The early surprise of the boys basketball season has been surging St. Edward.
The Green Wave defeated Marian Central in Woodstock Tuesday to improve to 8-1 overall, 1-0 in the Gold Division of the Suburban Christian Conference. The Wave won 11 games last season.
St. Edward fans have reason to be excited about a team poised for success in both the near and long term. The 14-man squad has only two seniors: 6-foot-4 forward Adrian Ponce and 5-7 point guard Antonio Domel.
Ponce was named MVP of the Westminster Christian Thanksgiving Tournament after leading the Green Wave in scoring. He averages 11.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, both team highs. Domel led the Fox Valley area in assists as a junior and is averaging 4.2 assists through 9 games.
The differences between this team and coach P.J. White's previous squads are stark. In recent years St. Edward attacked with one or two top scorers. However, this team has balance. Four players scored in double figures Tuesday, led by junior guard DeVontae Elam's 17 points off the bench.
"We play like we practice, and in practice we just move and move and move," Ponce said. "When coach tells us to move, we move. That's how our points come. We're tough and we hustle. We have shooters who are unselfish and look into the post. It seems like we have everything."
St. Edward also has height. Seven of the 14 players measure between 6-2 and 6-4. The team uses its length to its advantage while pressing and trapping, which leads to easy points in transition. It also helps that forwards like sophomores Nick Duffy (6-4) and Danny Favela (6-3) happen to be adept interior passers in addition to being dependable scoring options.
"When we get the ball in the lane, we turn and look," Duffy said. "If someone has an easier shot, give it up. If you have a shot, take it."
"Everyone can take a dribble and shoot, but those aren't good shots," Domel said. "It's that one extra pass that gets people open for layups."
St. Edward's greatest asset might be a young roster that prides itself on work ethic.
"It's not just five guys and it's not just seven -- it's 14," White said. "And the 14 guys are all coming to practice every day busting their butt because they want to get into the game. When you have a high level of competition in practices, it equates to victories.
"We are still very young and only have two seniors on the team. When you think about all the really good state championship teams, they are usually senior dominated, and we don't have that. I thought it would be a struggle, a little bit more up and down because we are so young. But the young guys are coming through and the old guys are working hard."
St. Edward will attempt to avenge its only loss of the season tonight at Montini (5-1, 1-0). The Green Wave lost a nonconference game to the Broncos at the Aurora Christian post-Thanksgiving Tournament, 52-39.
"That was a long bus ride, we were 5-0 and we thought we were going to walk all over them," Domel said. "We thought it would be easy and we just blew it."
Back comes Barnett: Recovering Hampshire boys basketball coach Bob Barnett intends to return to the sideline next week, he said Thursday.
Barnett, 51, suffered two heart attacks on Nov. 20, the opening day of Hampshire's season. He was released the following day. The veteran coach was notified earlier this week he will be inducted to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in April.
"I'm doing great," Barnett said. "I feel good. The doctor said I can get back to work next week. I was at school (Thursday) to get some things in order. I'll coach practice on Monday to get ready for the next game."
Barnett's first game will be Tuesday at Marengo. He had hoped to be cleared in time to coach against rival Burlington Central this Saturday, but his doctor advised him to wait.
"I'm looking forward to getting back," he said. "I've missed it. I knew I loved the game, but I didn't realize how much I would miss the kids and the everyday interaction. When I was in the hospital room, my wife Marcie and I talked about it and thought maybe it's time to get out, that maybe this was a warning. But this experience has made me think I might be sticking around for a while. I can't just sit around the house. I'd lose my mind sitting here."
Bartlett invades South Elgin: It's an important weekend for the Upstate Eight Conference teams from District U-46.
Elgin (3-2, 0-0), Larkin (5-2, 1-1), South Elgin (2-4, 0-1) and Bartlett (4-2, 1-0) each play back-to-back games, while Streamwood (3-3, 1-1) is in action tonight at Elgin.
The weekend slate includes key UEC River division games like Larkin at St. Charles North (4-1, 1-0) and Elgin at Geneva (7-0, 1-0), but the highlight among U-46 schools is the first of two UEC Valley tilts between rivals Bartlett and South Elgin.
The Hawks, led by UIC-bound guard Lance Whitaker and fellow senior guards John Moss and Marcus Aluquin, have won 2 straight. Bartlett last week defeated Elgin on the road (67-53) and Lake Park (53-37).
"Realistically, it doesn't take much for either team to get up to play each other," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "Without a doubt South Elgin is our biggest rival and I'm sure they'd say the same thing about us. It's always a good game because they are well coached. Chaz (Taft) knows what we run and how to defend it, and we have a lot of respect for the way he prepares his team. They will battle you."
South Elgin is a work in progress with only one returning starter from a year ago, junior guard Darius Wells. Its raucous gym should be energized for the Storm's first home game, a welcome sight for players coming off 3 straight road losses at Lake Park (45-40), Waubonsie Valley (63-41) and Geneva (58-51).
"We look good at times and we struggle in some areas, like initiating the offense and guys not really understanding shot selection and where we need to get the ball to at certain times," Taft said. "But that's the lack of experience when you only have one guy coming back. Every single day in practice there is teaching go on, from teaching kids to tie their shoes correctly to walk on the practice floor to getting better at everything. Hopefully, we just keep doing that and it builds on itself."
Both teams are back in action Saturday at 6 p.m. Bartlett will host Waubonsie Valley (4-2, 1-1) and South Elgin hosts Metea Valley (2-4, 1-1).
Jacobs makes home debut: Jacobs returns to action for the first time since Nov. 24 with challenging, back-to-back Fox Valley Conference Valley Division games this weekend. The Golden Eagles (0-3) host defending champion Huntley (3-1) in the league opener tonight at 7 p.m. and travel to surprising Cary-Grove (5-1) Saturday at 7 p.m.
Jacobs hopes its shooting touch has improved since its 3 losses at the Quincy Thanksgiving Tournament. The Golden Eagles shot 15 percent from 3-point range (6 of 40), 55 percent from the free-throw line (16 of 29) and connected on just 40 percent of their 2-point attempts.
"We're just anxious to get back out on the court because we think we can do better," said retiring 70-year old coach Jim Hinkle, whose team's goal is to score his age in every game. The Eagles have scored 56, 51 and 25 points in their 3 losses.
"I hope it was just one of those things," Hinkle said of his team's errant aim. "We played pretty good basketball overall at Quincy, but we just didn't shoot it well. I told the guys if the goal was to score my age and you only score 25, you're making me feel like a young man again."