Nothing like a two-year starter returning to your lineup.
Glenbard West's boys basketball team knows the feeling after senior Jeff Levesque finally saw court time after slowly coming back from a stress fracture in his foot. Playing limited minutes to ease him back into game shape, the 6-foot-2 guard scored 6 points in Friday's 55-48 West Suburban Silver loss to Oak Park.
"Other than his conditioning not being where it should be, he looks pretty good," said Hilltoppers coach Tim Hoder. "The important thing is his foot isn't hurting. He responded well after the game."
Unlike last season when Glenbard West (9-5) had its strength in the frontcourt, the Hilltoppers' guard play drives them this year. Sophomore Keith Hayes, averaging 21 points, Corey Davis and Dikiria Washington combine for 46 points a game.
With Levesque out of the lineup since Thanksgiving, Max Montgomery and others filled in admirably. Two years of starting experience, however, is tough to match, not to mention the speed and physical strength he brings to the court.
"The kids who have filled in have done a good job, but there's no doubt it's nice to get a two-year starter back," Hoder said. "Jeff made some plays in the Oak Park game no one else on our team can make."
Benet has barely waded into the waters of the East Suburban Catholic Conference, and already the Redwings (17-3, 3-0) are in the grind. After rallying to a 42-41 win at Notre Dame, state-ranked heading into the game, Benet faces Marian Catholic (16-1, 2-0) Thursday in Lisle.
The Spartans, ranked fourth in the Associated Press Class 4A poll, suffered their only loss to Homewood-Flossmoor in November. Benet enters the game ranked eighth in 4A and can boost its playoff seeding hopes tremendously with a win.
"It should be exciting for our kids," said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp. "Whoever wins this game is in a good spot because they control their own destiny in the conference."
Marian Catholic and Notre Dame are only two of the top-notch teams Benet's faced or will this season. The Redwings played No. 3 Proviso East and No. 10 Curie in addition to Homewood-Flossmoor. By the end of the season, they'll have played No. 9 West Aurora and No. 1 Whitney Young.
First things first, though. Benet needs to survive the ESCC, a challenge that begins Thursday in a game to be televised on WCIU and ESPN3.
"The conference is so tough, I just think everyone's going to beat up on each other," Heidkamp said. "It's been challenging, but when it's all said and done I think we'll be ready for the playoffs."
Pack the place with alumni:
Friday's Wheaton Academy-St. Francis contest will offer both girls and boys varsity games. The girls tip off at 6 p.m., the boys (11-2) play at 7:30 p.m. The grail is the newly established Wheaton Cup. The St. Francis girls wrested the traveling trophy with their win Nov. 20; the boys have yet to face each other since the Cup appeared.
St. Francis boys coach Bob Ward reports that alumni from both the Spartans boys and girls programs will be recognized at the game, with an alumni mixer to follow at The Bank Restaurant in Wheaton. All are welcome, just contact the coach at email@example.com.
Wheaton Academy (12-4) enjoyed its usual Winterim trip in North Carolina Jan. 3-9. The Warriors itinerary included practices on the courts of Davidson and the University of North Carolina, attending a Duke-Wake Forest game, touring the Billy Graham Center, participating in a service project. The trip also included beating the locals in a pair of boys basketball games, against Cary Christian and Covenant Day School.
Entering the season, Timothy Christian coach Jack LeGrand said senior guard Danny Leach would surpass 1,000 points this season. He wouldn't elaborate much, preferring to keep it a surprise, even to Leach.
Leach was 18 points away when the Trojans (6-10) hosted Fenton last Friday, and LeGrand said the three-year starter still didn't know he was approaching the magic number. Neither did his teammates, only Timothy's coaches.
"He was sitting on 16 points for the longest time," LeGrand recalled. "We called a play for him four times in a row and he rimmed them in and out each time."
Finally, Leach reached 1,000 exactly on a jump shot off a Luke Davidson pass.
Now the search is on for Leach's Timothy Christian point peers. LeGrand, in his fifth year as Trojans head coach, hadn't had a 1,000-point scorer before Leach. He contacted his predecessor, current Naperville North coach Jeff Powers, who had been there 11 seasons. Powers couldn't remember one either. The man before him, Jim Snoeyink, couldn't be certain, though one of his players, Dave Deters, is a possibility.
The search continues with the son of former 26-year coach, the late Don Greenfield -- whose records may have been lost in a house fire, LeGrand noted.
Lisle (10-9) lost last Friday night to Seneca. With the loss the Lions also lost their bid for a No. 1 seed at the seventh annual Interstate Eight Tournament, which kicks off Friday.
Despite Seneca earning the top seed, hope remains for Lisle and other suitors such as Westmont. In the tourney's six-year history the No. 1 seed has never won the title.
Mentor vs. Mentee:
Third-year Metea Valley coach Bob Vozza has a long history with Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton. Vozza was Sutton's associate head coach for 11 seasons, and the two still talk often.
Thus, Vozza said, games between the two schools are difficult.
"It's not a fun game to go against him," Vozza said after Metea (10-6) dealt Neuqua its first loss in 16 games, 55-49 last Friday.
"I think it's more fun because they're a good program and it's what you strive for. (We were) just talking to our guys all week about getting back in the conference race, trying to beat a good team.
"It's a mind game during the game because I'm trying to think of what he can do and they know what we do. That's no fun, but it's fun going against a good program like that."
The Essig Report:
Charlie Essig, the Aurora basketball analyst who this spring will enter the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame as a "Friend of Basketball," has several area teams among the state's best Class 4A and 3A schools.
The Essig Report, executed with his colleague Bob Schmidt, is a ranking system that emphasizes strength of schedule.
Among all 4A teams through Saturday, West Aurora is ranked seventh, Neuqua Valley 12th and Metea Valley 18th after Saturday's win over Neuqua. The top four teams are Whitney Young, Morgan Park, Simeon and Proviso East.
Area teams among Essig's top 50 in 4A-3A are: No. 26 Naperville Central, No. 31 Benet, No. 33 Glenbard East, No. 38 Waubonsie Valley and No. 41 York.
Among strictly Class 3A teams, Wheaton Academy is ranked 13th, St. Francis 35th and Montini 42nd.
Essig and Schmidt also assemble a strength of schedule report. Within this framework the top six large-school teams are Proviso East, Oswego, Naperville Central, Metea Valley, Curie and Benet.
One more Essig factoid:
In the five seasons from 2006-07 to 2010-11, Neuqua Valley has the fourth-highest rating after Simeon, Marshall and Whitney Young. Glenbard East is No. 15.