2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 12/14/2017 9:19 PM

West Aurora hits the road for tough challenges

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  • Sophomore Uchenna Egekeze (32) made his first start for Huntley Wednesday night at the same time his brother Amanze was scoring a career-high 32 points for Belmont University.

      Sophomore Uchenna Egekeze (32) made his first start for Huntley Wednesday night at the same time his brother Amanze was scoring a career-high 32 points for Belmont University.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer


It's a weekend of road tests for the West Aurora boys basketball team.

The Blackhawks, ranked No. 2 in the Daily Herald Top 20, travel to No. 18 Glenbard East (5-2, 1-0) Friday for a key Upstate Eight Valley contest.

West Aurora (5-1, 1-0) visits No. 11 St. Charles North (4-2) on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

Glenbard East is coming off an impressive comeback win at South Elgin (5-1, 0-1) last Saturday. The Rams trailed by 18 in the fourth quarter but rallied for a 74-73 overtime victory, thanks in part to sophomore guard Alijah Nelson's 27-point performance.

St. Charles North has won three straight against Bogan (4-3), St. Charles East (5-3) and Bartlett (3-5) but has been idle since Dec. 6.

"What's nice about it is it's two different styles of play," West Aurora coach Brian Johnson said. "Glenbard East is going to get out and run and they're going to get shots up quickly. They have strong guard play and they're much better than they were last year. They're just playing really well right now.

"St. Charles North does their thing. They run their offense. They run great pick and roll action. They can all shoot the three and they have a nice big kid (6-foot-5 Kyle King). It'll be a challenge both nights. We have to come prepared."

West Aurora three-sport star Camron Donatlan, the reigning Class 3A state high jump champion who recently committed to Wyoming for football and track, leads the Blackhawks with 20.2 ppg. He is followed by senior guard Damian Virgen (14.4 ppg, 3.6 apg), 6-foot-5 senior forward Jared Crutcher (12.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and junior guard Traevon Brown (9.2 ppg, 4.8 apg).

The North Stars make up for a nine-day layoff with 3 games in five days. They play an Upstate Eight River game Friday at Elgin (1-5, 0-3), host West Aurora on Saturday and face South Elgin (5-1) on Tuesday in a game that has been moved to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates at 7 p.m.

"Elgin -- it's a conference game on the road, which is never easy," St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. "And West Aurora, it's a serious test, which is why we have them on the schedule. One of the highlights of last season was getting a win on their court (55-42). I know Brian Johnson pretty well and I know that his kids are kind of looking forward to coming in here with him and getting some payback. It'll be a fun game. It'll be another challenge for us because of their athleticism and they're very disciplined in how they attack you offensively and defensively."

Two brothers, one big night: It was a Wednesday to remember for the Egekeze brothers of Lake In The Hills.

In Nashville, Tenn., Huntley graduate Amanze Egekeze scored a career-best 32 points in Belmont's 82-63 victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The honorary captain of the 2013-14 Daily Herald/Fox Valley All-Area team averages 18.1 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Bruins (6-5).

Meanwhile, in a game against Jacobs in Algonquin, sophomore Uchenna Egekeze made his first start for Huntley (1-6, 0-3 Fox Valley). It was his second game since being called up to the varsity along with sophomore guard Ryan Crosby.

Uchenna (6-foot-1, 155 pounds) isn't built quite like his 6-foot-8, 220-pound older brother. At least not yet. "Hopefully, he'll grow a little bit more," Huntley coach Will Benson said.

Uchenna came off the bench in his varsity debut last week at Dundee-Crown. Strong with the ball, the adept ballhandler scored his first varsity basket and grabbed 3 rebounds in limited minutes.

Against Jacobs he contributed 4 points and 4 rebounds. He drove to the hoop for his first bucket, something the offensively challenged Red Raiders haven't done much of this season.

"He's pretty athletic," Benson said. "He has good instincts defensively. I think his shot is improved. He's one of the few guys I think who can take his own guy off the dribble at times. He has a lot of potential just like a lot of our young guys do. Our juniors, too."

They call it a regional for a reason: Local rivals will undoubtedly collide when the postseason begins in March, based on assignments released by the IHSA last week.

Of the 19 Class 4A schools in the Fox River Valley stretching from Aurora to Crystal Lake, 11 are assigned to sub-sectional A of the Jacobs sectional.

That grouping includes Upstate Eight Conference teams Elgin, Larkin, South Elgin, St. Charles East, St. Charles North and Streamwood and Fox Valley Conference teams Cary-Grove, Dundee-Crown, Hampshire, Huntley and Jacobs. Regionals will be hosted by Dundee-Crown and St. Charles North.

Crystal Lake South, Crystal Lake Central and Prairie Ridge are assigned to sub-sectional B of the Jacobs sectional along with McHenry and the Rockford-area schools.

Bartlett, Batavia and Geneva are assigned to the DuPage-centric Glenbard East sectional, with regional sites at Addison Trail, Bartlett, Hinsdale South and Naperville North.

Heading east didn't work out so well for Geneva last season. The Vikings entered as the No. 2 seed in a 22-team sectional only to lose a regional final to Hinsdale South 44-41.

West Aurora and East Aurora will compete in the Romeoville sectional, joining other schools from Aurora, Naperville, Oswego and Plainfield. Regional hosts are Lemont, Lincoln-Way Central, Oswego East and Plainfield South.

In Class 3A, Aurora Central Catholic, Burlington Central, Marmion and Kaneland are assigned to sub-sectional A of the Woodstock North sectional, fed by regional sites at ACC and St. Francis.

St. Edward will compete in the Class 2A Timothy Christian sectional, which has regional sites at Northridge Prep and Guerin.

Three Class 1A private schools from Elgin -- Elgin Academy, Harvest Christian Academy and Westminster Christian -- are assigned to sub-sectional B of the Ottawa Marquette sectional along with Aurora Christian and Mooseheart.

A-Rod plays D: Jacobs (6-2) limits opponents to 45 points per game, partly because it enjoys mismatches with senior guards Kameron Mack (6-foot-5), Ryan Phillips (6-4) and Nik Balkcom (6-3).

Senior Ajani Rodriguez (5-10) has been just as much a factor on defense in his first season as a starter. Voted a team captain, the guard is fourth on his team in scoring (8.5 ppg) and third in assists (2.0) but his defensive intensity might be his most valuable asset. A self-described "little gnat on defense," he leads the Golden Eagles with 2.6 steals per game. Phillips and Balkcom average 2.1 steals.

"I just want everyone to succeed," Rodriguez said. "Given more playing time I just look for everyone to distribute the ball, make sure we're competing, make sure we're talking on defense. Communication is key. I'm loud. I talk a lot on the court. I took a leadership role in that I bring intensity and I want everyone else to bring it too."

The Golden Eagles limited Huntley to 37 points on Wednesday, their best defensive showing yet.

"And (Daniel) Murray is a tough, tough nut, too," Jacobs coach Jimmy Roberts said of the 6-foot-2 senior forward. "It's a pretty good group of five guys defensively. They complement each other well."

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