Aurora Central Catholic
Coach: Nathan Drye (10th year, 145-122)
Last year: 16-13, 5-5, tied for second in the Suburban Christian Blue Division; lost to St. Francis in the Class 3A IMSA regional final.
Key returnees: Sean Anger, sr., C; Andy Czerak, sr., F; Sean Harreld, sr., G; Matt Hollon, sr., G.
Top newcomers: Brett Czerak, fr., G; Mac Cowen, fr., G; Nick Faltz, so., F; Mitch Lavoy, jr., F; Evan Schuetz, so, F.
Outlook: Graduating five senior starters from the Chargers' regional final, this is a rebuilding year. The focus will be on good shooting with the usual 2-3 zone defense because height is not a strength with the 6-7 Anger (3.3 points, 3.6 rebounds) out initially with a broken collarbone from football. Czerak, Schuetz and Matt Schaefer are the tallest at 6-3. Many of these players know exactly what to expect, legacies who've had brothers go through the system. (Cowen is the son of Chargers varsity assistant Mike Cowen.) Aside from Anger, Harreld returns the most experience, averaging 5.6 points; he'll be launching 3-pointers after sinking 47 of them in 2012-13. ACC's recent seasons have seen them grind through a tough regular-season schedule then finish strong. The trend may continue. "We'll compete and I think by March we'll be ready," Drye said. "But it'll be a process."
Coach: Pat McNamara (second year, 19-12; 15th overall 219-196)
Last year: 19-12, 3-7, sixth in the Suburban Christian Blue Division; lost to Winnebago in a Class 2A sectional semifinal.
Key returnees: Steve Buhrt, sr., F; Johnathan Harrell, sr., G; Grant Schweisthal, sr., F; Zach Singer, jr., C; Wes Wolfe, jr., G.
Top newcomers: R.D. Lutze, so., F; Juwan Sisco, jr., F.
Outlook: The Eagles went 10-3 down the stretch last season, coinciding with McNamara moving the 6-1 Harrell to point guard. Harrell led Aurora Christian in rebounds (6.1), was second in scoring (11.5) and his ability to lead a fast-paced offense and see the floor again is a key. The Eagles graduated mainstays Cory Windle, Ryan Suttle and 3-point leader Ryan McQuade, so others like returnee Schweisthal will have to assume scoring roles. McNamara said the 6-6 Buhrt improved greatly over the off-season, and Buhrt also packs the most size along with 6-5 Singer and 6-3 Sisco. Wolfe (4.6 points) joins Harrell as the returning starters. Lutze, 6-2, is a hard worker who helped last year's sophs go 18-5. Should the team play smart and tough and Harrell run the floor, McNamara likes what he sees. "We've got enough talent, we've just got to put it together," he said.
Coach: Jim Nazos (second year, 12-15; 14th overall, 190-167)
Last year: 12-15, 4-8, fifth in the Upstate Eight River Division; lost to Oswego in a Class 4A Batavia regional semifinal.
Key returnees: Dave Alonzo, sr., F; Alex Bala, sr., G; Micah Coffey, sr., G; Tucker Knox, sr., F; Jeremy Schoessling, sr., G; Ryan Olson, sr., F.
Top newcomers: Canaan Coffey, so., G; Tyler Lovestrand, jr., G; Chasen Peez, jr., F; Danny Pieczynski, jr., G-F; Jacob Roberts, jr., G.
Outlook: Now teaching business at Batavia, in his second year as head coach, things likely will run smoother for Nazos and the Bulldogs. He's also got an infusion of talent from last year's sophomore team that won more than 20 games and its level of the River Division. This reunites the Brothers Coffey -- Micah, last year's leading varsity scorer at 11.6 points a game, and similarly styled Canaan. Micah Coffey, who improved his overall floor game, is the sole returning starter while the 6-7 Knox and Schoessling each played in every game last season. Nazos sees a collective scoring effort: Knox, the 6-6 Chasen and 6-3 Olson taking it inside, Schoessling to the hole off the dribble and the Coffeys, Lovestrand and 6-3 Pieczynski able to hit from the wings. The River Division will again be challenging, but Nazos believes this decently sized team will fit in well. "I think it's a group that's ready to have their own name on Batavia basketball," he said.
Coach: Phil Ralston (sixth year, 88-56; 14th overall, 196-158)
Last year: 21-9, 6-6, fourth in the Upstate Eight River Division; lost to West Aurora in the Class 4A Wheaton Warrenville South regional final.
Key returnees: Cam Cook, sr., G; Jason D'Amico, sr., G-F; Justin Durante, sr. G; Nate Navigato, jr. G-F; Chris Parrilli, sr. G; Pace Temple, jr., G.
Top newcomers: Mike Landi, jr., F; Loudon Vollbrecht, so., F-C.
Outlook: This promising and deep squad looks to compete for its first conference title in five years and first regional since 1986. Even without guard K.J. Santos, a sophomore now at Vermont Academy, players such as 6-7 Landi arrive from a 20-win sophomore team to complement Temple, Parrilli and, particularly, Navigato. The 6-7 junior returns team highs of 15.7 points per game on 53 percent shooting with 48 three-pointers. Navigato also led Geneva in rebounding, blocks and steals, his 41 thefts 2 more than bulldog Parrilli. Thus far Navigato has offers from Northern Illinois, University of Illinois-Chicago, South Dakota State. Last season he was almost too unselfish; "the consummate team player," Ralston said. Despite graduating post Connor Chapman, another lane cleaner is 6-7, 260-pound Vollbrecht, the football team's right tackle. This group is ahead of schedule working Geneva's disciplined offensive and defensive systems. Good people, too, said Ralston. "Now it's a matter of trying to mold them together so they play as one," he said.
Coach: Brian Johnson (fifth year, 67-42)
Last year: 16-12, 7-3, first in the Northern Illinois Big XII East; lost to St. Francis in a Class 3A IMSA regional semifinal.
Key returnees: Tyler Carlson, sr., F; Drew David, sr., G; John Pruett, sr., G-F.
Top newcomers: Cole Carlson, sr., F; Connor Fedderly, jr., G; Dylan Vaca, so., G Tom VanBogaert, sr., F.
Outlook: The Knights return two first-team all-conference players in point guard David and swingman Pruett. David, who needs only 12 games to be Kaneland's career leader at 85, averaged 5.1 points and 4.8 assists; Pruett averaged 10.3 points, shot a team-high 110 free throws, made 59 percent of his 2-pointers and averaged 5.2 rebounds. Kaneland will need team rebounding and ball-handling to fuel an up-tempo pace, important because the Knights top out at 6-3 Pruett and Tyler Carlson among experienced regulars, though that's not uncommon here. Johnson has bulked up the schedule to prepare for the stretch and postseason, and he hopes to avoid slides like last season's 5-game skid over January-February. The Knights look to win the Big XII East for the third time in four seasons. On their side is a slew of experienced players (including the "newcomers" mentioned above) who execute a variety of jobs and are well-versed in Johnson's offensive and defensive concepts. "They practice hard, they know what to expect," he said.
Coach: Ryan Paradise (fourth year, 39-46)
Last year: 10-19, 4-6, tied for fourth in the Suburban Christian Blue Division; lost to Aurora Central Catholic in a Class 3A IMSA regional quarterfinal
Key returnees: Danny Bicknell, sr., F; Jake Esp, jr., F; Jordan Glasgow, jr., G; Tyler Maryanski, sr. F; Mike Sheehan, sr., G.
Top newcomers: Matt Fletcher, so., F; Corey Friel, sr., G; Alex Kirtley, sr., F.
Outlook: Based on who and how many players they return, the Cadets may take the greatest leap in the SCC Blue. Marmion graduated sharpshooter Alex Theisen and forward Collin Kavanaugh but got at least 17 games played by returning starters Glasgow and Sheehan as well as Esp, Bicknell, Friel and Maryanski. They've got good height with the 6-7 Kirtley, 6-5 Esp and 6-4 Maryanski, for starters. Bicknell and Glasgow (last year's leading scorer and rebounder at 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds per game), once his ankles recover from football, both play taller than they are and know only one speed, full-go. Long, fast and athletic, returning decent ballhandlers such as point guard Sheehan -- last year's second-leading scorer at 8.3 ppg -- fast-break offense could be the ticket. This should be an equal-opportunity group as Maryanski, Esp, Bicknell and Friel all scored in double figures at least once last season. Along with them others should emerge from a competitive preseason. "I just think we've got guys that can do a lot of different things," Paradise said.
St. Charles East
Coach: Pat Woods (third year, 30-25; 12th overall, 127-173)
Last year: 15-12, 8-4, tied for second in the Upstate Eight River Division; lost to St. Charles North in a Class 4A South Elgin regional semifinal.
Key returnees: Dom Adduci, sr., G; Jake Asquini, jr., G; Cole Gentry, jr., G; James McQuillen, so., G; David Mason, sr., F; A.J. Washington, sr., F.
Top newcomers: Jack Bronec, jr., C; Mick Vzryal, jr., F.
Outlook: High expectations for a team returning all-area guard Adduci among six players who saw starting time last season. All six were injured at one point since last spring, however, and as Woods notes in reference to last year's injured star Kendall Stephens, it all comes down to health. It'll also come down to defense because offensively he's secure in this group. Adduci, who has interest from American University, Marist and Illinois-Chicago, averaged 14.7 points and made 59 3-pointers; Gentry averaged 9.4 points with two games of 30; Asquini, a 6-2 guard, hit 43 threes at a 46 percent clip. Should those shots not go in the Saints should be able to track them down with 6-4 McQuillen, 6-8 Bronec, 6-7 Mason and 6-5 Washington, who led last year's team with 5.9 boards per game. Washington also improved his perimeter game, which should lend a needed midrange point source. St. Charles East will be difficult to press due to a pair of excellent ballhandlers (and foul magnets) in Adduci and Gentry, and with length and athleticism could also be tough on pressure defense. The Saints are in the mix to dethrone defending UEC River champion Larkin. "If we have the will and the togetherness," Woods said, "I think we can do some good things."
St. Charles North Coach: Tom Poulin (eighth year, 116-88)
Last year: 18-11, 8-4, tied for second in the Upstate Eight River Division; lost to Larkin in the Class 4A South Elgin regional final.
Key returnees: Jack Callaghan, jr., G-F; Alec Goetz, sr., G; Jake Ludwig, jr., G; Erik Miller, sr., F.
Top newcomers: Camden Cotter, sr., C; Chase Gianacakos, sr., C; Garrett Johnson, sr., C; Johnny Davern, jr., F.
Outlook: The Quinten Payne-Tony Neari-Kyle Swanson era is over. The addition of 6-4 plus football players Gianacakos, Cotter and Johnson add a different dimension but assistant coach Rob Prentiss, speaking on behalf of Poulin, said this remains fast, perimeter-oriented. Pure-shooting Goetz, in his third varsity season, can hit the 3 and will certainly add to last season's 9.9-point average. He'll drive the lane and help handle the point with Callaghan while Ludwig and the slashing, dunking 6-4 Miller man the wings. "It'll probably be those four that'll be the big scorers and then, hopefully, the big fellas can clean up a little underneath," Prentiss said. Gianacakos played offensive tackle at about 285 pounds; the athletic Johnson and Cotter were b-ball ready at around 245. They may not see big minutes but will go full-bore. Of interest is the heady, 6-4 Davern, adept both inside and at midrange. Once it attains chemistry, St. Charles North should compete with any team in the UEC River. "Compared to last year at this time we're well ahead of where we were going into the Thanksgiving tournament," Prentiss said.
Coach: Gordie Kerkman (38th year, 759-299)
Last year: 24-7, 11-3, second in the DuPage Valley Conference; lost to Proviso East at the Class 4A Hinsdale Central supersectional.
Key returnees: Matt Dunn, jr., G; Roland Griffin, jr., F; Tommy Koth, jr., F; Jontrell Walker, sr., sr., G.
Top newcomers: Marquis Howard, jr., G; Konner Jensen, sr., F; Demarcus Jones, jr., F; Reggie Jordan, jr., G; Anthony Powell, sr., F; Carleton Williams, so., C; Myles Wisley, sr., G-F; Brandon Wyeth, sr., F.
Outlook: Coming off two straight sectional championships, Hall of Famer Kerkman now rates No. 7 in career wins, behind St. Joseph's Gene Pingatore among active coaches. He'll earn a few more behind Walker -- an Incarnate Word (San Antonio) commit -- Dunn, the surging Griffin and a deep but green roster. The bulk of them will be new to varsity, but Kerkman had good things to say. Players like the 6-4 Jones, the 6-3 Jensen and guard Howard offer different skill sets. One to watch is probable starter Williams, thin but at 6-8 the Blackhawks' sole true big man. Last season's all-area honorary captain, Josh McAuley, began like that. Dunn assumes the point guard role from Walker, moving the senior to shooting guard. Last season Walker averaged 17.4 points, made 53 three-pointers and shot 81 percent from the foul line. The 6-5 Griffin was not featured last season, averaging 3.7 points, but his overall floor game earns Kerkman's praise. Keys are teamwork, rebounding and, of course, defense. Also, the Blackhawks graduated a bunch of poise and intensity in McAuley, Jayquan Lee and the Thomas twins, Spencer and Chandler. "I think we're capable of winning the conference, I think we're capable of finishing down the middle," Kerkman said. "So much depends on how we play together, and I think we've done a good job of that."