A player from one of the most successful eras in St. Edward boys basketball history returns to his alma mater as a head coach on Tuesday when 1997 graduate Brian Johnson directs his Kaneland Knights against the Green Wave.
Johnson played for coach Kevin Dix on the last two St. Edward teams to win sectional titles. He and teammates Muamer Karamovic, Jeff and Jason Hopkins, Brad Hartmann, Peter Aydt, Mark Murphy and Adam Bruhn won a Class A sectional in 1995-96. That team eventually fell to Mendota in the NIU supersectional at Evans Fieldhouse, 77-64.
The 1996-1997 Green Wave finished 22-9. Johnson, Aydt, Jason Hopkins, Erick Castro and Tom Wright teamed to win the school's sixth sectional title before they bowed out against Spring Valley Hall at NIU, 70-51.
St. Edward coach and athletic director P.J. White approached Kaneland last year about scheduling the game.
"It's cool that P.J. wanted to do the game. It's neat," said Johnson, who owns a record of 76-48 (. 613) in five seasons at Kaneland. "He wanted to make it a weekend game because I was going back to St. Ed's. I had to remind him that I averaged like 6 points and 4 rebounds. I don't think there's going to be a parade for me coming back home.
"But I'm really excited about it. It should be a lot of fun. And they're really good. They're playing really well, so we'll see."
White said he believes it's important to honor a program's former players when possible, a habit he picked up as a longtime assistant at Batavia under former coach Jim Roberts.
"I think that stuff is important and so did Jim," White said. "It's the kind of thing he liked to do. He was always honoring somebody. I thought it would be nice to bring (Johnson) back and say here's his old gym, here's where he played, here's where he's from."
Kaneland is 9-6 entering Friday's home game against Sycamore. St. Edward, which snapped a 3-game skid on Tuesday with a 78-55 win at Guerin, is 16-4.
Jones doubtful: Larkin forward Drew Jones missed Wednesday's 75-43 win at Streamwood with a sprained ankle, which he injured in the third quarter of last Saturday's 76-69 loss at Benet.
Jones, a 6-foot-5 senior averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, may sit out Friday's home game against Batavia, according to coach Deryn Carter. Jones scored 24 points against Batavia in a 69-65 victory on Dec. 14.
"If this was the NFL, we'd have to label him as doubtful for Friday," Carter said Wednesday night. "But it's not, so I don't have to say anything. But it's not looking good."
Proof positive: Jelyn Hill is one of Streamwood's promising young athletes, selected to play both varsity football and varsity basketball as a sophomore.
On Wednesday against Larkin, Hill gave fans a glimpse of his spectacular athleticism. Late in the second quarter, the 5-foot-6½ guard broke away on a turnover and threw down a left-handed slam dunk that energized his team during a 6-0 run against the defending Upstate Eight River champs.
"I've been thirsty for it in practice and I finally got it," Hill said of his first dunk in a high school game. "Coach said if I get it, I can do it."
Actually, Streamwood coach Paul Kowalyszyn made Hill prove he could dunk more than once in practice before he gave the go ahead.
"He tries it in practice all the time," Kowalyszyn said. "I told him if you can do that in practice three times in a row, you can try it in a game if you get an opportunity. Well, I'll be (darned), he did it in practice three times in a row. So I said OK. He took off and he went for it.
"What can you say? I mean, the guy is this big and he can dunk the ball. Who am I to tell him not to? I love it. It gave so much energy to our team."
Round 2: Defending champion Larkin (15-3, 6-0) sailed through the first round of Upstate Eight River games undefeated, but the Royals are not taking a repeat title for granted, particularly with tough road games ahead on Jan. 30 at St. Charles East (11-7, 5-2) and Feb. 1 at St. Charles North (11-6, 5-2).
"It's 6 games down, but the next 6 are going to be brutal," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. "We've got goals of trying to win a conference championship, but we're a long, long way away from that and our guys understand we have to get a lot better. Batavia is going to be a handful for us on Friday."
The Royals open the second round of division play with home games against Batavia and Streamwood (Tuesday) and conclude it with home games against Elgin (Feb. 7) and Geneva (Feb. 14).