 victories and one of those awarded to Montverde Academy. In the Student Sports FAB 50, teams are never rewarded or credited for victories earned off the court. McKnight is flanked by Mr. Basketball USA candidate Stanley Johnson. Photo: Ronnie Flores

It’s been a tumultuous 12 days for Curie (Chicago) with most of the news surrounding its top-rated basketball team away from the court. While Curie’s plight brought national attention to Chicago basketball, the Condors finally returned to the court on Tuesday — and promptly saw their season end in an overtime loss. We examine the situation from the perspective of respected national rankings compilers and examine Cliff Alexander’s national player of the year candidacy.


National rankings compilers had a busy weekend trying to sort out the controversy surrounding Curie (Chicago).

After being stripped of its 2014 boys basketball Chicago Public League title and all their regular season wins, last Friday evening the Illinois High School Association ruled Curie could play in the state tournament.

At the time of the ruling, Curie was a consensus top three ranked team in the country. The Condors were and are currently No. 1 in the Student Sports FAB 50.

The Buzz 150Should Curie have been dropped all the way out of the FAB 50 and other rankings? Should Curie have remained in the rankings with an asterisk? How do you treat the ruling by the Chicago Public League and the games in which Curie beat other nationally-ranked teams on the court, namely Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), Whitney Young (Chicago) and Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)? Are those game now looked at as wins for those programs? These are the questions that had to answered over the weekend.

“As I look at it, and I know there are varying opinions, those games are more of a no-contest,” said National Basketball Editor Jason Hickman. “I don’t think any of these (nationally-ranked) teams would feel good about claiming victory in a game they lost to Curie. That’s what sad about this situation. We saw what happened last night to Curie without these ineligible players and it’s speculation to what they would have done during the season without them.”

What happened was Curie took the court unranked by and USA Today while remaining No. 1 in the Student Sports FAB 50 as the team was since defeating FAB 50 preseason and then current No. 1 Montverde Academy at the Spaulding Hoophall Classic. Without two key players ruled ineligible retroactive to the beginning of the season, Curie played its first game in 11 days against DuSable (Chicago) in a IHSA Class 4A regional semifinal.

Perhaps the off-court distractions were too much or the mental focus necessary for a state playoff game just wasn’t there. Or maybe it was just a case of missing key cogs on a team that went 24-1 on the court heading into the state playoffs. Whatever it was, the Condors led 58-48 after three quarters but eventually lost in overtime 88-85 to a team that was 10-11 entering the contest. In the books, Curie ended its season 0-26 but one the court it was the Condors’ first loss with Cliff Alexander in the lineup.

Tuesday’s result was a bit of a shocker, but considering what Curie’s players went through the past 12 days perhaps the result shouldn’t be all that surprising.

The Kansas bound Alexander did all he could to keep the Condors alive, but he fouled out with 27 seconds remaining in regulation. DuSable stayed in the game with long-range shooting. In fact, its final five field goals in regulation were 3-pointers. Dontrell Whitaker led DuSable with 22 and 14 rebounds while Alexander finished with 25 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks.

Rankings Dilemma

As compilers of the FAB 50, we handled the Curie situation as we always do with regards to administrative/clerical-based eligibility issues. We note forfeits with an asterisk and rank teams accordingly based on how they perform on the court.

Interestingly enough, last season Ridgeway (Memphis, Tenn.) was a nationally/regionally ranked team that dealt with forfeit losses. And this season two teams in the Southeast Region — Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.) and cross town Potter’s House Christian — have dealt with the same issue regarding forfeits. It’s only when it involves teams in the running for the mythical national title when the strong opinions emerge about how forfeits should be handled.

In Hickman’s Xcellent 25 rankings, Curie was removed from the top 25 altogether with unbeaten Mater Dei (Santa Ana Calif.) remaining the No. 1 ranked team. In the USA Today Super 25, previous No. 2 Curie was also removed with Mater Dei dropping from the top spot in favor of previous No. 3 Montverde Academy, which was noted as, “gaining a win when Curie was forced to forfeit all of its wins.”

“I think each of these situations is unique and I don’t think you can have a blanket policy on how to handle them,” Hickman said. “I try to reinforce the the ruling of governing bodies because they know a heck of a lot more about the situation than I know.”

With regards to the FAB 50, we always try to put the best interests of student-athletes first and leave governing bodies and outside parties out of the equation as much as possible. Our focus is results and in no way, shape or form do forfeit wins or default wins count the same as wins on the field of play.

On Tuesday night, Curie lost where it counts — on the court — and that will be reflected in next week’s rankings. The student-athletes at Curie and DuSable decided that — not a petition, not a ruling or any other adult-controlled factor.

If Mater Dei goes on to win the CIF Open Division state title without a loss and “unbeaten” Montverde Academy wins the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament, the easy thing to do would be to name a national co-champion since it’s hard to penalize Mater Dei without a loss or reward Montverde for a game it really didn’t win. Although its still potentially a month away, that scenario won’t ever happen in the FAB 50 and Hickman leans against it as well.

“I don’t really believe in co-champions. If you split hairs you can pick one team. I try to leave speculation out of the process.”

Burning questions 150What About Individual Honors?

Ever since his show-stopping performance against Montverde Academy, Curie’s Alexander has been the Mr. Basketball USA front-runner. National player of the year is the ultimate honor and from the rulings and stories surrounding the Curie fiasco, it would make zero sense to penalize Alexander at all because he wasn’t one of the ineligible players.

Just as Curie had a chance to continue playing — and winning — games, Alexander’s candidacy wasn’t changed by the Condors’ plight off the court.

Curie will obviously fall in next week’s FAB 50 — and could fall all the way out considering DuSable’s record. In light to Alexander, it will be interesting to see how much weight the Mr. Basketball USA panel puts into Alexander’s team coming up short of winning a state title. It could affect his candidacy drastically — or very little. That remains to be seen. After all, he did play well in Curie’s loss.

Keep in mind Mater Dei’s Stanley Johnson, another serious Mr. Basketball USA candidate, is gunning for a fourth consecutive CIF major division state title. His season potentially won’t end until the weekend before the McDonald’s All-American Game.

Alexander and Johnson are both scheduled to play at McDonald’s in Chicago, and what happens there is also taken into account when it comes to crowning the nation’s best player at the conclusion of the season.

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