It's true that one week does not make a season but what an opening week it was for the four Tri-Cities basketball teams.
Batavia (2-1), Geneva (5-0), St. Charles East (4-0) and St. Charles North (3-1) combined to finish 14-2 during last week's annual Thanksgiving tournaments held throughout the area.
It didn't take too long for Geneva's Nate Navigato to make his presence felt, as the 6-foot-6 guard/forward began his varsity career by hitting the game-winning shot during the Vikings' 44-42 season-opening victory over Marmion at West Chicago.
By the end of the week, Navigato had earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors after producing 3 consecutive 20-plus-point efforts in the Vikings' wins over West Chicago (21 points), Lake Zurich (20 points), and Addison Trail (career-high 25 points).
Not bad for a sophomore.
Something tells me that Geneva coach Phil Ralston was already thinking about Friday night's Upstate Eight Conference River Division opener at Batavia moments after his team's title-winning performance at West Chicago.
At St. Charles East, a more familiar name helped lead the Saints to the title at the 54th annual Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament.
Purdue-bound senior Kendall Stephens poured in 97 points in 4 games, capped by his 31-point outing against state-ranked St. Joseph and 30-point performance during the Saints' 61-42 championship game triumph over cross-town rival St. Charles North.
Not surprisingly, the 6-5 shooting guard was named tournament MVP.
Scoop on Stephens: Sometimes it seems as if Stephens glides across the court in effortless fashion to get his points.
Despite shooting the ball 35 times (making 20) over his team's last 2 tourney contests, Saints coach Patrick Woods wouldn't mind a few more field-goal attempts from his 4-year varsity veteran.
"He's shooting more than 50 percent from the field," said Woods. "I'm thinking he should take more shots."
His scoring aside, Woods also expressed a great deal of excitement for Stephens' improved overall floor game.
"We all know he can shoot and score but what I like more than anything is that he's being more of a vocal leader," said the coach. "He's telling teammates where to go position-wise on the court, and he's more demanding of his teammates. That's huge."
Stephens, who suffered a torn labrum during preseason practice, showed no signs of distress throughout the tourney.
"You can't even tell he's hurt -- it's crazy," said Woods.
"If he keeps on this pace, Mr. Basketball is not out of the realm of possibility nor is (being named) all-state," added the coach.
As for me, I'm just selfishly hoping Stephens elects to put off shoulder surgery and plays his entire senior season.
More Saints stuff: Stephens was far from a 1-man team this past week, as all-tournament junior guard Dom Adduci absorbed his share of punishment from opposing defenses despite being hobbled with sprained ankles.
"He got a little angry with some bumping that was going on," Woods said after the win over St. Joseph. "He's a competitor. He doesn't back down from anyone."
The Saints also received support from starters David Mason, Ben Skoog, and Dan Wilkerson, as well as solid bench play from senior guards Ethan Griffiths, Jimmy Liss, Joren Wilson, junior forward AJ Washington, sophomore guards Jake Asquini and Cole Gentry, and freshman guard James McQuillan.
"We're still working on rotations," said Woods. "We've got five guys log-jammed at the guard spot and we can play 11-12 legitimately. I think four of those guys are pretty much interchangeable."
Winning its own tourney title was quite an accomplishment but Woods knows what lies ahead, beginning with Thursday's home clash against Larkin (4-0), which captured last week's Hoops for Healing Tournament in Woodstock.
"Larkin gave us our worst home loss last year," Woods said of the Saints' 62-43 mid-January loss to the Royals. "We've got to stay focused."
North Stars shine bright: Despite the championship game loss, St. Charles North earned its best finish in 6 tries at the Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament.
Loyola-bound Quinten Payne, who scored 71 points in 4 games, tried his best to keep the North Stars close by accounting for more than half of his team's offense with 22 points last Saturday against St. Charles East.
"I thought that Quinten poured his heart out there and played very, very hard," said North Stars coach Tom Poulin.
Payne was joined on the 10-member all-tournament squad by junior teammate Alec Goetz, who scored 14 points in North's 67-50 victory over Plainfield East on Nov. 20.
The North Stars also received contributions from starters Tony Neari, Justin Stanko, Kyle Swanson and reserves Jack Callaghan, Ryan Thomas, Jake Ludwig and Erik Miller.
"If you can play team defense for 32 minutes, you can play with anybody," said Poulin. "That's what we're working toward.
"I'll take 3-1 here," added Poulin, whose team opens UEC River play at Streamwood Thursday night. "I think we got down (against St. Charles East) and then we pressed and broke away from the team concept. I guess we have to go through a game like this to learn from it and move on."
Rematch rescheduled: Due to the fact that both St. Charles teams advanced to last Saturday's championship game, this weekend's regularly scheduled contest has been rescheduled. St. Charles North will visit St. Charles East on Friday, Jan. 18, and then play host to the Saints on Saturday, Feb. 2.
Two … and counting: I knew it was coming but I'll admit I was still caught off guard when I heard the words spoken by longtime Batavia basketball public address announcer Rudy Dubis just prior to last Wednesday's Bulldogs season opener against Kaneland at the 37th annual Ken Peddy Windmill City Classic.
"The Bulldogs are coached by Mr. Jim Nazos," said Dubis.
Nazos, who succeeded 27-year Batavia coach Jim Roberts (455 wins) following his resignation, guided the Bulldogs to a pair of victories last week.
All-tournament senior guard Mike Rueffer and senior forward Zach Strittmatter each scored 13 points in Batavia's 57-46 win over Crystal Lake South last Saturday.
The Bulldogs played man-to-man defense throughout the tourney.
"We're adjusting to it," said Rueffer. "As the process goes, I think we'll do a better job of working his philosophy."
"I think we're a team that is going to get better defensively as the year goes on," said Nazos, who previously coached at Wheaton North. "We're very coachable and that's a great start to anything you want to do."
Answer to the mystery: One of the biggest unanswered questions to come from last weekend's St. Charles East Thanksgiving Tournament -- when was the last time the Saints won their own tourney?
"Some people were saying it hasn't happened since the late 1970s," said Saints coach Patrick Woods. "No one is really sure. It's still a mystery."
Ask no more.
"We won it in 1994," said Hall of Fame coach Ron Johnson, for whom the tourney has been renamed. "We beat East Aurora in the finals."
Johnson added that his 1994-95 team included Casey Dodson, Kevin DiPiazza, Shaun Catey and Jason Nord.
"We had a pretty good team that year," added Johnson, whose squad went 23-7 and advanced to the supersectionals before losing to Hersey.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org
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