Marist’s Stephen Brown (5) takes the ball to the rim for a dunk against Eisenhower.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times
A handful of sophomores will spend the next three seasons battling for the top spot in the Class of 2026.
Benet’s Gabe Sularski had a sensational summer and is the hot name right now. Marist’s Stephen Brown was the first to emerge. He was in the RedHawks’ rotation last season, played plenty of minutes and gave tantalizing glimpses about what the future might hold.
‘‘[Brown] has as much talent as anybody in the state and, when he plays hard, is as good as anybody in the state,’’ Marist coach Brian Hynes said.
Brown opened his sophomore season Monday against Eisenhower in Blue Island. The 6-8 wing, just a few weeks removed from playing receiver on the RedHawks’ football team, is beginning to deliver on his early promise. He had 18 points, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks, made a three-pointer and threw down a soaring dunk in a 77-37 victory.
‘‘Stephen has the potential to make it to the [NBA],’’ Marist senior Darshan Thomas said. ‘‘His talent is crazy. He’s the real deal.’’
Brown says football has helped him with his stamina and conditioning. He’s ready to accept the challenge and the hype that comes with competing for the top spot in his class.
‘‘I just have to play my heart out and not worry about everything else,’’ Brown said.
It was a dream season opener for the No. 8 RedHawks. In addition to Brown, Thomas — a transfer from Fenwick — instantly clicked with his new teammates and finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds.
‘‘They made me feel at home, and that’s why I’m so comfortable,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘I really appreciate them.’’
Thomas is the only senior starter. Marist starts two other talented sophomores, Adoni Vassilakis and TJ Tate, along with Brown. Junior Achilles Anderson, a 6-5 forward, is the other starter, and junior Marquis Vance added 13 points off the bench.
‘‘When I first met them, a lot of them couldn’t even drive,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘I’ve been trying to build a bond with them and take them underneath my wing and give them everything I have.’’
It seems too soon to put high expectations on such a young team, and Hynes is taking things slowly.
‘‘They had so much experience last year, and to bring in a senior leader like Darshan has really made our locker room special,’’ Hynes said. ‘‘[Vassilakis] is the most competitive kid I’ve ever seen. So we will see.’’
Marist has featured talented young teams in the past — before Hynes — and lost players to other schools, especially Public League powers.
‘‘That won’t happen,’’ Brown said. ‘‘We’ve talked about it, and we love each other and playing here. We are sticking together.’’
Eisenhower’s leading scorer, senior AJ Abrams, went down with an injury five minutes into the game and didn’t return. Darrion Pippen led the Cardinals with 18 points.
‘‘We wanted a test early, and maybe it is a little humbling now to see where the bar is set,’’ Eisenhower coach Neil Miguez said. ‘‘But we know that’s where we have to get. We’re small. We have to be athletic and we have to be fast. We weren’t today.’’