Coach: Jim Wolfsmith (sixth season, 90-57)
Conference: Upstate Eight (Valley)
2011-12 record: 14-15, 4-8 UEC Valley
Top returning players: Seniors Marcus Aluquin (5-10, G), Justin Blanchett (6-4, F), Chris Kibler (6-4, F), Billy Kramer (6-2, G), Tim McKeague (6-1, G), John Moss (5-10, G), Nick Nekola (6-3, F), Mitch Reid (6-4, F), Matt Seidl (6-2, F), Lance Whitaker (6-4, G),
Top newcomers: juniors Justin Busch (5-10, G), Brian Triphahn (6-3, F), Kevin Wantroba (5-8, G)
Outlook: Bartlett immediately becomes a contender in the UEC Valley race with the return from injury of senior guard Lance Whitaker, an Illinois-Chicago recruit who missed his entire junior year due to a torn ACL. Whitaker, whose knee was repaired by the same surgeon who worked on Derrick Rose (Dr. Brian Cole), was cleared to resume playing basketball just weeks after the 2011-12 season ended. After an entire summer playing for the Hawks and his AAU team, Whitaker and his coach believe he is ready to lead Bartlett to a successful season. "Getting Lance back is huge," coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "As a sophomore he was our leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker. It's nice to get a player of that caliber back after an injury of that magnitude." Wolfsmith said Whitaker returns a better player after putting in time to fine-tune his ballhandling skills and improve his overall strength.
Third-year guards Marcus Aluquin and Jon Moss logged heavy minutes in Whitaker's absence last season. Both are talented ballhandlers with varsity experience who can initiate the offense, as can Whitaker. Those three are the team's most seasoned players. Football player Mitch Reid is Bartlett's most experienced big man. He'll be spelled by forwards Justin Blanchett, Chris Kibler and Brian Triphahn. Another forward is Billy Kramer, a hardworking role player who prefers to grab rebounds and takes charges rather than demand the ball. Wolfsmith said Matt Seidl could enjoy a breakout season after not playing many minutes as a junior. Tim McKeague and Nick Nekola will see expanded playing time as senior guards on the wing. Justin Busch, an athletic soccer goalie, could be an impact scorer right away. Guard Kevin Wantroba endured the exact same injury as Whitaker two years ago but has completely healed and is back at full strength, his coach said. Though the Hawks lack experience beyond the guard position, their depth will be a strength. "The first months of the season we'll be shifting guys minutes to see what they can do in different groups, to see who fits in what role and for how many minutes," Wolfsmith said. "We'll find out who can make big stops and take big shots. Even though we lost a lot of senior experience, I think we have depth and talent, which will make for some tough decisions as we try to fill roles."
Burlington Central Rockets
Coach: Brett Porto (fourth season, 45-37)
Conference: Big Northern (East)
2011-12 record: 16-12, 7-3 BN East
Top returning players: Seniors Zach Barry (6-2, F), Moter Deng (6-5, F), Dan McCurdy (6-5, F), Duncan Ozburn (6-0, C), Ryan Ritchie (5-11, G), Bryce Warner (6-2, F); junior Reed Hunnicutt (5-9, G)
Top newcomers: Sean Fitzgerald (6-0, F), James Raney (5-10, G), Brett Rau (6-0, G), Jacob Schutta (5-10, G)
Outlook: After back-to-back, 16-win seasons, the Rockets could push 20 victories and challenge for the Big Northern East title with one of the program's more balanced teams in recent memory. Four-year guard and all-time leading scorer Ray Hunnicutt now plays in the Baltimore Orioles farm system, but much talent returns. Good news: the thumb injury that ended senior Ryan Ritchie's football season is nearly healed. The third-year shooting guard should be back in the lineup no later than the Dec. 8 matchup against Hampshire, if not sooner, according to Central coach Brett Porto. Ritchie averaged 13.8 points last season when he led the Fox Valley area in made 3-pointers, shot at a 34.6-percent clip (72 of 214).
"We have a very, very deep team so we'd do fine without him, but he's a special player," Porto said. "Any coach would like to have him back with the things he can do on the court. We're looking forward to having him back whenever he can play." Another talented senior returning from injury is forward Moter Deng. Until a broken wrist ended his junior season after 16 games, Deng was averaging 4.5 points and 2.6 rebounds. Porto said Deng is playing like a larger version of 2010-11 leading scorer Sam Klein and has been dominant in practice. Deng has returned more physical, yet he still possesses the ability to play inside or outside and take advantage of mismatched defenders off the dribble. Junior guard Reed Hunnicutt returns for his second varsity season. He averaged 4.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and made 27 steals in 28 games as a sophomore. Also back are senior forward Bryce Warner and junior center Duncan Ozburn. Warner averaged 6.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in 28 games. Ozburn (3.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 38 blocks) grew two inches to 6-9 and now weighs 200 pounds.
When returning reserve Dan McCurdy plays alongside Ozburn and Deng, the Rockets frontcourt goes 6-9, 6-5, 6-5. That's a change for Porto, whose first three rosters at Central rarely listed a player taller than 6-1. Reserve guard Malik Harris scored 84 points and dished 32 assists in 26 games as a junior, and senior guard Charles Horton hit nine 3-pointers off the bench last year. Junior reserve guards James Raney, Brett Rau and Jacob Schutta and junior forward Sean Fitzgerald will all push for minutes. They led Central's sophomore team to the conference championship last season. "We'll play between six to 12 players and the rotation might be different every single night because we have a lot of options," Porto said. "In the past, a certain style allowed us to have good records, but in bigger games we were limited against team like Crystal Lake Central at regional time with some of the weapons they bring. This year we're hoping with all the depth and speed and options, we can play some different styles to counter teams and make them adjust to us. Hopefully, that pushes us over the hump this year."
Coach: Ralph Schuetzle (ninth season, 117-113)
Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)
2011-12 record: 8-21, 3-9 FVC Valley
Top returning players: seniors Alex Crowley (6-7, C), Dean Lee (6-4, C), Matt Motzel (5-11, G), Steve Plazak (6-0, F),
Top newcomers: juniors Clay Marunde (6-2, F), Tyler Szydlo (6-2, G), sophomore Jason Gregoire (6-2, G)
Outlook: Cary-Grove will change tactics this season. The Trojans previously played zone defense exclusively, but they are switching to man-to-man with occasional zone looks sprinkled into the mix. Offensively, a motion offense hybrid will be the predominant scheme. "We're trying to lay a foundation to have future success on a year-in, year-out basis," coach Ralph Schuetzle said. "It takes a while. Winning 8 games last year was frustrating, but we have to build on that and move forward. You don't go from 8 wins to 20 very easily, but we're in the process of rebuilding and changing our philosophy." The Trojans graduated the bulk of their starting lineup. Senior guard Steve Plazak saw the most minutes last season. He averaged 3.1 points and 3.2 rebounds in 25 games played. Plazak is a power forward who plays bigger than he is and can score from 15 feet in. He knows how to take the ball to the basket and draw fouls. Dean Lee's role will expand after playing in 18 games last year.
Long and lean, Lee (6-4, 185) will switch to a power forward/center role and play in the low block alongside 6-foot-7 Alex Crowley, who cuts a 215-pound swath in the paint. Guard Matt Motzel played well toward the end of last season. Not only did he score 20-plus points in 3 separate JV games, he scored 10 fourth-quarter points in a late-season victory over Woodstock. The team will get a boost from sophomore guard Jason Gregoire, a talented newcomer. However, he is the backup quarterback on the state semifinal football team and won't be available until that season ends. Schuetzle said Gregoire has a chance to be Cary-Grove's best player. He handles the ball well enough to play point guard but will instead play shooting guard due to his ability to sink perimeter shots. Junior Tyler Szydlo will play the point. Also a soccer player, Szydlo can cause matchup problems by penetrating and getting his floating shot off in the lane. Clay Marunde is an athletic slasher with a good jumpshot. "We're optimistic and the kids are optimistic," Schuetzle said. "We are athletic and we have a lot of depth. We have several guys who are very similar body types between 5-11 and 6-2. They are either athletic or they can shoot it, so we'll try to play more kids and press more as the year goes on. We want to be disruptive defensively and we want to score 50 points a game. I think we'll shoot it better than we have the last couple of years."
CL South Gators
Coach: Matt Lepage (first season)
Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)
2011-12 record: 9-19, 6-6 FVC Valley
Top returning players: seniors Alex Bartusch (6-1, G), Nick Geske (6-0, G), Max Meitzler (6-4, C), Eric Schiller (6-3, F), Stefan Smith (6-5, C) all state at one point together, senior
Top newcomers: senior Sam Schumaker (6-3, F); juniors Chris Mahoney (6-2, F), Austin Rogers (6-2, G)
Outlook: Matt LePage is approaching his first season as coach of the Gators with "guarded optimism" due to some returning starters and a mix of new talent. His team returns its top two scorers and four of its top five. "There are days when I feel we've got something," LePage said. "Saying that, changing systems, changing defenses, always takes a little bit of time. We do have a lot of experienced players coming back who have been through the grind, guys who are physical and understand the game. I think we can compete pretty well." The keystone is senior center Max Meitzler. He led the Gators last season in scoring (10.4) and rebounding (4.7). Also an all-area baseball player who hit .374 with 6 home runs last spring, Meitzler can mix it up in the paint or step out to the 3-point line, where he sank 22 of 67 attempts last season (32.8 percent). Nick Geske was second on the team in scoring last year (8.0 ppg) and finished with 42 steals, 40 assists and 20 3-pointers in 28 games. Another returning starter is Eric Schiller. The 6-3 forward averaged 4.8 points and 4.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.7 steals and shot 81 percent from the free-throw line.
Alex Bartusch (4.2 ppg,) is another guard who played in all 28 games last year. The school's junior quarterback, Austin Rogers, is expected to make an immediate impact at a guard position. Sam Schumaker and Stefan Smith will provide more box outs and rebounds, which will be critical to the man-to-man defense LePage wants to play. "If you're playing man and you don't rebound the ball well, it's not a very good defense," LePage said. "But I think we have some guys in there who can mix it up at 6-5. On the offensive side, the biggest thing is we're going to try to get out and run a little bit and play a little more in space, maybe some more ball-screen action, a little more motion. We had some success (in the summer). We try not to look at that too much, but we played some good teams and we'll try to carry that momentum over to the season."
Coach: Lance Huber (10th season, 134-114)
Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)
2011-12 record: 16-11, 9-3 FVC Valley
Top returning players: seniors JT Beasly (5-8, G), Brandon Brown (6-0, G), Jack Buckley (5-10, G), Latrell Crenshaw (6-1, G), Deota Conley (6-1, F), Dylan Kissack (6-3, F), Trent Muscat (6-2, F), Brandon Rodriguez (6-1, G), Tyree Williams (6-2, F); junior Cordero Parson (5-10, G)
Top newcomers: junior Zach Pochop (5-8, G)
Outlook: The Chargers are poised for a competitive season with a deep team consisting of nine returning seniors, led by guard Brandon Rodriguez and forward Dylan Kissack. Those two and junior Cordero Parson are the building blocks around which this team is crafted. An all-area guard who specializes in penetration, Rodriguez last year averaged 12.2 points on 137-of-259 shooting (52.9 percent), 4.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists. Kissack enters his fourth year on the varsity. Last year he led the Chargers with 112 rebounds and averaged 9.8 ppg. Kissack also sank 30 of 75 attempts from 3-point range. Parson came off the bench as a sophomore to score 3.7 ppg in a limited role, which has been expanded. One question mark is who will fill the void left by graduated shooting guard Kyle Bernhard, who sank 62 3-pointers last season. Players like Latrell Crenshaw, Brandon Brown and Trent Muscat will be counted on for more production as seniors.
For the Chargers to challenge Huntley for the FVC Valley title (D-C lost 3 games to Huntley last season), they must rebound better and limit their turnovers. Last season, Huntley badly outrebounded D-C in one of those losses, and the Chargers turned the ball over too many times in a loss to Larkin. In fact, D-C finished the 2011-12 season with more turnovers (366) than assists (330). "I like our team if we're able to rebound the ball and limit our turnovers, but that's a big if," D-C coach Lance Huber said. "We have some ability, but we really have to be cognizant of those two things." The Chargers are no taller than they were a year ago, so improvement on box outs will be critical to attain positive rebounding totals. Beyond Rodriguez, Kissack and Parson, playing time will go to the players who command it by practicing hard. "Guys continue to improve," Huber said. "We'll see how things play out and who puts in the time to get better."
Coach: Mike Sitter (sixth season, 86-59)
Conference: Upstate Eight (River)
2011-12 record: 26-4, 9-3 UEC River
Top returning players: seniors Tanner Bednar (5-11, W), Moses Gibson (6-1, W), Eric Sedlack (, F), Ryan Sitter (6-0, W), Arie Williams (5-10, W)
Top newcomers: junior Isaiah Butler (6-1, G); sophomore Malik Parham-Dunner
Outlook: The Maroons were among the most experienced teams in the area last season, but most of those experienced players now compete at the collegiate level. Senior point guard Arie Williams is the team's only returning starter. A four-year varsity performer who has grown a full foot in height since his freshman-year call-up, the bulked-up point guard enters his senior season with 701 career points. Williams was one part of a multifaceted attack in 2011-12, when he averaged 12.8 points and 2.4 assists, sank 48 of 117 3-point attempts (41 percent) and 90 of 125 free throws (72 percent). He must now make the adjustment to being the center of the opposing defense's attention. "We'll try to put Arie in space and feed off him," coach Mike Sitter said. "If they run a second guy at him, we have the pieces who can make shots and take advantage." Two of those pieces are starters Tanner Bednar and William Gibson, who learned valuable lessons last year by practicing daily against graduated veterans like all-area honorary captain Kory Brown (North Dakota State). Two more are senior Eric Sedlack and junior Ryan Sitter, the school's quarterback.
They were the only two players other than Williams who saw any meaningful minutes last season. Sedlack gives the Maroons a post presence and rebounder. Sitter gained some varsity experience last season when he filled in for an injured starter. Two players expected to make immediate impacts and play key roles are junior Isaiah Butler and sophomore Malik Parham-Dunner. Despite the squad's overall inexperience, Mike Sitter has reason to believe Elgin could surprise some opponents based on its 20-12 record in summer-league play. "I think our record this summer even surprised the kids a little bit," Sitter said. "We got to some finals of tournaments and jelled as a unit. I call them my peanut butter and jelly team because they came together just like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich." Elgin does not have the same talent level as a year ago, but the drive to succeed remains. "We never walk into a season having low expectations," Sitter added. "We always have high expectations. Whether we can fulfill them or not is a different story."
Elgin Academy Hilltoppers
Coach: Dewayne Robinson (second season, 9-15)
Conference: Independent School League
2011-12 record: 9-15, 2-10 ISL
Top returning players: seniors Zach Bohenick (6-4, F), Vito Maglio (5-8, g); junior Jumel Julian (5-8, G); sophomore Spencer Schael (6-5, C)
Top newcomers: sophomores Gannon Cottone (6-0, F), Iverson Zhou (6-4, F); freshmen Nate Johnson (6-1, G/F), Armin Ward
Outlook: The young Hilltoppers will likely find their groove as the season wears on as they adjust to playing without graduated Connor Flexman, the Fox Valley area's leading scorer a year ago (17.9 ppg). Junior Jumel Julian will take over the role of primary scorer with help from Zach Bohenick and Spencer Schael. Julian averaged 8 ppg as a sophomore. "We're looking for Jumel to do a lot of scoring for us, and we're looking to Zach and Spencer to shore up the inside for us," coach Dewayne Robinson said. "We have to create an offense that will really get our taller guys involved and provide opportunities for them. We want to put guys in position to score as soon as they catch the ball."
The only other returning player who saw meaningful minutes last season was guard Vito Maglio. Joining the backcourt is freshman swing man Nate Johnson, expected to contribute right away. Robinson said Johnson has "a nice inside-outside game." Sophomore Iverson Zhou is another swing man but primarily a small forward. A first-year player, he is a raw talent with good overall skills. Gannon Cottone is the basketball equivalent of a good fullback. He'll play power forward and box out. Freshman Armin Ward is a dependable reserve point guard. "We're young and we're doing a lot of teaching on the fly, but once this group understands the underlying principles of offense and defense we're teaching, they'll have a chance to be really good," Robinson said. "And most of this core will be around for the next two to three years, so there's a lot to build off. We're looking to improve every game."
Coach: Bob Barnett (11th season at Hampshire, 166-102; 26th season overall, 406-271)
Conference: Fox Valley (Fox)
2011-12 record: 17-11, 8-4 FVC Fox
Top returning players: seniors Ryan Cork (6-1, G), Tyler Crater (6-2, G), Mike Dumoulin (6-2, F), Shane Hernandez (6-6, C), Brendan Waterworth (6-0, F)
Top newcomers: senior Grant Bender (6-3, F) junior Matt Bridges (6-2, G/F); sophomore Jake Tuttle (6-4, F)
Outlook: Hampshire graduated its top two scorers, Tyler Watzlawick (15.4 ppg) and Brock Ralphs (11.4 ppg), but some experienced returnees should be able to pick up the slack. The Whip-Purs are headed by 6-6 center Shane Hernandez, athletic guard Tyler Crater, point guard Ryan Cork and forward Brendan Watherworth. A four-year varsity performer, Hernandez averaged 10 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior. He endured ankle trouble over the summer and now wears braces for added support. Crater is a three-sport athlete in his third varsity season. He scored 9 points per game last season and led the Whips with 50 3-pointers in 133 attempts (37.6 percent). Crater's off-season concentration centered on taking the ball to the rim authoritatively, coach Bob Barnett said. Cork was seventh in the area in assists as a junior (3.2 avg.) and scored 4.8 ppg. Waterworth has taken strides based on his play in practice, Barnett said. Hampshire had employed the Kansas motion offense (3 out/2 in) for the last two years when the roster had two big men in Watzlawick and Hernandez.
A return to a more typical motion offense this season should benefit perimeter players, Crater in particular. "We're going back to what I think I do well, and I think it fits this team pretty good, too," Barnett said. "We're working on reading screens and coming off screens and what to do at certain times and certain situations. Some are picking it up quickly and others are being introduced to it. We're taking our time. I told our guys don't be scared or timid to ask questions because we have to make sure this thing is in." Football player Grant Bender didn't play last season, but Hampshire will benefit from having this muscular 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior taking turns in the low post. Matt Bridges will join the guard rotation and sophomore Jake Tuttle joins the varsity after playing on the sophomore team last year as a freshman. He gives Hampshire added depth for the Fox Valley Conference battles ahead. "When we got into the FVC games last year, the other teams' benches were outplaying ours," Barnett said. "That's where we lost a lot of close games by 7, 5, 4 points or less. I'm hoping that won't be the case this time."
Harvest Christian Lions
Coach: Jeff Boldog (first season)
Conference: Northeast Athletic
2011-12 record: 9-18
Top returning players: seniors Jake Thome (5-9, G), Stuart Wolff (6-1, G); juniors Zach Alston (5-11, F), Robert Doby (6-2, F), Kyle Fritz (5-11, G), Dan Turpin (6-6, F), John Vislisel (6-7, C)
Top newcomers: seniors Matt Borst (6-1, 220), Colton Herrmann (6-0, F); sophomores Jake Adams (6-0, F), Phil Bernston (6-0, F), Noah Fox (5-9, G)
Outlook: The Lions begin their second IHSA season and their first as a member of the Northeast Athletic Conference with a new coach. Jeff Boldog takes over for Brian Clodi, who opted not to return. Boldog was the interim head coach of the Prairie Ridge girls basketball team last season and has been a coach in the successful PR football program for five years. He plans to implement the same schemes from the school's feeder level to its varsity level to ensure continuity.
"We want to develop a system and each year get better and better as a program," Boldog said. "We want to get some unity within the program by using the same terminology and running the same drills so by the time they get to (the varsity) the building blocks are already in place so we can work on fine tuning the offense and defense." Boldog insists his teams will focus on defense first. Offensively, the Lions return their top two leading scorers, 6-foot-7 junior John Vislisel and guard Stuart Wolff. Vislisel averaged 13.1 ppg and 7.5 rpg, and he blocked 21 shots in 27 games. Wolff averaged 12.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.3 apg and managed 24 steals. Junior Dan Turpin is another tall junior. He averaged 6.5 ppg and 6.3 rpg his sophomore season. Junior Kyle Fritz scored 5.7 ppg and returns an improved player, Boldog said. Senior Matt Borst is expected to play a key role in the paint with his 220-pound frame. All will get their chance in the new system. "Offensively, we want to space things out evenly and move the ball," Boldog said. "It's a motion-type of offense. We want guys moving without the ball. It will be fast paced. Our conference has some tough smaller schools like us, so we hope we can cause some rifts."
Huntley Red Raiders
Coach: Marty Manning (sixth year, 124-51)
Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)
2011-12 record: 26-4, 12-0 FVC Valley
Top returning players: seniors TJ Adams (5-11, G), Bryce Only (6-1, F), Amanze Egekeze (6-7, F), Tommy Regan (5-11, G), Jake Wagner (6-2, G)
Top newcomers: senior Damario Hughes (5-11, G); juniors Zach Gorney (6-4, F), Blake Jacobs (6-1, G), Dan Janus (6-3, F), Jason Shields (5-9, G)
Outlook: Huntley is gearing up for two very different halves of the upcoming season. The Red Raiders will play a four-guard offense for the first half of the season in the absence of high division-I prospect Amanze Egekeze, who underwent knee surgery in late September to repair patellar tendinitis. A doctor's visit on Tuesday ruled out his return until at least Jan. 7, according to coach Marty Manning, meaning Egekeze will miss the State Farm Classic Holiday Tournament in Bloomington in late December. Last year, the fluid Egekeze led Huntley with averages of 11.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg and 65 blocked shots. More talent remains, however. Returning all-area forward Bryce Only has been dominant in practice thus far, according to his coach. A four-year varsity player committed to Nebraska to play baseball, the hardworking senior averaged 9 points, 4.6 rebounds and finished with 67 assists and 58 steals in 29 games. Only is among the most tenacious defenders in the FVC.
Perimeter scoring will fall to players like Jake Wagner, who was one of the team's most effective scorers over the summer. Wagner was thrust into a larger role once returning guard Ryan Craig (3.4 ppg) was lost for the season due to a torn ACL. TJ Adams becomes the starting point guard after seeing action in 27 games as a backup. Tommy Regan will start until Egekeze returns. He played sparingly last season but has the ability to make plays and shoot the ball, Manning said. A new player expected to crack the rotation early is 6-4 junior Zach Gorney, who last year led the sophomore team in scoring and rebounding. Blake Jacobs, Dan Janus and Jason Shields each will see the floor in backup roles. The offense and lineup will be adjusted when Egekeze returns early in 2013. "That will be our biggest challenge, changing roles when Amanze gets back," Manning said. "The good thing is all those young guys will get an opportunity to show us what they an do in the early going and we'll know their roles by the time the conference season comes around. I thought this would be our best team in the last three years, our most talented and experienced group. I hope that's still the case. It depends on how healthy Amanze is because he's a huge part of that talent. Even if he's not back for some reason, this team reminds me of the team we had a few years ago with Dylan Neukirch and Tyler Brunschon. We'll spread the floor and make you cover us all over the place."
Jacobs Golden Eagles
Coach: Jim Hinkle (17th season at Jacobs, 253-200; 38th season overall, 520-500)
Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)
2011-12 record: 7-22, 4-8 FVC Valley
Top returning players: seniors Ryan Billings (6-3, G), Nick Ledinsky (6-4, F), Patrick Nerja (5-9, G), Lake Ojo (6-4, F), Will Schwerdtmann (6-3, F)
Top newcomers: junior Billy Castellano (6-3, F); sophomore Chrishawn Orange (5-11, PG)
Outlook: The final lap for retiring coach Jim Hinkle could be an interesting one with two returning starters and a former reserve poised to make a splash. The Golden Eagles return seniors Will Schwerdtmann and Nick Ledinsky, the team's second and third-leading scorers in 2011-12, respectively. Schwerdtmann averaged 8.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and blocked 16 shots. The versatile forward is equally comfortable taking the ball to the rim or shooting from the outside. Ledinsky finished his junior year with 8 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 27 steals. They will be joined by improved guard Lake Ojo. A reserve last season when he scored only 47 points and grabbed 59 rebounds in 24 games, Hinkle said Ojo "has made a big jump and is going to be a player to watch. He's become a monster on the boards." Improved guard Ryan Billings has the size to cause matchup problems (6-3). Senior Patrick Nerja and promising sophomore Chrishawn Orange will both see time at point guard.
Nerja appeared in 16 games last season. Orange is a dynamic playmaker who Hinkle predicts will have a big impact on Fox Valley Conference basketball before his three-year varsity career is over. Jacobs possesses one of the more athletic teams in the Fox Valley. When Schwerdtmann, Ledinsky, Ojo, Billings and Orange are on the floor together, all five Golden Eagles have the ability to dunk the basketball. They'll take those dunks when presented, but the main goal is to score 70 points per game no matter the method. "I told them if they score their coach's age and win, I'll take them all for wild wings," joked Hinkle, 70. "This team has great versatility with all these guys in the 6-2 to 6-4 range. We have good length and we're very athletic. I think we're good, but I always think we're good. I'm not always right, but I always think we should be loading the van to Peoria. The kids are excited about the season and I'm excited about it, too."
Coach: Deryn Carter (fourth season, 21-61)
Conference: Upstate Eight (River)
2011-12 record: 16-12, 5-7 UEC River
Top returning players: seniorsJason Barnhart (6-2, F), Quantice Hunter (6-1, G), Quentin Ruff (6-0, G); juniors Drew Jones (6-6, F), Kendale McCullum (6-0, G), Derrick Streety (5-10, G); sophomore Daniel McFadden (6-5, F/C).
Top newcomers: senior Hannibal Marshall (Sr. 6-0, G); juniors Taylor Boley (6-0, G), Brayden Royse (6-5, F)
Outlook: This should be the breakthrough season Larkin coach Deryn Carter and his staff have been building toward for two years. After winning only 4 games in 2010-11, Larkin jumped to 16 wins in 2011-12. The talent-rich Royals have the right blend of experienced guards and skilled big men to contend with St. Charles East and St. Charles North for the Upstate Eight River title. "We're excited where the program is at," Carter said. "We hope to have a good year is the best way to say it. We've been lining it up for the last couple of years. I think the future is bright, and not for just one good year. We hope to be a team everybody in the northwest suburbs knows as one of the best around." The Royals are deep at guard which allows Carter to implement a fast, relentless style of offense and trapping defense from baseline to baseline.
That unit is led by returning starters Quantice Hunter (11.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 3.1 spg) and Derrick Streety (9.6 ppg, 2.8 apg), both fluid scorers and deft ballhandlers. Streety handles the point. Shooting guard Hunter nailed 52 3-pointers last season. Quentin Ruff led the Royals in 3-pointers a year ago with 56. Junior Kendale McCullum joined the varsity as a sophomore for the final 12 games of the season and averaged 4.8 points and 2.5 assists. Junior Drew Jones (4.9 ppg, 4 rpg) and sophomore Daniel McFadden (3 ppg, 2.8 rpg) form the nucleus of a strong inside game along with junior Brayden Royse, though Jones, who has grown 2 inches and added muscle, can also hit the outside shot. The addition of Brayden Royse, also a talented baseball player, gives the Royals another big body in the block. The guard position gains even more depth with the additions of Hannibal Marshall, who transferred back to Larkin after two years away, and Taylor Boley. Both will play roles. The Royals see no reason why they can't challenge for the UEC River title. "From the outside people might think either St. Charles East or St. Charles North are the favorites, but we split with both of them last year," Carter said. "They both have high profiles, but I like the kids we have. I'm going to enjoy going into game nights with those guys because they compete so hard."
South Elgin Storm
Coach: Chaz Taft (seventh season, 86-84)
Conference: Upstate Eight (Valley)
2011-12 record:12-16, 3-9 UEC Valley
Top returning players: Senior Ryne Lundy (6-4, F); junior Darius Wells (5-9, G)
Top newcomers: juniors Chris Gibadlo (6-5, F), Robert Graham (6-4, F), Matt McClure (5-9, G); freshman Matt Smith (5-10, G)
Outlook: South Elgin has enjoyed roster continuity through its first six seasons as a varsity program with a smattering of experienced players returning each season. That's not the case this year. Only junior guard Darius Wells started regularly for the Storm in 2011-12. Their most experienced player had been senior Jake Maestranzi, an all-area point guard and three-year starter who transferred to Niles Notre Dame in the off-season. "It's kind of a different team than we've had in a while," coach Chaz Taft said. "I don't believe we've ever had less than three guys coming back on a team. Now we have one. Guys are trying to find their niche and their roles and how to contribute to the team. We're still trying to work out the kinks in the rotation right now, but it will be a combination of multiple guys helping out with all five acting as one to get it done."
Wells was the team's second-leading scorer last year with 7.9 ppg. He sank 38 3-pointers and shot 48 of 128 from the field (37.5 percent). Center Ryne Lundy will play a key role. He scored 52 points and grabbed 38 rebounds in 17 games as a junior, including a few starts. Junior guard Matt McClure will step into a starting role. Senior guards Jacobs Hicks (5-9), Matt Padron (5-7) and Devonte Cager (5-5) will see time in the rotation after playing 9 games combined last season. Promising freshman guard Matt Smith will play with the varsity but will have to earn his minutes in practice. According to his coach, Smith is an intense competitor who raises the intensity of practices and adds depth to the position. "Our guards are very, very athletic," Taft said. "There's going to be a lot more scoring opportunities for our guards, who will now have the ability to create their own shots. They're young and inexperienced other than Darius, but they're very crafty with the ball and have the ability to take the ball to the basket very strong. But this game is 90 percent mental and they still have a lot to learn."
Coach: Tim Jones (sixth season, 41-94)
Conference: Upstate Eight (River)
2011-12 record: 4-22, 1-11 UEC River
Top returning players: seniors Zach Harris (6-9, C), Jacob Kiesel (5-10, G), Joel Lightbourne (6-3, F), Jacob Siewert (6-0, G), Kyle Strong (6-0, G), Vince Williams (6-1, G/F)
Top newcomers: seniors Ryan Dichoso (6-0, G) Trevious Norman (5-10, G); sophomore Cole Seeger (6-3, F)
Outlook: Retiring head coach Tim Jones' final team has potential if the players can stay healthy. The Sabres were hit hard by injuries last season. Senior center Zach Harris, who has gained interest from small division-I college programs, missed most of his junior year due to a preseason foot injury. Harris concentrated on basketball over the summer, playing AAU ball and upping his weight to 230 pounds. Athletic senior Joel Lightbourne scored 140 points in 20 games last season before his campaign was ended by injury. He returned for summer-league ball only to break his wrist early on. Finally healthy, Lightbourne could be a force for the Sabres if he remains in the lineup. Point guard Jacob Siewert is a returning starter who worked diligently with assistant coach Paul Kowalyszyn to improve. Siewert is an excellent ballhandler who can drive to the basket and shoot from the perimeter, Jones said.
Ultra-athletic Kyle Strong is practicing with controlled speed. Senior Vince Williams is a strong-bodied forward who can box out and score. He, too, battled injuries last season. With added players like 6-5 sophomore Cole Seeger, guard Ryan Dichoso and senior transfer Trevious Norman, Streamwood strikes an overall balance between perimeter talent and post strength. Jones was initially planning to elevate four sophomores to the varsity this season, but he reconsidered based on the number of improved, healthy players on the varsity roster. Jones will leave the program in good shape with robust interest at the lower levels: 23 sophomores and 24 freshmen were kept after 80 underclassmen tried out. "And we had huge numbers in our summer camp," Jones said. "I'm real happy. And I'm happy with how this team is practicing. This is a pretty experienced group, and they are practicing well. I expect good things, though I know the conference is tough."
St. Edward Green Wave
Coach: P.J. White (third year, 20-38)
Conference: Suburban Christian (Gold)
2011-12 record: 11-17, 3-7 SCC Gold
Top returning players: seniors Antonio Domel (PG), Adrian Ponce (6-3, C)
Top newcomers: senior Nicholas Boulay (6-2, F); juniors Conall Brannon (6-2, C), John Butzow (6-0, G), Mike Butzow (6-0, G), Logan Danner (6-4, C), Michael Kelly (5-8, G), Ryan Matthews (6-3, F), Austin Murray (6-0, G), Christian Rivera (5-11, F); sophomores Nick Duffy (6-4, F), Danny Favela (6-3, F)
Outlook: St. Edward improved from 8 wins in 2010-11 to to 11 wins last season. With two returning senior starters and a crop of younger talent, third-year coach P.J. White hopes to continue the program's upward trajectory. "The makeup of our team has gone from a lot of players who were 5-foot-8 or 5-9 to 6-3, 6-4," White said. "We're young with a bunch of juniors and sophomores, but I think we'll be really competitive with every team we play. We'll be able to play up around the rim and run up and down the floor and get after people." Senior point guard Antonio Domel and 6-4 forward Adrian Ponce are the team's only returning seniors. Domel averaged an area-best 4.3 assists to go with 7.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 69 steals. Ponce averaged 6.5 ppg and 5.6 rpg.
They will be joined by Ryan Matthews and Danner Logan, who lend the Green Wave added rebounding ability, as will Northridge Prep transfer Conall Brannon. Guard Austin Murray can score, and twins John and Michael Butzow both specialize in draining 3-pointers. Sophomores Nick Duffy (6-4) and Danny Favela (6-3) should have immediate impacts. Both players, along with Matthews, played in a few varsity games late last season to get their feet wet. Michael Kelly will help with point guard duties and Nick Boulay and Christian Rivera give the lineup more depth. "It's hard to meld three classes together, but the two seniors we have returning are really tried and tested," White said. "It's a matter of how good the other guys can be, and I think the sky is the limit. They just have to keep working hard like our last two teams have worked and maybe we can have a little more success than last year."
Westminster Christian Warriors
Coach: Bruce Firchau (eighth season at Westminster Christian, 118-79; 36th season overall, 501-417)
Conference: Northeast Athletic
2011-12 record: 17-13, 5-3 NEC
Top returning players: seniors Colin Brandon (6-1, G), Tim Rodgers (6-0, F), Will Woodhouse (6-1, G); junior Aaron Wiewel (6-1, F); sophomores Sam Carani (6-4, F/C), Robert Kleczynski (6-1½), Brian McDonaugh (6-2, C),
Top newcomers: junior Connor Rejman (5-11, G); sophomore Luke Weston (6-0, F); freshmen Brad Barker (6-3, F), Dillon Rejman (5-8, G)
Outlook: A bevy of returning starters has Westminster Christian poised for its seventh straight winning season, and an influx of young talent might extend that streak in future years. The Warriors return leading scorer Will Woodhouse, one of the better players in the Northeast Conference. As a junior, he sank 65 3-pointers and averaged 14.9 points, the seventh-highest total in the Fox Valley area. "He's quick and he can get hot," Westminster coach Bruce Firchau said. "I think he's improved since last year, which is what you want to see as a coach." Woodhouse's cousin, Colin Brandon, came on strong at the end of last season and the Warriors heated up as a result, winning 5 straight before they fell to Hinckley-Big Rock in a Class 1A regional title game. Brandon averaged 7.5 ppg and is poised to improve those numbers after working in the off-season with Elgin and Illinois graduate Sean Harrington, Firchau said.
Sam Carani played sparingly in the second half of the season due to an ailing back. Robert Kleczynski started in his place and gained valuable experience while averaging 5.5 ppg and notching some double-doubles. He runs the floor as hard as any player Firchau has coached at Westminster. Carani and Kleczynski will play together and give the Warriors an effective high-low combination. Aaron Wiewel became a starter after the holidays last season. He can penetrate and dish the ball. Tim Rodgers will spark the Warriors off the bench with his play in the post. Brian McDonaugh has a long reach for a sophomore, and Luke Weston is tough to guard inside or outside with his ability to ball fake. Firchau calls 6-3 forward Brad Barker "the most talented freshman in my eight years here." An explosive leaper, Barker can already touch 10 feet, 7 inches. Freshman Dillon Rejman from Barrington is the cagey point guard of the future with court smarts. The Warriors will play a stepped-up schedule that includes matchups with St. Francis de Sales, Northridge Prep and a mostly Class 3A holiday tournament at Marengo. "No doubt we'll be better than last year," Firchau said. "Will our record show it? I have no idea because the schedule is stronger this year. But I've really enjoyed the first week and a half of practice because these players practice hard and they practice well. I would like to see our passing get better. We're still reckless or careless with the ball and that needs to improve."