Already on a 4-game winning streak, the Huntley boys basketball team grew stronger when 6-foot-7 junior forward Amanze Egekeze returned to the lineup Tuesday.
The returning all-area and all FVC Valley performer scored 9 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in a nonstarting role in Huntley's fifth straight win -- a 55-42 victory against Crystal Lake South.
It was Egekeze's first action of the season following surgery in late September to address patellar tendinitis. A consultation with his doctor gave him the peace of mind to play freely in his debut.
"He said you can't really do much harm to it," Egekeze said. "I think running around like this and getting a good workout in all the time is only going to help because it will make the muscles around the knee stronger. It's a big relief. I can just kind of play freer. It was nice."
Egekeze lends another dimension to a defensive-minded team already limiting opponents to 47.2 ppg.
"It seems when Amanze is in the game, teams are afraid to drive because he's in the middle," teammate Zach Gorney said. "It makes teams shoot more from the outside, which helps our defense a lot."
"People don't realize how good he really is," said senior guard Bryce Only, who leads the Red Raiders in scoring (10.7) and rebounding (7.3). "I see him every day and I see the things he does. In open gym he's guarding TJ (Adams), our smallest guy. People think he's just a post player. No, Amanze can do it all. We're glad to have him back and we're looking to keep it rolling."
Egekeze said it will take two to three weeks before he's back in top game shape. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders will adjust to his return.
"Now we've got to work Amanze into our rotation and get guys understanding different roles and playing different minutes and being OK with that," Huntley coach Marty Manning said. "The thing we really have to focus on for the next two or three weeks is getting that down so we are ready for the stretch run in February.
"I thought this team was going to be good without Amanze, and when you add Amanze I thought we were going to be really good. I think we have a legitimate shot at winning our sectional. But there are also some things where we could lose in the first round of regionals, so we have a lot of work to do."
Elgin engine idling: The Upstate Eight River game between Elgin and Batavia originally scheduled for Jan 18 has been moved up to Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 7:15 p.m.
Though Batavia requested the switch, it's a positive change for Elgin (9-7, 1-4), which has been idle since a 3-1 showing at its holiday tournament. Coach Mike Sitter and staff are using the uninterrupted practice time to deepen the rotation and reinforce fundamentals.
"Our No. 1 goal is trying to get some kids to step up and earn minutes," Sitter said. "I don't think we play enough kids, and it's not the fact that us coaches make bad decisions. It's the fact that the kids just aren't stepping up and earning minutes. So we're trying to figure out who is going to step up and earn minutes right now. That's been a key for us.
"It's also a nice chance to get back to fundamentals. Coach (Jeff) Howard and I were looking at game film and saying we just never throw bounce passes, so we did a drill where you have to throw bounce passes every time. Sometimes you forget they are 15, 16, 17-year-old kids and they can always get better at some of the more fundamental areas of the game."
Elgin closes next week with a nonconference matchup against York (12-3) at the Glenbard East Shootout on Jan. 19.
The Dukes are led by 6-2 combo guard David Cohn (16.1 ppg, 3 apg), a senior committed to Colorado State. Elgin is led by senior point guard Arie Williams, who averages 23.6 points and 3.4 assists per game and has made 44 of 103 attempts from 3-point range.
Weekend plans: The St. Edward boys basketball team has a big weekend ahead, including a critical rematch and an annual downstate appearance.
The back-to-back schedule begins with Chapter 3 of the St. Edward-Immaculate Conception rivalry. The teams split two meetings in tournament championship games at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Tonight's 7:30 p.m. matchup is the first of two Suburban Christian Conference Gold Division contests. The teams could theoretically play for a fifth time in the Class 2A Westmont regional in February.
St. Edward won the first meeting 51-39 on Nov. 24, but the Knights responded with 57-51 victory on Dec. 29. The Green Wave led the second game by 7 points, but lost the lead due to foul trouble. Senior Adrian Ponce (10.4 ppg) fouled out with 1.2 seconds left in the third quarter and leading scorer Nick Duffy (10.7 ppg) played most of the fourth quarter with 4 fouls.
"That kind of handcuffed us a little bit," third-year St. Edward coach P.J. White said. "I'm hoping if we can keep (Ponce) in the game, the outcome will be a little different the third time around."
St. Edward takes to the road Saturday for a date against St. Thomas More of Champaign at the Bloomington Central Catholic Shootout. In past seasons, the Green Wave traveled to, played and returned from Bloomington the same day.
This trip won't be as rushed. After St. Edward plays at 4:30 p.m., the Green Wave will enjoy a college game between Illinois State and Drake at Redbird Arena, courtesy of passes from ISU assistant coach Rob Judson.
"We'll take the kids over after our game and watch the Illinois State basketball game," White said, "then we'll go to the hotel, have pizza and pop, spend the night, get up, go to mass and come home. It's really going to be a good trip for the kids, I think."
Fuel for the Rockets: Seven straight losses to open the season were not what Burlington Central coach Brett Porto and his team expected, but based on the teams they did defeat, the Rockets are actually in good position heading into the thick of conference play.
Though the overall record is 5-10 following early setbacks like a 79-56 loss to Rockford Lutheran (12-2) and 2 losses to Hampshire (12-2), the Rockets sit 3-0 in Big Northern East play following December victories over Rockford Christian (51-38), Genoa-Kingston (64-41) and Harvard (59-38). They jump back into BNC-East action at home against Marengo (4-8, 1-1) on Saturday at 7:15 p.m.
First up, though, is a key nonconference matchup at Sycamore () tonight at 7:30 p.m. The Rockets and Spartans are both assigned to the Class 3A Burlington Central regional, seeds for which will be released Feb. 7. Hampshire is likely to garner the top seed in a five-team field that also includes Genoa-Kingston and Rochelle (5-10).
"It's potentially for the two seed in the regional, in my mind," Porto said of the Sycamore game. "And we still have a conference championship we're in the hunt for; we're undefeated. We have a ton to play for these last 11 games."
"We're just trying to find the right combination, trying to find somebody who can bring some scoring off the bench for us. There's still a lot of question marks, but I think my team is ready to go in an upward direction."
Hampshire still hungry: It's been a successful season thus far for Hampshire (12-2, 1-1 FVC Fox). However, coach Bob Barnett sensed the Whip-Purs needed a break from the routine following last Saturday's 65-33 loss at Crystal Lake Central (14-1, 2-0), which has won 14 straight.
"We wanted to try to forget the Crystal Lake Central game," Barnett said. "We brought them in (Tuesday) and said, 'You know what? Instead of practicing, were going to go out and eat some pizza.' So we went out right there in Hampshire.
"Man, those boys can eat."
Total large pizzas consumed at the Red Ox in Hampshire? Six.
"It was time to quit thinking about basketball, for all of us," Barnett said. "Let's have some fun, let's laugh. We were watching (a game show) on TV and trying to figure out the answers, little trivia stuff. Just listening to (the players) talk, it was fun.
"We just laughed and had some fun and got away from basketball for a little bit. We were back at it Wednesday and we practiced well. We'll take the long bus ride this weekend and see what happens."
The Whip-Purs resume FVC Fox Division play at Grayslake Central (2-12, 0-2) tonight at 7 p.m. Hampshire defeated the Rams 62-39 on Dec. 14.
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