Addison Trail boys basketball coach Brendan Lyons talks often about the process of becoming a better team.
Last weekend he could talk about the rewards of the process.
For the first time in Lyons' seven years at the helm, last Friday the Blazers (9-11, 4-2 West Suburban Gold) beat Morton in conference play. The next day they completed a rare weekend sweep in the Gold by topping District 88 rival Willowbrook.
Halfway through the conference schedule the Blazers, surprisingly, sit in second place in the Gold behind Proviso East.
"Everybody wants to win, nobody goes into a game wanting to lose," Lyons said. "But focus on the process of winning. Do the things we focus on in practice, offensively and defensively. Over the course of the last month, since Christmas, more often than not we've been able to improve. It's just something that we've stressed to these guys, and they've really taken it to heart and done a great job with."
One player definitely familiar with the process is fourth-year starting guard James Pupillo. Perennially Addison Trail's leading scorer, he's again pacing the Blazers with about 20 points a game.
Unlike past years, however, Pupillo is not the only offensive option. Junior wing Taylor White and senior guard Ronald Duling each scored in double figures for the Blazers against Willowbrook.
Addison Trail faces another Gold doubleheader this weekend, first trying to avenge a first-round loss to Downers Grove South before attempting to sweep Leyden.
"When we're playing as a team we can overcome someone having a bad night," Lyons said. "We've talked about balance and finding different ways to score. We've been able to do that more this year."
After consecutive losses to West Aurora and Naperville Central by an average margin of 20 points -- and with a tough Friday game looming against Glenbard North -- Naperville North knows it needs to quickly turn around its momentum.
"I don't think anything's a learning experience when you get beat by 20," said Huskies coach Jeff Powers. "I think you just got flat-out beat. Our coaching staff has to figure out something to keep us a little closer. Whatever that might be."
It doesn't help, of course, that Naperville North's in a stretch of games against the top three teams in the DuPage Valley Conference. Naperville Central's won five straight games, West Aurora six straight and Glenbard North four of its last five.
One game into a five-game homestand, now's the perfect time to get back on the right track.
"We're going to have to do a couple things different to be able to compete with teams this good," Powers said.
Timothy Christian forward Connor VanderBrug recently committed to play at Calvin College, following in his father's footsteps.
It's just the latest memory in an overall memorable season for the 6-foot-6 senior.
VanderBrug enters Friday's Metro Suburban Conference game against Glenbard South as the leading scorer for the Trojans (10-6, 5-1), averaging 19.2 points to go along with his team-high 8.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.
He's done it all this season, evidenced by VanderBrug's selection to York's Jack Tosh Holiday Classic all-tournament team.
"He's gotten more exposure this year, and deservedly so," said Timothy Christian coach Jack LeGrand. "He's really distinguished himself as one of the better players in the conference and in the area."
VanderBrug's versatility makes him such a strong player. He's skilled at playing the wing or the post and, with senior guard Khali Valrie out for the year, VanderBrug's also helped bring the ball up the court.
Valrie's absence doesn't just fall on VanderBrug, though. To continue their success the Trojans are counting on backcourt contributions from sophomore Ben Lodewyk and junior Joe Bishop.
"We're trying to regroup and move forward (without Valrie)," LeGrand said. "We surprised some people early, but I don't think we'll be surprising anyone from here on out."
The terrible twos:
That's terrible as in wonderful. In recent years IC Catholic Prep has fielded dynamic duos on many of its teams.
Demetrius Carr and John Cheng, Cheng and Brian Harvey, Antonio Taylor-Matt Purdom, Bryan Mulligan-Frank Ratini and Tom Hagerty-Tony Ratini are some pairings that come to mind.
This year's Knights team is no exception. Senior Clark Brinkman and sophomore Rhashaun Epting lead IC in scoring, at 13.7 and 20.1 points a game, respectively, and in rebounding, at 4.9 and 8.4 a game.
These two are not the sole reasons why IC has a 15-3 overall record, 6-0 in the Suburban Christian Gold.
"The team's actually been unselfish," said coach T.J. Tyrrell. "Having two talented guys like Clark and Rhashaun, they don't look to take it all on their shoulders."
That's because there's a deep supporting cast, a blend of experience and youth. Athletic senior guards Sean Sutton, Ross Fleming and steals and assists leader Anthony Taylor provide a defensive basis and also are reliable scorers.
Freshman Jordan Rowell hasn't needed to score yet but has guarded the likes of York's Frank Toohey and St. Edward's Nick Duffy. A pair of sophomores, Will Lyles and Troy Burrows -- Burrows has made 39 percent of his 3-point shots -- come off the bench. Though he's not scored much in 15 games thus far, senior Andy Muno has shown Knights fans a hot touch.
All will be required because IC Catholic closes the season with a tough stretch, including Wheaton Academy, Montini, St. Francis, St. Patrick, Aurora Christian and St. Edward.
"We're having a nice year with this group," Tyrrell said. "It's kind of an interesting group because we have so many young guys, too. It's a little different than some of the other groups that were kind of senior-heavy."
When Neuqua Valley (15-5, 7-0 in the Upstate Eight Valley) met Waubonsie Valley, on Dec. 7, the host Wildcats won 64-45.
Over the last 10 games Waubonsie (13-7, 5-3) has gone 8-2, able to win them big (70-66 over South Elgin) and small (39-29 over Bartlett).
"It's good that we can play both ways," said Waubonsie coach Chaz Taft, led by Jay DeHaan's 27 points in that first example and Nick Karkazis' 11 in the second. "We can play when we're not hitting our shots or the other teams want to slow it down a little bit, and it's good that we can play in the 60s or 70s."
The Warriors' coach said the key has been team defense that has consistently played better.
"I think when we get better on the defensive end of the floor it kind of toughens the team up a little more," Taft said.
One of his keys Friday against Neuqua is to avoid getting stretched out by the Wildcats' 6-foot-5 Zach Incaudo, 6-5 Elijah Robertson and 6-4 Connor Raridon, who can flow between wing forward and shooting guard. Also, they don't want to get caught up in the emotion of the Indian Prairie District rivalry.
"We just have to play with poise," Taft said. "Just come out and play our game and not worry about anything else, not worry about impressing other people, just play our game."
For his part, and despite the wide margin of the first game, Neuqua coach Todd Sutton said: "Nothing has changed. The last possession will determine the outcome. I hope we have the ball."
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