Usually, Bloom’s Jaden Clark is in charge of defending the opponent’s top offensive player.

It’s a job he takes seriously.

“I watch videos of our opponents on my computer,” Clark said. “I watch who I’m matched up with. I watch who the shooters are. I keep all of that in my head.”

To hear coach Dante Maddox talk, the senior guard/forward plays heads-up defense.

And with Clark’s help Wednesday night, third-seeded Bloom beat second-seeded Marist 56-45 in the Class 4A Rich Township Sectional semifinals in Richton Park.

Elijah Lovemore led with 18 points, Payton Edwards added 12 and Amare Pryor had 11 for the Blazing Trojans (19-9), who advance to play at 7 p.m. Friday against Homewood-Flossmoor (29-4) in the sectional championship game.

TJ Tate and Darshan Thomas scored 12 points apiece for Marist (29-5), which had its 13-game winning streak snapped.

Clark’s job was to keep Thomas from doing too much damage, especially when it came to the Marist standout’s ability to score on offensive rebounds.

“Jaden Clark … if you watch him in the playoffs, you can see that he’s becoming a little bit of a star,” Maddox said. “Look at his all-around game.

“You may not see it, but he is scoring at all three levels. He’s locking up the best player on the other team, and he’s doing it consistently. He’s peaking at the right time.”

Bloom’s Jaden Clark poses after his team’s win over Marist in the Class 4A Rich Township Sectional semifinals in Richton Park on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Jeff Vorva / Daily Southtown)

Maddox said the 6-foot-6 Clark has been playing so well lately that Wednesday’s performance was his worst in the last month. And that wasn’t a criticism.

Lovemore also loves what he sees in Clark.

“He’s very good on defense because he’s long and athletic,” Lovemore said. “He’s just an athlete, man. One of us is usually guarding the best player — nine times out of 10.

“Players don’t see long players like him defending them, so it’s very frustrating for them.”

The Blazing Trojans are making a habit out of frustrating the RedHawks.

Last season, Bloom knocked Marist out of the postseason with a 66-54 victory in the regional final. Leirre Collier, a transfer from Marist, Michael Garner and Clark combined for 31 points. Collier and Garner graduated, but now the new faces are putting up a roadblock for the RedHawks.

Bloom, which suffered a 49-39 setback to sectional final opponent H-F on Nov. 24 in the Chicago Heights Classic championship game, has been encountered some issues in the playoffs as well.

The last time Bloom won a sectional title was 2012, when the Blazing Trojans went on to finish fourth in the state in Class 4A. Jasper Williams, who is now an assistant coach with the Blazing Trojans, was head coach at the time.

After opening this season with an 8-3 record, Bloom hit a rough patch both on and off the court while navigating a tough schedule that featured 14 ranked teams.

Bloom coach Dante Maddox, left, and assistant Jasper Williams give instructions during a timeout in the third quarter against Marist in the Class 4A Rich Township Sectional semifinals in Richton Park on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Jeff Vorva / Daily Southtown)

“We’ve had guys who were sick and injured, and nobody know the adversity we’ve had,” Maddox said. “Right up to the playoffs, we had six people in practice.”

“We’ve played a lot of different teams and a lot of good teams, and what we are seeing now, we’ve seen before,” Lovemore said. “We had some adversity, but we are making sure that we are playing hard, and no matter the outcome, we can say we gave it our all.”

Clark, meanwhile, is getting some interest from junior colleges. A deeper run into the playoffs could punch up his stock with recruiters.

He pointed out he was only 5-10 in eighth grade, his height increasing in high school.

He said he’s played basketball since he was age 3. His father, Lamar, played at Alabama State and overseas. Jaden inherited his father’s love for the game.

“I love everything about basketball, and I’ve always loved it since I was a kid,” Clark said. “It’s something I’ve loved doing for a long time.”

Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.



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