NORTH SUBURBANSTEVENSON PATRIOTSCoach: Pat Ambrose (20th season)
Last year: 25-5
Last year's tournament finish: Lost in Class 4A regional championship to Waukegan, 82-71.
Key players lost: F Justin Smith (Indiana), G Eric Zalweski, G Willie Herenton
Key players returning: F Jackson Qualley
Newcomers: G Samvit, sr., G Luke Cheing, jr.
Outlook: Nutrition is key to the success of any athlete, so Stevenson head coach Pat Ambrose is trying to make sure his players eat. And EAT. "We have to EAT everyday," Ambrose said. "We have to have Effort, Attitude and Toughness." Stevenson will be eating with an almost entirely brand new cast of dinner guests. With the departure of Justin Smith, who is playing at Indiana, there is now no one left from the team that won the Class 4A state championship three years ago. In fact, the Patriots return little in the way of numbers from last season. Forward Jackson Qualley is the only player to get minutes for Stevenson last year. "We have a lot of new, smiley faces," Ambrose said. "Emphasis on the NEW-comer. "We're not sure yet who is going to play a lot," Ambrose said. "We will do our best to work hard. We could be better as the season goes on, but we must practice with passion and perform with pride under pressure."
Opener: Tuesday vs. Tilden at Palatine
LIBERTYVILLE WILDCATSCoach: Brian Zyrkowski (1st season)
Last year: 12-16
Last year's tournament finish: Lost in Class 4A regional quarterfinals to Glenbrook North, 48-47.
Key players lost: G Harrison Bach, G Brandon Rule, F Drew Fortini
Key players returning: G Drew Peterson, sr, F Chase Eyre, sr., F Riley Gowens, sr., C Brendan Cook
Newcomers: G Josh Steinhaus, jr., F Travis Clark, jr.
Outlook: Libetyville has a new coach in Brian Zyrkowski but an old star in senior Drew Peterson. Peterson, a Division I prospect, has been starting on varsity since his sophomore year. Last season, Peterson averaged 20 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He is widely considered the best returning player in the North Suburban Conference. "This should be a fun team to watch this season," said Zyrkowski, a former underlevel coach. "With Drew Peterson in the driver's seat combined with players with varsity experience as well as a strong junior class, this group is geared up for the season. Drew Peterson has worked on many areas of his game and he has taken this team under his wing and has been a great role model for our younger players." Chase Eyre, Riley Gowens, Brendan Cook, Josh Lilja, Grant Bair and Brandon Simberg all return with varsity experience from last season while Josh Steinhaus, Travis Clark and Brian Wilterdink are part of that talented junior class. Sophomore Jackson Watson should also be a contributor. "This group has put in a lot of time in the off-season on their own individual skill development and strength and conditioning. We are excited to showcase our uptempo style as well as the improvements this team has made since last year. Coming off a 12-16 record last season, this group expects to be better and raise the bar this season."
Opener: Monday (7 p.m.) vs. St. Viator at St. Viator Thanksgiving tournament
LAKE ZURICH BEARSCoach: Billy Pitcher (8th season)
Last year: 19-12, 5-9 NSC
Last year's tournament finish: Lost in Class 4A regional championship to Grant, 51-47.
Key players lost: G Michael Bens (Regis), G Brian Chmiel, G Brett Hensley, F Chris Trybula
Key players returning: G Ryan Kutsor, sr., F Peter DiCerbo, sr., G Kenny Haynes, sr., G Will Tucker, soph., F Joe Heffernan sr., G Cole McKinley, sr., C Tyler Sarvady, sr.
Newcomers: G JR Cison, jr., F Collin Callahan, fr.
Outlook: Lake Zurich nearly had a 20-win season last year (19-12) and returns almost all of its firepower from that team. Plus, the Bears are making a key addition. Back is leading scorer Ryan Kutsor (15 points per game) as well as third leading scorer Peter DiCerbo (10 points per game). Sixth man Kenny Haynes also returns and JR Cison gets added to the roster. Cison, who has lived in Lake Zurich his whole life, transfers in after attending St. Viator. He was St. Viator's starting point guard and an all-conference selection in the East Suburban Catholic Conference last year. "JR brings a whole new element to our team," Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher said. "Having a true point guard is a big addition. JR's explosiveness, ball-handling, decision-making and conditioning are all impressive. He takes Ryan (Kutsor) off the point and allows Ryan to slash and spot up." A three-year starter, Kutsor has 641 career points and is getting college interest, as is Cison and DiCerbo, who had three game-winning baskets last year. "On paper, we certainly have a lot of talent and guys who can score," said Pitcher, who is anticipating starting five guards. "But team chemistry, leadership and how they commit to defense will determine how good we will be. Our goal each year at minimum is to win 20 games and a regional, but this group has higher expectations."
Opener: Monday (5:30 p.m.) vs. Crystal Lake South
MUNDELEIN MUSTANGSCoach: Matthew Badgley (1st season)
Last year: 5-23, 0-14 NSC
Last year's tournament finish: Lost in Class 4A quarterfinals to Warren, 75-55.
Key players lost: None
Key players returning: F Jeff Bikus, sr., G Tommy Marcotte, sr.
Newcomers: C Andrew Silva, sr.
Outlook: After being out of coaching for about 15 years, Matt Badgley got the itch again. So he left his 8-year post as the assistant principal at Wauconda to take over as the head boys basketball coach at Mundelein. "As a coach, you have the opportunity to shape the approach young men can take in high school," Badgley said. "You have the opportunity to be a positive role model and in some of my other opportunities in education, I didn't always have that vehicle. This Mundelein position offered me an oppportunity to get back in coaching and I wanted to take that." Badgley has coached downstate at Lebanon and Trico. He was also an assistant coach at Hazelwood East and Pickneyville. "I missed coaching and I'm excited to help our guys concentrate on the now and be as good as we can be. We are going to try to be competitive. We are going to try to bring the program back." Mundelein has struggled in recent years, and experienced another winless season in the North Suburban Conference last year (0-14). "Our approach is to compete and see where that takes us. We are optimistic for this year and our future," Badgley said. "The boys are working hard and trying to grasp the appraoch we are wanting to take. We are just approaching this process on day at a time. The kids are interested and responding and that is certainly something to build upon." The Mustangs have two seniors to build around: Jeff Bikus and Tommy Marcotte.
Opener: Monday at Mundelein Thanksgiving tournament
WARREN BLUE DEVILSCoach: Jon Jasnoch (3rd season)
Last year: 13-15, 5-9 NSC
Last year's tournament finish: Lost in the Class 4A regional semifinals to Niles North, 62-60.
Key players lost: G Jayson Dorsey (CLC), G Juwan Perry (Albion), F Declan O'Connor (Wisconsin-Oshkosh)
Key players returning: G Branden Ellis, sr., G Ian Schilling, sr., G Barak Diehl, sr., F Ryan Short, sr.
Newcomers: G Tavion McCarthy, jr., G Jordan Johnson, soph., F Cole Thompson, jr., F Adnan Sarancic, soph.
Outlook: Teamwork is a priority for the Blue Devils. Warren had some sharpshooters from 3-point range last year who return, but they are more than happy to share the basketball. "I'm really excited about our team this year," Warren coach Jon Jasnoch said. "We have several players who are very good shooters who are willing to share the ball. They played really well together last summer. On offense, they really moved the ball and shot well and they played solid team defense." Senior guards Ian Schilling and Barak Diehl both shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range last season. Meanwhile, senoir Branden Ellis, returns as the team's leading scorer. "I think Branden is poised to have a standout season," Jasnoch said. Branden will start at point guard but get some relief from junior Tavion McCarthy and sophomore Jordan Johnson. Cole Thompson and Adnan Sarancic will handle post duties for the Blud Devils.
Opener: Monday (4:30 p.m.) vs. Lake Forest Academy at Mundelein Thanksgiving tournament