2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 11/16/2017 1:44 PM

Boys basketball: Previewing the Fox Valley area for 2017-18

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • Jacobs' Kameron Mack pushes past Larkin's Kashmir Ivy during sectional title game action at Chesbrough Field House in Elgin last season.

      Jacobs' Kameron Mack pushes past Larkin's Kashmir Ivy during sectional title game action at Chesbrough Field House in Elgin last season.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • West Aurora's Camron Donatlan tries to drive around Bartlett's TomasVikonis last season.

      West Aurora's Camron Donatlan tries to drive around Bartlett's TomasVikonis last season.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • St. Charles North's Kyle King shoots while surrounded by Downers Grove South players last season.

      St. Charles North's Kyle King shoots while surrounded by Downers Grove South players last season.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin's Roy Panthier goes for a basket against Larkin last season.

      Elgin's Roy Panthier goes for a basket against Larkin last season.
    Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
 

Aurora Central Catholic

Coach: Nathan Drye (13th year, 183-164)

2016-17 record: 20-7, 10-2 in the Metro Suburban Conference Blue

Top returning players: Seniors Owen Clayton (6-0 F), Kyle Czerak (5-11 G), Dru Ingraham (6-0 G), Cameron Pedersen (5-10 G); Juniors Jonas Cebulski (6-2 G), Cameron Kalmas (6-1 G)

Top newcomers: Sophomores Chris Cartwright (5-10 G), Jack Dunn (6-2 F)

Outlook: The post-Brett Czerak era is set to begin at Aurora Central Catholic. Czerak, who was a 4-year starter and the Chargers' all-time leading scorer (1,843 career points, 25 ppg last season) is now playing at Carthage. However, the Czerak name lives on through his younger brother, Kyle. "He's our big returnee and he'll have to shoulder a lot of the load this year," admits Chargers coach Nathan Drye. "He has improved and we'll need him to play well." Kyle, a left-handed shooting guard, will be asked to do a lot of things this season. "He's good at reading defenses and he can put the ball on the floor," said Drye. "We think he'll have a big year defensively for us as well." Drye feels that Cameron Pedersen is ready to take over the point guard duties after the graduation losses of Donovan Reid and Mac Cowen. Junior guard Jonas Cebulski missed much of last season with a broken bone in his hand. Drye is high on sophomore newcomers Jack Dunn and Chris Cartwright. "Jack will probably be a 5-man for us while Chris is very athletic and energetic," said the coach. "We have a lot of guys competing for playing time." ACC opens its season on Nov. 28 in the Burney Wilkie Classic at Aurora Christian. "The guys have practiced well and played hard but I don't know what it's going to look like when we start playing games," admitted Drye. "I have an idea of what we do well but there's a much greater unknown factor this season. I think it'll be fun though."

Aurora Christian

Coach: Dan Beebe (2nd year, 21-9)

2016-17 record: 21-9, 9-2 in the Northeastern Athletic Conference

Top returning players: Seniors Eric Hernandez (5-10 G), Evan Stoneberg (6-3 F), Danniel Stevens (6-3 G/F), Jake Wolfe (6-4 G), Zach Zavasnik (6-2 G/F); Juniors Michael Cruger (6-4 F), Trey Madsen (5-8 G); Sophomores Taaj Davis (6-1 G), Will Wolfe (6-6 G)

Top newcomers: Junior Lawrence Nyong (6-3 F); Freshman Jaehshon Thomas (6-0 G)

Outlook: When your returnees include an IBCA second-team all-state selection and a pair of second team all-conference honorees, the arrow is definitely aiming upward. "We return a large portion of the team from last year," said Eagles coach Dan Beebe. That could be bad news for opponents considering the fact that Aurora Christian captured its second consecutive regional title and advanced to the Class 1A sectional finals before falling to eventual fourth-place finisher Newark (54-47). "We're coming off a sectional final loss and believe the returning players we have and solid newcomers we have give us the opportunity to go farther in the IHSA state series," added Beebe. Leading scorer Jake Wolfe averaged 18.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5 assists per game as a junior and appears ready for another strong season. "A lot of our kids improved a lot during the offseason but Jake might be the most improved player we have," Beebe said of the Division I-bound Lipscomb University recruit. His younger brother, Will Wolfe (10 ppg), now stands 6-6 and adds perimeter shooting while Taaj Davis lends backcourt support. "Both of those guys started as freshmen and now they're a year older," said the coach. The list of varsity newcomers includes Marmion transfer Lawrence Nyong and freshman guard Jaehshon Thomas. Thomas' dad, Jaeh, was a 4-year starter during his playing days at West Aurora. "We have two goals every year -- to honor God in everything we do and to win state," said Beebe.

Bartlett

Coach: Jim Wolfsmith (11th year, 181-117)

2016-17 record: 18-12, 7-3 Upstate Eight Valley

Top returning players: Seniors Ben Fisher (F, 6-3), Jake Ibegbulem (G, 6-0), Harsh Mangrola (G, 5-8), Kyle Martin (G, 5-9), Brandon Sinclair (F, 6-1), Ben Tompson (G, 6-0), Tomas Vikonis (G, 6-2); Junior Austin Gates (G, 6-3)

Top newcomers: Juniors Garrett Jurina (F, 6-3), Byron Price (G, 5-9)

Season outlook: Bartlett entered last season with 14 juniors and sophomore Austin Gates on the 19-man roster. That young team developed ahead of schedule. The Hawks won 18 games and finished second in the UEC Valley behind West Aurora. They were seeded No. 6 in a 10-team subsectional and defeated No. 7 South Elgin and No. 2 St. Charles East to reach the Larkin regional final, where they fell 71-51 to the hosts. Now experienced, the Hawks are a known quantity. They return 80 percent of their scoring and 90 percent of their rebounding, mostly via four starters: leading scorer Ben Tompson (16.2 ppg), electric junior Gates (9.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg), versatile dunker/3-point shooter Tomas Vikonis (7. 1 ppg, 44. rpg) and blue-collar forward Ben Fisher (8.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Fisher absorbed 20-plus charges last season. Seniors Harsh Mangrola and Brandon Sinclair each saw minutes as juniors and will get the chance to step into expanded roles. Jake Ibegbulem has had a full year in the system after transferring in a year ago. He and Byron Price, who transferred to Bartlett at midseason, can both defend off the bench and finish at the rim, coach Jim Wolfsmith said. Volleyball player Garrett Jurina "had a nice camp," his coach said. Tompson, Gates, Vikonis and Fisher will start. The fifth starter will depend on matchups. Either way, the Hawks, whose tallest player is 6-4, will look to push the pace. "It's not a big team," Wolfsmith said. "It's a small team of good athletes to great athletes who get after it. We're going to get up and down, that's for certain. We're not built for slow, grind-it-out games. Not enough size for that. But we like our depth. We like our team. We're going to be in a different scenario than last year. There will be a higher level of expectation of what we can accomplish this season. Last year we were inexperienced at the varsity level. Now, we're going to be a target and that's a different vibe, a different set of challenges, so we'll see."

Batavia

Coach: Jim Nazos (6th year, 70-73; 18th overall, 248-225)

2016-17 record: 14-16, 4-8 Upstate Eight River

Top returning players: Seniors Seth Blaeser (F, 6-5), Blake Carlson (G, 6-1), Riley Cooper (PG, 5-11), Clayton Deutcsh (F, 6-5), John Golden (G, 6-2), Andrew Heinz (F, 6-3), Kyle LeFevre (G, 6-5), Eric Peterson (G, 6-5), Collin Richter (F, 6-4); Juniors Zack Weber (F, 6-3); Sophomore Jayden Johnson (F, 6-5)

Top newcomers: Juniors Jack Carlson (G, 5-10), Ethan Neibch (G, 5-11), Marko Yager (F, 6-6)

Outlook: A third of Batavia's boys basketball team is still playing football. That list includes senior guard Eric Peterson (wide receiver), point guard Riley Cooper (quarterback), senior guard John Golden (cornerback), senior forward Andrew Heinz (linebacker), senior forward Collin Richter (tight end) and junior guard Jack Carlson (kicker/receiver). Having a chunk of the team unavailable at the start of the season due to football's success is an overall positive for Batavia athletics, coach Jim Nazos said. "By the middle of January it's not going to matter because we'll be where we want to be," he said. "Right now it's a cool thing with football. The school is jacked and it's a great atmosphere. There are so many positives. The kids are focused, the school is focused. Everything is just better." Nazos is prepared to play next week's Ken Peddy Windmill Classic Tournament with a 10-man roster that includes a sophomore call-up. That group includes senior guard Blake Carlson, a returning starter, junior Zack Weber and talented sophomore Jayden Johnson, who has grown two inches and evolved into a more complete offensive player from a spot-up shooter, Nazos said. Another key contributor is 6-5 point guard Kyle LeFevre, "a player to watch," according to his coach. LeFevre or Cooper will bring the ball upcourt rather than Peterson, who can focus on increasing last year's totals of 9.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Seth Blaeser (6-5), Richter and Heinz give the Bulldogs strength in the middle to go with the team's overall length. Does it add up to improvement for a Batavia team that last season finished tied for fifth in the seven-team UEC River? "We had a really good summer and I really think we are a very competitive team in a very competitive conference," Nazos said. "In the summer we saw a lot of good things and we have a good core returning that saw time last year. I tell everyone I'm cautiously optimistic of what we could be."

Burlington Central

Coach: Brett Porto (9th year, 143-83)

2016-17 record: 26-4, 10-2 Kishwaukee River

Top returning players: Seniors Desjani Beamon (G, 5-10), Jayvon Johnson (F, 6-3), Will Hough (F, 6-4), Michael Kalusa (G, 6-1), Michael Pearson (F, 6-4), Zach Schutta (G, 6-1) Caden Scott (F, 6-2); Juniors Logan Andersen (G, 6-1), Patrick Mayfield (F, 6-4), Kyle Moring (G, 6-0); Sophomores Jake Lenschow (G/F, 6-2), Matt Muetterties (F, 6-4)

Top newcomers: Juniors Adam Finstein (G, 5-9), Braden Seyller (G, 6-0); Sophomore Josh Hudgens (F, 6-4)

Outlook: Experienced, talented and deep, the Rockets are pointed skyward once more. Central returns 12 players from last year's Kishwaukee River Conference championship team, which lost to Glenbard South in a regional final for the second straight season. Leading the way is senior guard Zach Schutta, entering his fourth varsity season. The two-time all-area pick surpassed 1,000 points last February. He averaged 15.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.8 assists as a junior. Senior forward Patrick Mayfield (5.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg) has nonstop energy, coach Brett Porto said. He's 6-4 and growing. They are joined in the starting lineup by senior guard Michael Kalusa (9.3 ppg, 3 rpg, 2 apg), senior forward Caden Scott (2.1 ppg) and senior point guard Desjani Beamon (3.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg). Beamon backed up TaVontae Harris last year. He and Kalusa can both handle the ball. Senior Will Hough averaged 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds last year. Juniors Logan Andersen and Kyle Moring and sophomores Jake Lenschow and Matt Muetterties take on expanded roles after limited varsity minutes last year. "I feel like we have a lot coming back," Central coach Brett Porto said. "We don't have a lot of height, but we have all-around length. I can put four or five guys on the floor at a time who are all between 6-1 and 6-4. We'll go with the formula that's been working for us, which is be good on the defensive end and play team basketball on the offensive end. It's a hungry group. If they continue to work and try to better, they could do some nice things."

Cary-Grove

Coach: Adam McCloud (2nd year; 6th overall at Cary-Grove)

2016-2017 record: 15-13, 9-7 Fox Valley

Top returning players: Seniors Ben Ferrell (6-3, F), Sam Carhart (6-3, G), Luc Bressett (6-0, G), David Knapp (6-2, F)

Top newcomers: Juniors Addison West (6-4, C), Charlie Walsh (5-8, G), sophomores Beau Frericks (5-11, G), Frank Jakubicek (6-5, F)

Outlook: Cary-Grove returns three seniors who played significant minutes a year ago. Plus, the Trojans are hooked up in the size department with three underclassmen at 6-4, plus a pair of 6-5 players. "We had a strong summer building on last year's offensive and defensive philosophies," said coach Adam McCloud. The coach has added Johnsburg alum Dan Osiminski as varsity assistant coach, while Dan Adams, a 2001 Cary-Grove graduate who played on Dave Otto's 2001 sectional championship team, will move to the sophomore level. McCloud likes the direction the program is heading. "We are looking to compete to win in every game and win a regional championship," he said. "The bar is higher after achieving some success last year. Our four seniors all are outstanding leaders and will help push the underclassmen to continue to play at a high level. All players will benefit from the continuity of offensive and defensive schemes this year." Ben Ferrell averaged 4 points and 4 rebounds last year, while Sam Carhart averaged 4 points and Luc Bressett 3 points (and shot 93 percent from the foul line). McCloud said the Trojans will play a ball movement system on offense. "It's unselfish and attempts to force the defense to change sides of the floor constantly," he said. "Our box score should include many players this year and is not predicated on one player doing the scoring." Rebounding also will be a key for the squad. "Defensively, we will continue to mix up our looks and improve our rebounding," said McCloud. "Our improved size and strength should help us rebound." McCloud expects a competitive FVC race. "The conference is super-deep this year and will be very competitive," he said. "Every team is capable of beating every team, which has not been the case the last 6-plus years. McHenry's top five are very good and they have the best player in the conference. Jacobs will be tough as always. Central will be improved and I also think Hampshire will compete with the top teams."

Crystal Lake South

Coach: Matt LePage (6th year, 74-70)

2016-2017 record: 10-18, 6-10 Fox Valley

Top returning players: Seniors Kyle Leva (6-2), Tyler Haskin (6-3), Blake Kuffel (6-4), Jon Holloway (5-9, G), junior Ben Geske (5-10, G)

Top newcomers: Juniors Matt Real (6-4, F), Ryan Lawson (5-10, G), Ben Jenkins (5-11, G), sophomore Tyler Miller (6-1, G)

Outlook: Kyle Leva is a returning all-FVC player after averaging 12 points and 6 rebounds a game. Coach Matt LePage said the starting lineup is still a work in progress, but Leva, Tyler Haskin (6 points, 5 rebounds last year) and Blake Kuffel (5 points last year) are most likely to be in starting positions. "We bring back solid experience from last year's team that went through a lot of growing pains," said LePage, who returns seven of his top nine players from last year's rotation. "The guys really committed to the weight room and worked hard in the off-season as a group. I think team chemistry can be a major strength for us along with our depth (LePage said he could play up to 10)." The coach noted the Gators lack traditional post-player size and will have to make up for that lack of size with speed and quickness. Ben Geske and Jon Holloway both played point guard last year. LePage likes the senior experience the team has with Haskin, Leva and Kuffel, plus the addition of younger guards in Tyler Miller, Ryan Lawson, Matt Real and Ben Jenkins. "They add solid depth," he said. LePage noted defense is shaping up to be a strength, but fundamentals overall will be key. "We're really going to have to be fundamentally sound when it comes to rebounding with our lack of size," he said. LePage lists Jacobs, McHenry and Crystal Lake Central as teams to keep an eye on in the FVC.

Dundee-Crown

Coach: Lance Huber (15th year, 178-207)

2016-17 record: 4-23, 2-14 Fox Valley

Top returning players: Seniors Gabe Bergeron (P, 6-7), Jack Orndahl (G, 6-0), Rhyne Parreno (G, 6-0); Juniors Damarion Butler (G, 5-11), Brad Stec (P, 6-5)

Top newcomers: Juniors Jordan Hairston (W, 6-1), Jack Michalski (P, 6-3), Josh Raby (W, 6-5); Sophomore Travon Hatcher (G, 5-6)

Outlook: The Chargers have a 15-66 record the past three seasons, but the tide may be turning. Whether Dundee-Crown returns to respectability in the Fox Valley Conference or not depends, in part, on how hard this team is willing to work for it, veteran coach Lance Huber said. An influx of talented juniors joins four-year varsity guard Jack Orndahl and three-year post Gabe Bergeron. Orndahl is the team's hardest worker, said Huber, who regularly opens the gym early so the senior can work on his game. As a junior Orndahl averaged 9.7 ppg, shot 34.8 percent from 3-point range (47 of 135) and 77.8 percent from the free-throw line (49 of 63). Bergeron averaged 7.2 points and 5.2 rebounds and led the Chargers with 27 blocks. He's the X Factor. "There's a lot of potential there and I think it's up to Gabe to see how much he wants to develop that potential," Huber said. "I think he has a very high ceiling and can do some really nice things. We're looking forward to him reaching his potential." Brad Stec contributed 2.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore, totals likely to increase as a junior. Jordan Hairston made his varsity debut in the second half of last season. He is a 6-1 wing with a big motor and a competitive personality, his coach said. Wing Josh Raby (6-5) and post Jack Michalski (6-3), both juniors, lend some height. They'll contribute off the bench, as will sophomore guard Travon Hatcher. Do the Chargers have what it takes to forge the program's first winning record since a 19-8 mark in 2012-13? "We have some talent and a lot parts that fit together nicely, but at the same time we're small and we don't shoot particularly well," Huber said. "But we have some post players with a lot of size who can cause matchup problems. We lack a little bit of experience, which is a little concerning, but we're cautiously optimistic we could do some things."

Elgin

Coach: Mike Sitter (11th year, 150-132)

2016-17 record: 16-14, 4-8 Upstate Eight River

Top returning players: Seniors Daz Cooks (G, 5-3), John Fortmann (F, 5-11), Trevon Morris (G, 5-10), Roy Panthier (F, 6-4), Jackson Sitter (F, 6-0), Dan Toolsie (G, 5-11), Matthew Turner (F, 6-3)

Top Newcomers: Senior Michael Weatherburn (G, 5-11)

Outlook: Playing against Elgin won't be much fun. What the Maroons lack in height -- senior captain Roy Panthier (6-foot-4) and senior Matt Turner (6-3) are Elgin's tallest players -- they make up for in effort, particularly on defense. Coach Mike Sitter said longtime assistant Jeff Howard is in charge of the defense this year, meaning opponents can expect 32 minutes of pressure. It's a philosophy that plays to the relentless nature of this hardworking team, which has enthusiasm to burn. "Sometimes things can get sloppy if we rush too much or play too hard, but I'd rather have a team go too hard than too soft and not compete," Sitter said. "I think we'll compete in every game and if someone's not competing I've got six guys that look just like him that can take his spot in a second. I tell them this in practice. It tends to ratchet things up." Senior guard Dan Toolsie is the team's top returning scorer at 6.5 ppg. He has the potential to be Elgin's top scorer and one of the area's better players due to his leaping ability and long-range accuracy. Panthier is a leader on and off the court, Sitter said. Turner can sink shots away from the basket. The Maroons will go with point guard by committee: Tre Morris, JC Fortmann, Daz Cooks and sophomore Xavier Bonds can each bring the ball up. Last year Morris averaged 5.8 ppg. Fortmann is a three-sport athlete (baseball and golf) who worked with Howard in the off-season to improve his jumpshot. Jack Sitter is a typical coach's son: high basketball IQ and always in the right spot. Athletic defender Mike Weatherburn transferred from Crystal Lake South in the middle of last school year. He practiced with the Maroons in the second half of the season but did not play. Opponents will run into trouble if Elgin holds a fourth-quarter lead. "If we have a lead late, we'll be tough to beat because we can knock down some free throws and spread teams out," Sitter said.

Elgin Academy

Coach: Rick Williams (2nd year, 4-18)

2016-2017 record: 4-18, 1-11 Independent School League

Top returning players: Senior Jordan Hare (F), junior Noah Townsend (G)

Key newcomers: Junior Colin Kolinek (G)

Outlook: Jordan Hare and Noah Townsend both are returning all-ISL performers. "Noah is a strong ballhandler who will create shots for others and himself." said coach Rick Williams. "Noah and Jordan will take us as far as we are going to go this year. We are looking forward to following their lead." Williams noted this year's Hilltoppers bunch will be quick and small on offense and will look to spread the floor. On defense, "We plan to fly around the gym and create as much havoc as we can with our small team," Williams said. The coach likes his squad's quickness and aggressiveness and stresses a number of factors must come into play in order for his team to be successful. "We have to be in the best shape possible," he said. "We can't play our style of defense unless we are in good condition." Williams also is a fan of how his players balance the rigors of academics and athletics. "Playing sports in addition to the rigorous academic challenges at Elgin Academy is not easy," he said. "They all accept the challenge with no complaint." Williams knows his squad will have to be on its toes inside the ISL. "It always is a challenge to gain wins in the ISL, but we are approaching every game with a winning mindset," he said.

Geneva

Coach: Scott Hennig (first year)

2016-17 record: 28-3, 11-1 Upstate Eight River

Top returning players: Senior Will Courter (F, 6-6); Juniors Mitch Mascari (G, 6-4), Jack McDonald (G, 5-10); Sophomore Nate Santos (G, 6-7)

Top newcomers: Senior Jack Hood (G, 6-2); Juniors Daniel Belser (F, 6-5), Kross Garth (F, 6-5), Josh Preston (F, 6-4), Reilly Waldoch (F, 6-2)

Outlook: Former Geneva assistant Scott Hennig begins his first season as a head coach. He takes over for Phil Ralston, now at Glenbrook South. Hennig inherits a strong backcourt, led by returning all-area point guard Jack McDonald. He spent the off-season in the weight room getting stronger and returns an improved player, his coach said. As a sophomore McDonald averaged 10.6 points and 1.3 steals and shot 45 percent from 3-point range for the UEC River champs. Mitch Mascari (8.2 ppg) led the area in 3-point accuracy (45 percent). Nate Santos (4 ppg) is one of the area's top sophomores. Now 6-7, he could grow to 6-10, his coach said. Santos missed the final 5 games of his freshman season on varsity after suffering a broken leg in practice. He was cleared by doctors to resume play in August and "looks fantastic," Henning said. Second-year varsity forward Will Courter is a solid defender and rebounder with a developing offensive game. Junior forwards Daniel Belser (6-5), Kross Garth (6-5), Josh Preston (6-4) and Reilly Waldoch (6-2, 215 pounds) were part of the UEC River champion sophomore team last year. They replenish some of the size the varsity lost with the graduation of the Navigato brothers. Hennig said he expects each to contribute immediately. Forget about fouling if Geneva leads late. McDonald shot 85 percent from the free-throw line last year and Mascari shot 77 percent.

Hampshire

Coach: Ben Whitehouse (3rd year, 18-40)

2016-17 record: 8-22, 4-12 Fox Valley

Top returning players: Seniors Nathan Cork (G, 5-11); Juniors Drew Dalby (C, 6-6), J.D. Shaw (G, 6-3),

Top newcomers: Senior Jon Westerlund (F, 6-2); Junior A.J. Bishop (F, 6-0), Zach Golden (G, 6-0), Kyle Johnson (G, 6-0), Marcus Lazar (G, 6-0); Sophomore Collin Woods (G, 6-3)

Outlook: Hampshire has a better idea of what to expect the second time around. Last season the Whip-Purs entered play in the contracted Fox Valley Conference after graduating the top six players from the previous season. They were also bumped up in postseason play from Class 3A to 4A. The Whips took some lumps early against some of the FVC's bigger schools but eventually gained solid footing. Hampshire won February road games at Cary-Grove and Crystal Lake South ahead of a 4A regional playoff win over Belvidere North. With third-year varsity guard Nathan Cork back to run the point, juniors J.D. Shaw and Drew Dalby returning taller and stronger and fortified by some key roster additions, Hampshire intends to maintain forward momentum. "We're hoping to take the next step," coach Ben Whitehouse said. "Last year was our first year in with the Fox Valley teams all in one big division. Aside from a couple of games we scratched and clawed and gave what we had and learned to compete on a bigger level. This year we're looking to take the next step by not only being competitive but by going out there and winning these games." Cork averaged 6.5 points, and 2.9 assists as a junior. Shaw, an inside-outside player with good court vision, contributed 6.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists as a sophomore. Dalby (2.3 ppg) has gotten stronger and grown two inches to 6-6. Also the school's starting quarterback Dalby is more explosive to the rim and has added a midrange jumphsot, Whitehouse said. That group is joined by a junior class that won 21 games at the sophomore level without Shaw. Immediate contributors from the junior class include forward A.J. Bishop and guards Zach Golden, Kyle Johnson and Marcus Lazar. A key addition is sophomore Collin Woods. He joins the Hampshire varsity after one season at Harvest Christian Academy. He is the younger brother of former Hampshire and Harvest Christian all-area player Brennen Woods, a preferred walk-on freshman at Northern Illinois. The younger Woods "has all the tangibles," Whitehouse said. "He's strong, he's long, he can run and he elevates above the rim. Like any sophomore he has to be more consistent in every aspect but he looks decent so far. He's played with these kids for a long time so it's been a smooth transition."

Harvest Christian Academy

Coach: Bryan Bradshaw (1st year)

2016-2017 record: 25-5, Class 1A regional champions

Top returning players: Senior Dylan Lockwood (6-4, F), juniors Jack Nohava (6-6, F), Grant Young (5-8, G)

Top newcomers: Senior Logan Jones (5-8, G), juniors Nolan Boyce (6-4, F), Payton Kasper (5-10, G)

Outlook: New coach Bryan Bradshaw hopes to build upon the program's success of a year ago. "We hope to continue to build a tradition of excellence here at Harvest Christian," he said. "We have a solid group of guys back from last year and have added a few newcomers. This is a hard-nosed group that will give you everything they have." Ballhandling will be one of a number of strengths for the Lions. "We have a lot of guys who can handle the ball and are aggressive drivers," said Bradshaw. "I think we are decent enough shooting-wise to where we can spread the floor and open up the driving lanes to get to the basket. We have some size down low. I like our potential to get the ball to the guys in the post." That aggressiveness will carry over to the defensive end. "Defensively, we are very aggressive and quick," said Bradshaw. "We will put a lot of pressure on teams and force them to speed up and hopefully that will lead to a lot of turnovers for us. Our guys are hard-nosed guys and competitors. That will give us a chance to win." Bradshaw joined the program after being an assistant in the Prairie Ridge program for three years. "The quicker our guys buy into our culture and come together as a team will be really important, especially with a new coaching staff," he said. Bradshaw is looking for big things from Dylan Lockwood and Jack Nohava this season. "I think those two guys have to have big years for us," he said. "That will say a lot about how far we are able to go." Bradshaw sees Aurora Christian, Westminster Christian and his squad as top-tier Northeastern Athletic Conference teams. "Aurora Christian always is tough and has been the past couple years," he said. "Us and them and Westminster Christian is good as well. Those are going to be the top teams."

Huntley

Coach: Will Benson (4th year, 27-61; 10th year overall, 73-130)

2016-17 record: 7-21, 5-11 Fox Valley

Top returning players: Seniors Brett Bigden (F, 6-3), Devin Borring (G/F, 6-2), Chris Costantino (G, 5-11), Andrew Fulcer (G, 6-2), Cory Knipp (G, 6-2), Zack Loveisky (G, 6-0)

Top newcomers: Juniors Nolan Engmann (F, 6-2), Patrick Roppolo (G, 5-11); Sophomores David Pasco (G, 5-11), Ryan Sroka (F, 6-3)

Outlook: Things are looking up for Huntley, which averaged 20 losses the last three years. A program that had trouble retaining upperclassmen in recent seasons, in part, because several single-sport specialists opted not to play basketball as they got older, is again on the rise. Will Benson has been Huntley's coach since this year's seniors were freshmen. He said this team committed to off-season training more than any since his arrival. And the upperclassmen are sticking around. "Part of it was unfortunate circumstances and part of it is there's more of a trust built up now between me and the players," Benson said. "I like our depth now, though I wish we were a little bigger. Our sophomore team will be pretty good, so will the freshman and there are even good groups at the seventh and eighth-grade levels. I think we're starting to trend upward again as a program." Benson calls Huntley's nucleus "the core six." It includes senior guards Cory Knipp, Chris Costantino and Zack Loveisky, senior forwards Andrew Fulcer and Brett Bigden and 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Ryan Sroka. Others expected to crack the rotation include senior guard/forward Devin Borring, junior forward Nolan Engmann and junior guards Patrick Roppolo and Davis Pasco. "Our chemistry is good," Benson said. "I like where we're at but we're trying to get more consistent in many areas. We have flashes of good defense and we're building toward that consistency. I think we ought to be competitive in every game and we should challenge for conference on paper. We have to beat Jacobs, which has been there the last few year. We want to be in the conversation for the conference come February."

Jacobs

Coach: Jimmy Roberts (5th year, 93-29)

2016-17 record: 30-2, 15-1 Fox Valley

Top returning players: Seniors Nik Balkcom (G, 6-3), Kameron Mack (G, 6-6), Ryan Phillips (G, 6-5), Ajani Rodriguez (G, 5-9); Junior Joacheim Price (6-8, 315)

Top newcomers: Junior Matt McCoy (G, 6-0); Sophomore Jaden Henderson (G, 6-2)

Outlook: The post-Cam Krutwig era begins. This is the first season coach Jimmy Roberts will direct a Jacobs team that doesn't feature Krutwig (Loyola), a four-year varsity standout named honorary captain of last year's Fox Valley All-Area Team. Nevertheless, the Golden Eagles return enough firepower to make a run at a fourth straight title in the Fox Valley Conference. The team's strength shifts to the perimeter. Third-year varsity guards Ryan Phillips and Nik Balkcom return along with senior Kameron Mack, the latter of whom "gets taller and longer every time I see him," Roberts said. Few area guard combinations can match the trio's experience or sheer size. Mack is 6-6 with long arms, Phillips is 6-5 and Balkcom stands 6-3. Phillips (10.8 ppg), was the second-leading scorer for a sectional champion. He shot 31 percent from 3-point range (39 of 126) to go with 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. Balkcom led the Eagles in assists per game (2.9) and steals (32). Mack came off the bench to contribute 3.3 points and 1.5 rebounds in limited minutes but will play a significantly larger role. Senior guard Ajani Rodriguez (5-11) is a dynamic playmaker who thrives in traffic. He and senior forward Daniel Murray (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) will likely be in the starting lineup alongside Phillips, Balkcom and Mack. They are joined by a new wave of talent that includes 6-2 sophomore guard Jaden Henderson, who adds to the team's perimeter depth. Joacheim "Joey" Price (6-8, 315) began seeing meaningful minutes last winter and should play a larger role in his third varsity season due to his physical presence. Can the Golden Eagles continue to win with Krutwig gone? "Obviously, we're going to miss Cam as a player and a person, but it's an exciting time as a coaching staff because that's what everyone is saying and rightfully so," Roberts said. "But we have a ton of kids who have played a lot of games and had a lot of success. I'm excited for our kids. These kids are extremely good off the dribble and always have been. They can get to the rim and they can shoot pullup jump shots. They are really good high school basketball players but the last two years they just haven't had the space to do the things they're good at."

Kaneland

Coach: Joe Conroy (3rd year, 30-30; Overall: 6th year, 60-116)

2016-17 record: 10-21, 5-8 Northern Illinois Big 12 East

Top returning players: Seniors Rhett Espe (G, 6-0), Blake Feiza (F, 6-4), Grant Heimerdinger (G, 5-10), Matt Olson (G, 5-8), Kyle Stuart (G, 5-9)

Top newcomers: Juniors Luke Brost (C, 6-4), Wyatt Peeler (F, 6-2), Brett Wallner (G, 6-2); Sophomore Brett David (G, 6-0)

Outlook: This isn't the tallest team in Kaneland history. Senior forward Blake Feiza stands tallest at 6-foot-4. However, the Knights have a few experienced returnees to lean on, led by Feiza (10.7 ppg, 4 rpg), named honorable mention all-Northern Illinois Big 12 East a year ago. Also back is senior point guard Rhett Espe, who averaged 5.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals. "Rhett is incredibly explosive with the ball on offense and will help to set the tone offensively for us," Kaneland coach Joe Conroy said. "Blake can rebound and score inside and out. He also brings positive energy each day as he encourages all of the players on our team." Also back is senior guard Kyle Stuart, a defensive stalwart who "sets the tone with what he does on defense," his coach said. Junior Wyatt Peeler can play inside or outside. Conroy said 6-4 junior center Luke Brost had a great summer and already has his basketball legs coming off football season. The Kaneland staff added sophomore Brett David to the varsity roster. Conroy said the plan is to lean heavily on the seniors and juniors while bringing the promising guard along. Former role players like senior guards Matt Olson and Grant Heimerdinger and junior guard Brett Wallner will have opportunities to contribute. "I feel we've got a solid core of nine players who truly believe in each other and believe we're going to have a really good season," Conroy said.

Larkin

Coach: Deryn Carter (9th year, 121-105)

2016-17 record: 19-15, 6-6 Upstate Eight River

Top returning players: Seniors Rolax Green (G, 6-0), Anthony Lynch (G, 6-3), Kindrel Morris (G, 5-7), Jackson Reuter (G, 5-8), Jalen Shaw (C, 6-10), Isaiah Talley (F, 6-4), Max Wiskirchen (F, 6-2); Juniors Pierre Black (G, 6-0), Victor Perez (F, 6-1)

Top newcomers: Juniors Latrell Hudson (G, 5-8), Chris Rose (G, 5-9); Sophomore Larenzo Coney (G, 5-10)

Outlook: The Royals put it together at the right time last March. Following an up-and-down regular season against a tough schedule, they hosted and won a Class 4A regional by defeating Elgin, Prairie Ridge and Bartlett. Larkin knocked off Rockford Boylan by 11 points to reach a sectional title game and eventually fell to Jacobs 62-39. Most of the key players responsible for that deep run return, led by a pair of Division-I prospects: 6-10 senior Jalen Shaw (14 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 blocks) and 6-3 senior guard Anthony Lynch (15.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3 apg). Shaw has offers from Illinois-Chicago, Southern Illinois and Manhattan and Lynch has an offer from American University. Also returning are dynamic senior guard Kindrel "Nomo" Morris (5 ppg, 6 apg, 3 rpg), starting forward Isaiah Talley (3 ppg, 4 rpg) and junior 3-point ace Pierre Black (9 ppg). Veteran coach Deryn Carter said he'd like to see this experienced group play at a high level from the start considering the Royals play one of the toughest schedules around. Besides the treacherous slate in a deep Upstate Eight Conference, Larkin competes in Thanksgiving and MLK tournaments in Rockford and the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. "The thing we have to guard against is this is not last March when we just happened to play our best basketball," Carter said. "The guys have been good about having the mindset that we have a lot to improve on, which is something I was concerned with. I've been pleasantly surprised the first week of practice." Lynch will bring the ball up more this season, which should allow Morris to become a more consistent scoring threat, Carter said. This team returns important role players like Victor Perez, Max Wiskirchen, Rolax Green, Keevon Campbell and Jackson Reuter and adds transfer Latrell Hudson, a junior guard who averaged 2.2 assists per game for Elgin's varsity last year. Athletic junior defender Chris Rose and sophomore shooter/defender Larenzo Coney will be in the rotation, Larkin's coach said. Led by proven producers Shaw, Lynch, Morris, Talley and Black, the Royals are potentially one of the area's strongest teams. "Our ceiling is high. I'm not gonna lie," Carter said. "But your ceiling had better be high because our league is a juggernaut this year. But I think we can compete with the best teams in our league and we'll find out at Thanksgiving and Christmas if we can compete with some of the best teams in the state. We know the expectations are out there and we're not shying away from them, but we also know we have a lot of work to do to get to that point."

Marmion

Coach: Tony Young (1st year)

2016-17 record: 5-23, 0-9 in the Chicago Catholic League North

Top returning players: Seniors Evan Pugh (5-10 G), Mick Sullivan (6-9 C); Junior Tommy Surges (5-9 G)

Outlook: Tony Young, the Cadets' new coach, is certainly no stranger to Illinois basketball. As a junior in 2001, he started on the Schaumburg team that knocked off Eddy Curry-led Thornwood 66-54 to win the Class AA state title. Young went on to become a 3-time Missouri Valley Conference All-Defensive Team selection as a guard at Southern Illinois University. He later served as an assistant coach to the late Rick Majerus at Saint Louis University. "One of the things that make my story unique from some other coaches is that I won a state championship in Illinois," said Young. "I've also been fortunate enough to play for great coaches in high school and college and work with some great college coaches and mentors." Young inherits a group of players eager to improve upon last year's 5-win campaign. "They all work hard," said Young. "I've tried to get them to work harder outside of their comfort zone. They've done a great job of accepting the coaching." At 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, Mick Sullivan may be one of the area's biggest players. "His work ethic is unbelievable," Young said of Sullivan. "He wants that scholarship offer. I think he's going to shock a lot of people this year." Backcourt leadership will be provided by senior Evan Pugh and junior Tommy Surges. "They're the heart and soul of our team," said the coach. Young was hesitant to list any additional names of possible contributors. "I couldn't even say right now," he said. "Everyone is new to me." Marmion's early season schedule includes appearances at Batavia's Ken Peddy Invitational and the Burney Wilkie Invitational at Aurora Christian. "Everything we're doing offensively and defensively is new to this group," said Young. "Having so many games on the front end of our schedule will allow us to study ourselves."

St. Charles East

Coach: Patrick Woods (7th year at SCE, 108-64; 15th year overall, 205-211)

2016-17 record: 18-9, 9-3 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division

Top returning players: Seniors Mickey Babb (6-2 F), Alec Champine (6-0 G), Jude Clodi (5-10 G), Justin Hardy (6-5 G/F), Zach Matheny (6-0 G), Zach Robinson (6-2 G); Juniors Charles Murphy (6-1 G), Nate Ortiz (6-3 G/F)

Top newcomers: Juniors Jake Champine (6-3 G/F), Dan Goetsch (6-4 F), Cody Mitchell (6-6 F), Mark Musial (6-4 G/F); Sophomore Aidan Sullivan (6-3 F)

Outlook: A year ago, the Saints accomplished a number of things, including winning their own Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament and finishing second in the rugged Upstate Eight Conference River Division. However, the postseason ended quickly following their 54-52 regional semifinal loss to Bartlett. "It was disappointing," said Saints coach Patrick Woods. "I haven't even watched those game films yet." The Saints return a strong nucleus, led by UEC River Player of the Year Justin Hardy. Last season, Hardy averaged 19.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 37 percent (36 of 97) from beyond the 3-point arc. "Justin is one of the best players in the area and he has improved his game," said Woods. "He is a better shooter facing the basket and can bring the ball up the court, too." Seniors Zach Robinson, Alec Champine, and juniors Charles Murphy and Nate Ortiz also started games for the Saints last season. "Nate is probably our best defender and second best player," said Woods. "He's a wing who can get to the basket." Robinson is one of the team's strongest players while Champine is known as "Mr. Versatility." "He's a utility guy who does whatever we need him to do," said Woods. "He does a lot of little things that often get unnoticed." Charles Murphy figures to handle the point while Jude Clodi provides additional outside shooting. Dan Goetsch, Cody Mitchell, Mark Musial and Aidan Sullivan head the list of newcomers. "All of those guys are long," said Woods. This year's annual Thanksgiving tournament will feature a round-robin format where every team plays five games. The Saints return to Hinsdale Central during winter break and will face DeKalb at Batavia's annual Night of Hoops.

St. Charles North

Coach: Tom Poulin (12th year, 177-132)

2016-17 record: 19-9, 8-4 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division

Top returning players: Seniors Cade Callaghan (6-4 F), Jalen Chanthaboury (6-1 G), Brendan Dal Degan (6-1 G), Lucas Heflen (6-2 G), Kyle King (6-5 F), Erik Larson (6-4 G), Zach Ludwig (5-11 G), Tyler Nubin (6-3 G); Sophomore Luke Scheffers (6-1 G)

Top newcomers: Juniors Tyler Czerniak (6-0 G), Billy Durocher (6-3 F); Sophomore Connor Linke (6-8 C)

Outlook: The North Stars will try to continue the momentum started by their 4th-place state boys soccer and girls volleyball teams and Upstate Eight Conference River Division champion football team this past fall. "There's a real positive vibe in the building," said North Stars coach Tom Poulin. Fueled by a battle-tested roster that includes Kyle King (15.3 ppg, 13.5 rpg), Cade Callaghan, Zach Ludwig, Brendan Dal Degan, Erik Larson, Tyler Nubin and Luke Scheffers, the North Stars figure to be in the hunt for a conference basketball title this winter. "It should be an interesting season," said Poulin. "This is a strong conference from top to bottom. Everybody has improved in my mind. I think any team can get beat on any night in our conference." King epitomizes the North Stars' way with his unselfishness. "Kyle does a great job of taking what the defense gives," said Poulin. "He has great court vision and he makes people around him better." King, Dal Degan, Larson, Ludwig and Scheffers are all capable of knocking down 3-point attempts while Callaghan adds heart and determination. "Cade is the perfect complement to Kyle (King) with his inside-outside game," said Poulin. "He's our glue guy and he's a winner." Nubin, an exceptional all-around athlete, provides a defensive presence for the North Stars, who will open their season on Nov. 22 against Minooka at North Central College as part of the Rock Island Thanksgiving Tournament. St. Charles North's nonconference schedule includes home games against West Aurora, Benet Academy, St. Joseph and an Arizona team -- Rancho Solano Prep. "I don't think we've had a schedule as tough as this one," said the coach.

St. Edward

Coach: P.J. White (8th year, 115-94)

2016-17 record: 15-16, 6-6 Metro Suburban Red

Top returning players: Seniors Luca Corso (F, 6-2), Reno Domel (G, 5-9), A.J. Franklin (F, 6-3), Will Gaston (G, 5-9), Dylan Mlinarich (F, 6-2), Ryan Pomeroy (G, 6-1), Austin Vana (F, 5-11); Juniors Liam Jackson (C, 6-8), Daniel Parks (G, 5-11)

Top newcomers: Juniors David Hill (G, 5-11), Jake Kaufman (5-8), Ben LoCoco (F, 6-1), Massimo Ranallo (5-9); Sophomore Sebastian Oquendo, (G, 5-9)

Outlook: St. Edward must fill the scoring void left by four-year player Kelvin Cortez-Harvey, who averaged 27.3 ppg and scored 818 points, a single-season St. Edward record. Scoring will be spread among more players this season. Candidates to contribute more offensively include senior guard/forward A.J. Franklin (12 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg), senior guard Will Gaston (4 ppg, 3 rpg, 3 apg), senior forward Dylan Mlinarich (4 ppg, 6 rpg) and 6-foot-8 junior center Liam Jackson (5 ppg, 4 rpg), among others. Franklin is a 6-3 all-state soccer player who is smooth on the basketball court and can run all day, coach P.J. White said. Gaston is an energizer who can get rebounds, play defense and play the point on the press. Jackson has gained strength and is practicing with more confidence. "I look for him to block shots and score baskets inside and be that inside presence that makes people afraid to drive the lane," White said of Jackson. Mlinarich is 6-2 but has the strength to effectively defend bigger players. He'll get help in the post from senior Brett Kruska (6-3, 265 pounds) -- a starting lineman for the football team -- and Collan O'Neill, a player White said dedicated himself to off-season weight training and "will give us a ton inside." Junior guard Daniel Parks is a skilled ballhandler who steps into a starting role in his second varsity season. Forward Sydney Muhamed scored 6 ppg last year. He brings energy off the bench. Are there enough pieces in place to make a run at another regional title? "I think our team is pretty comparable to where we were last year, maybe a little more balanced because we don't have the one star," said White, who is stepping down as coach at the end of the season. "We have a bunch of guys that just seem to be happy and proud to be on the team, and that's a nice team to have."

South Elgin

Coach: Brett Johnson (2nd year, 18-10)

2016-17 record: 18-10, 5-5 Upstate Eight Valley

Top returning players: Seniors David Binion (F, 6-4), Chris Hankins (F, 6-5), Noah Rohr (F, 6-3), Kyle Sy (G, 5-9); Junior Vince Miszkiewicz (F, 6-6)

Top newcomers: Juniors Drake Montgomery (G, 6-2), Mohammed Rahman (G, 5-8), Patrick Roy (F, 6-5), Lorenzo Vergara (G, 5-11), Jace Warrick (F, 6-2)

Outlook: South Elgin is better positioned entering the 2017-18 season than a year ago. Because the former coach resigned in September, Brett Johnson wasn't hired until October. A relatively inexperienced varsity team learned his system on the fly and enjoyed some success. With a year under their collective belts together, Johnson hopes the Storm hit the ground running, led by 6-6 junior Vince Miszkiewicz, 6-5 senior Chris Hankins and 6-4 junior David Binion. "It feels so different after 60-some games over the summer and summer camp," Johnson said. "I can feel the togetherness with this team already and practice has been phenomenal with so much energy. I hope it transfers to games. If it does, the sky is the limit for this team because you can't coach energy." Miskiewicz is the high-energy leader who sets the tone in practice with relentless effort. Hankins has grown to 6-7 with a 7-foot wingspan. He can defend the rim and finish around it. Johnson calls athletic David Binion "a diamond in the rough" and would like to see him attack the basket more and defer to teammates less. Accurate shooter Noah Rohr can connect from anywhere on the court, as can incoming junior Jace Warrick. A player to watch is 6-2 junior point guard Drake Montgomery, an above-the rim player his coach calls "one of the best ballhandlers I've seen in a while." Seniors Latrell Lamarca and Kyle Sy did not play as juniors but both should see time after improving themselves physically in the off-season. Likewise, 6-5 junior Patrick Roy added six inches to his vertical. How does it all add up? "I'm not sure we'll know until we get out there, but I have high expectations for this team," Johnson said. "I think we can play with the best of teams. We just have to decide we need to execute. To be a good team you have to beat good teams by executing. We could potentially beat teams on talent alone but that won't get us to a conference, regional or sectional championship. The true test is executing when you need a bucket or a stop. It's something we couldn't do last year so we took it to heart over the summer."

Streamwood Sabres

Coach: Paul Kowalyszyn (5th year, 20-102)

2016-17 record: 8-24, 0-12 Upstate Eight River

Top returning players: Seniors Kevin Bauer (G, 5-9), Lamont Cole (F, 6-0), Phil Cruz (C, 6-3), Sam Enno (G, 6-0), Juniors Keenon Cole (F, 6-7), DeAngelo Flynn (G, 5-8), Brendon Marton (F, 6-5), Jack Maybrun (F, 6-2)

Top newcomers: Junior Nikola Sinik (F, 6-6); Freshman Zack Marquez (G, 5-10),

Outlook: An 8-24 record in 2016-17 was a step forward considering the Sabres had won 12 games the previous three seasons combined. There's hope for further improvement with leading scorers/rebounders Brendon Marton (10.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Keenon Cole (10.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2 blocks) returning along with senior Lamont Cole (5.2 ppg). Marton is a team leader entering his fourth varsity season. He has an improved pullup jumpshot and can score off ball screens, coach Paul Kowalyszyn said. Keenon Cole can do it all: handle, score around the basket, defend, score from the perimeter with his unorthodox jumpshot. Both can score around the rim and protect it. Unfortunately, 6-3 senior center Phil Cruz (4 ppg, 4.6 rpg) tore his ACL over the summer. He could return in the second half of the season if rehabilitation goes well, his coach said. Junior DeAngelo Flynn is a strong ballhandler who has been on varsity since midway through his freshman year. He averaged 2.5 assists per game last year as a sophomore. Also back with expanded roles are senior guard Sam Enno, senior forward Jack Maybrun and senior outside shooter Kevin Bauer. That group is joined by 6-foot-6 Schaumburg transfer Nikola Sinik and promising freshman point guard Zack Marquez, who played with the varsity team over the summer. The combination of experience and youth has the Sabres cautiously optimistic. "I'd like to see us continue to make more progress," Streamwood coach Paul Kowalyszyn said. "We have some nice new pieces that will help and some good returning ones. We were very competitive last year. Even games we eventually lost by 20 points were close for most of the game. We're looking to be competitive in every game we play and we're looking for double-digit wins. We just need to execute. The kids are excited. This should be the best team Streamwood has put out there in a while, so we'll see how it goes."

West Aurora Blackhawks

Coach: Brian Johnson (3rd year, 29-27; 9th year overall, 128-95)

2016-17 record: 21-9, 9-1 Upstate Eight Valley

Top returning players: Seniors Jared Crutcher (F, 6-5), Camron Donatlan (G, 6-3), Damian Virgen (G/F, 5-11), Ben Young (F, 6-4)

Top newcomers: Juniors Traevon Brown (G, 6-0), Moshe Rogers (G/F, 6-3)

Outlook: The Blackhawks return plenty of talent from a team that won the Upstate Eight Valley and a Class 4A regional. Leading the way is fourth-year varsity guard Camron Donatlan, who last year surpassed the 1,000-point plateau. West Aurora's leading scorer averaged 15.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.3 steals per game. Also back is uber-athletic 6-5 forward Jared Crutcher. He averaged 10 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. Two more proven scorers return: versatile guard/forward Damian Virgen (7.7 ppg) and 6-4 senior outside shooter Ben Young (5.4 ppg). Add to that mix junior point guard Traevon Brown, who transferred from East Aurora, and junior three-sport athlete Moshe Rogers (6-3). Brown was an all-conference pick with the Tomcats. Johnson describes him as a one of West Aurora's best shooters, a natural leader who can score off the dribble or from the 3-point line, and someone who makes good decisions in the open floor. An additional skilled ballhandler is junior Latrone Kirkwood. He played point guard for a sophomore team that lost only 5 games. The additions of Brown and Kirkwood at the point allows Johnson to play Donatlan off the ball and Virgen to play on the wing. That could translate to more penetration and more open kicks for Young, who sank 34 3-pointers last year. "Adding those three names to the roster gives us a whole other dimension we didn't have last year," Johnson said of Brown, Rogers and Kirkwood.

Westminster Christian

Coach: Andy Zielinski (3rd year, 37-20)

2016-2017 record: 18-10, fourth in Northeastern Athletic

Top returning players: Seniors Ben Versluys (6-5, F), Jordan Warrener (6-0, G), Nate Hoersch (5-11, G), junior Will Kmieciak (5-11, G)

Key newcomers: Seniors JT Stoll (5-8, G), Cole Haecker (6-0, G), juniors Chris King (6-4, C), Brett Barker (6-2, F), Jacob Guge (5-5, G)

Outlook: Westminster lost 4 senior starters to graduation, but does return All-Area selection Ben Versluys and all-NAC selection Jordan Warrener. "We lost four of our five starters from last year, but we have the chance to be a pretty good team that can be competitive in conference," said coach Andy Zielinski. "The key to the season will be keeping everyone healthy. We only have nine varsity players. We hope to contend for conference and get back to the regional final." Zielinski noted the return of Versluys and Warrener is a big help. "The development of our juniors and contributions from our seniors will be the key," he said. "We lost a lot from last year, but the players stepping up this year have been in the system for three years now and did a nice job over the summer. Once again, health will be key because we have low numbers and lost a lot of size from last year." Zielinski explained the team will run motion on offense and still will have decent size, while defensively the team will embrace man-to-man and zone schemes depending on the situation. The coach also likes the guard position talent with Warrener, Will Kmieciak and Nate Hoersch. "We have to stay committed and battle through adversity," he said. "They tend to bounce back quickly when things don't go their way."

Mike Miazga and Craig Brueske contributed

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.