Defending state champ Stevenson expects plenty of competition
NORTH SUBURBAN LAKELAKE ZURICH BEARSCoach: Billy Pitcher, 6th season
Last year: 23-9 (7-7 North Suburban Lake)
Last year's tournament: Lost in regional final to St. Viator, 48-42.
Key players lost: G Mike Travlos (Hillsdale), F Will McClaughry (Loras), G Jack O'Neill.
Key players returning: G Nick Penny, sr., F Nick Meyer, sr., C Andrew Gilbertson, sr., F Cam Long, sr., F Karl Gerlach, sr.
Newcomers: G Michael Bens, jr., G Brian Chmiel, jr., G Brett Hensley, jr., F Andrew Amft, jr., F Chris Trybula, jr.
Outlook: Here was the daunting reality that Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher faced at the end of last season: he needed to replace 3 starters in Mike Travlos, Will McClaughry and Jack O'Neill who were all-conference selections and combined to average 44 points per game. "That definitely had me concerned," Pitcher said. Then, returning senior guard Nick Penny kicked it up a notch. "Nick Penny has been great this summer and fall," Pitcher said. "As a head coach or an assistant, I have never been around a kid that makes everyone better like he does and he does it so quietly." Penny, a do-everything guard, is being heavily recruited at the Division III level and has some Division II schools showing interest as well. Penny's classmate, forward Nick Meyer, has been shooting the ball well and is the team's top returning scorer. He averaged 8 points per game. "Both (Penny and Meyer) know nothing but winning as they led the sophomore team to 25 wins two years ago and were starters on our 23-win team last year," Pitcher said. "They expect to win every time out." Meyer is getting Division III looks as is center Andrew Gilbertson. Both Meyer and Gilbertson are also volleyball players who can jump well. Junior Michael Bens will likely start at shooting guard and the fifth starting spot could be filled by four or five different players. Senior Tim Spears (torn patella), who was last year's sixth man, and sophomore Peter DiCerbo (ACL) will add to the competition for that spot when they return in February. "Last year, we went six or seven deep but I feel confident going at least 10 deep, even deeper when (Spears and DiCerbo return)," Pitcher said. "I am looking forward to the season with these guys. They all have good attitudes, work ethic and are also tough and confident."
Opener: Monday 5 p.m. vs. Waukegan at Grant Thanksgiving tournament.
LIBERTYVILLE WILDCATSCoach: Brent Mork, 1st season
Last year: 15-13 (5-7 North Suburban Lake)
Last year's tournament: Lost in regional semifinal to Notre Dame, 67-54.
Key players lost: C Joe Borcia (Wisconsin-Parkside), F Conor Peterson (Brewster Academy, NH), F Peter Feely (DePauw).
Key players returning: G Paul Steinhaus, sr., G Jabari Quigley, sr., G Cam Chen, sr., F Ben Kimpler, sr.
Newcomers: G Brandon Rule, jr., G Harrison Bach, jr., G Drew Peterson, soph., G/F Ben Skeens, jr., G Drew Fortini, jr.
Outlook: It's a new era at Libertyville as former Stevenson assistant Brent Mork takes over for Scott Bogumil, who coached the Wildcats for 11 years. "Even though we had a nice summer, we all know the season is a completely different monster and the guys are trying to get a better feel for me," Mork said. "Our staff is trying to find out where guys fit together and how to blend the pieces we have. The guys are having to learn a new system, both offensively and defensively, and new terminology, so I'm sure their minds are spinning a bit." For some calm, Mork will look to his most experienced players, guards Paul Steinhaus, Jabari Quigley and Cam Chen. "We are going to have to lean on them," Mork said of his veterans. "They are the only ones we have in the early season who have varsity game experience." Of course, imposing center Ben Kimpler has game experience, but he might not be available until after Thanksgiving as he is a star defensive lineman for the football team, which is competing in the state semifinals this weekend. "We are excited about some of the juniors and sophomores as there are some good players in those classes who will be a major part of any success we have this year," Mork said. "If those guys take it day-by-day and improve, we're excited about the possibilities. We're still focusing on the basics both individually and as a team."
Opener: Monday at 7:30 p.m. vs. Chicago Prosser at Maine West Thanksgiving Showcase.
MUNDELEIN MUSTANGSCoach: Corey Knigge, 3rd season
Last year: 3-27 (1-11 North Suburban Lake)
Last year's tournament: Lost in the regional quarterfinal to New Trier, 61-40.
Key players lost: F Kevin Marcotte, F Malik Doby
Key players returning: G Tommy Marcotte, soph.
Newcomers: F Andrew Silva, soph., F Jeff Bikus, soph., G Nick Parmley, soph.
Outlook: Mundelein has won only five games over the last two years and could be in for a few more growing pains. Five sophomores, including Tommy Marcotte, Andrew Silva, Jeff Bikus and Nick Parmley are expected to play heaving minutes. "We are going to be extremely young," Mundelein coach Corey Knigge said. "Tommy Marcotte is the returning player with the most experience, so he is going to need to lead. He has been doing a great job of talking to guys and explaining drills and philosophies. We're going to need a lot of that. We'll go as far as our mental toughness and defense takes us this year. Obviously, the last two years haven't been very successful in wins and losses, but I have been really happy with how hard we have worked. We played as hard as we did all year in our regional game against New Trier last season. We need that mentality to continue." Knigge will also need leadership out of seniors Charlie Volpe and Isaiah Woolford.
Opener: Monday at 7:30 p.m. vs. Lake Forest Academy at the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament.
STEVENSON PATRIOTSCoach: Pat Ambrose
Last year: 30-3 (12-0 North Suburban Lake)
Last year's tournament: Won the Class 4A state title, defeating Normal Community in the championship, 57-40.
Key players lost: G Jalen Brunson (Villanova), F Connor Cashaw (Rice), G Matt Johnson (Trevecca), F Parker Nichols.
Key players returning: F Justin Smith, jr., G Jordan Newman, sr., G Ryuji Aoki, sr., F Ben Rodheim, sr., C Kevin Yang, sr.
Newcomers: G Eric Zalweski, jr., G Rodney Herenton, sr., G Willie Herenton, jr., G Mitch Huselman, jr., G Danny Rosen, G Robbie Weiland, F John Welier.
Outlook: It's probably impossible to replace a player of the caliber of Jalen Brunson, last year's Illinois Mr. Basketball who is now playing at Villanova. Ditto for his wingman Connor Cashaw, now at Rice. Even the shoes of complimentary guard Matt Johnson will be hard to fill. Those three were the engines that drove Stevenson to the 2015 Class 4A state championship last March. "We're not using words like replace, reload, reboot," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "This is not a re-. These are different kids. This is a different team. We'll refer to last year sometimes, to say things like 'This is what makes us successful when we do these things. If an all-American was willing to slide over and take a charge, then you can, too.' Things like that. But I definitely want to focus on this year's team. These kids are like, 'We want to this and that, because we want to do it for us.'" Leading the new-look Patriots is a familiar face. Forward Justin Smith is the only returning starter from last year's team. He averaged about 10 points and 5 rebounds as a sophomore. Also returning is sharpshooter Ryuji Aoki and center Kevin Yang. Two of the many new faces are brothers Rodney and Willie Herenton, transfers from Whitney Young. Rodney, a senior, is more of a point guard who is defensive minded while Willie is a junior shooting guard who likes to, well, shoot. "They're doing a nice job of fitting in," Ambrose said of the brothers. "We're working them into a new system and we're figuring out their strengths." Football players Jack Sorenson and Aidan O'Connell, just now getting their basketball legs, should also fit into the mix for the Patriots. "It's hard to tell what we can do right now because we are still trying to work with all these new pieces," Ambrose said. "But we at least want to compete for the (North Suburban Lake) division championship."
Opener: Monday vs. Lyons at Lyons Tournament.
WARREN BLUE DEVILSCoach: Jonathan Jasnoch, 1st season
Last year: 15-15 (5-7 North Suburban Lake)
Last year's tournament: Lost in regional semifinal to Deerfield, 34-30.
Key players lost: G Jake Falish (Marion), G Jovan Jokic (CLC), F Caleb Reams (football at Illinois)
Key players returning: G Maurice Chambers, sr., G Corey Ball, sr., Jayson Dorsey, jr., Juwan Perry, jr.
Newcomers: F Declan O'Connor, jr., G Branden Ellis, soph.
Outlook: Another new era begins at Warren. Just four years ago, Warren was the model of consistency for its boys basketball coaching staff. Chuck Ramsey had been on the staff for 37 years and had just finished his 19th season as head coach. When Ramsey retired in 2012, the search was on for his replacement and Ryan Webber, who had been coaching at Moline, got the job. Last spring, Webber got the opportunity to go back home and he took it, and is now the head coach at United Township in East Moline. That put Warren in search mode again. This time, the Blue Devils didn't look far, and hired Jon Jasnoch, an assistant and underlevel coach in the program for many years, including the early Ramsey years. Jasnoch is well aware of how all the change could be a challenge for his program. "We have a lot to prove," Jasnoch said. "We had a good summer and that gives me hope for what we can accomplish as a team this season. We will be very challenged in a tough (North Suburban Lake) conference." Jasnoch will rely heavily on Maurice Chambers, the only returning starter from last year's team. "He was a key scorer for us last year and could impact the game with his defense," Jasnoch said of Chambers. Corey Ball, Jayson Dorsey and Juwan Perry also have varsity experience and newcomers Declan O'Connor and Branden Ellis have upside. "Declan has great potential in the post," Jasnoch said. "And Branden is a guard who will help us."
Opener: Monday at 4:30 p.m. vs. Fremd at the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament.
NORTH SUBURBAN PRAIRIE
ANTIOCH SEQUOITSCoach: Jim White, 5th season
Last year: 10-18
Last year's tournament: Lost in the regional final to Vernon Hills, 52-46.
Key players lost: F Matt Powers, F Jason Mrkonich, G Josh Bell.
Key players returning: G Kyle Gofron, sr., G Danny Brito, sr., G Trevor Koch, sr., G Brandon Dade, sr., G, Nathan Borries, sr., G Nathan Formella, sr.
Newcomers: F Reece Eldridge, jr., G Logan Weber, jr.
Outlook: Notice the "Key players returning" section above. It's filled with all guards. And there are even more guards where they came from. To say this will be a very guard-heavy Antioch team would be a bit of an understatement. "We may be the smallest team in the conference," Antioch coach Jim White said. "But we plan to be there fighting for it in the end. We had a great summer and we finished very strong last year with a tough loss to Vernon Hills in the regional final playing mostly juniors. We also learned a lot from our numerous close games." Antioch lost nine games by 6 points or less, three of which were in overtime. "That was painful at the time," White said. "But these guys remember it and won't allow it to happen again." The under-sized Sequoits will have to push tempo and shoot the lights out to change their luck. They lost their big men to graduation: Matt Powers and Jason Mrkonich. Antioch's best bet at a replacement is newcomer Reece Eldrigde, who will play the five but could pass as a guard because of his skills set. Junior point guard Logan Weber, who is also new to the team, adds even more depth to the guard spot.
Opener: Monday in the Woodstock Hoops for Healing Thanksgiving Tournament.
GRANT BULLDOGSCoach: Wayne Bosworth, 7th season
Last year: 3-26
Last year's tournament: Lost in regional quarterfinal to Grayslake North, 65-59.
Key players lost: F Jason Kaye
Key players returning: F James Mobley, sr., G Ben Kusiak, jr., F Andy Kaye, jr., G Logan Lewis, jr.
Newcomers: F John Kerr, jr., G/F Davion Williams, jr., G Kyle Dupree, jr., G Drew Walker, jr., F Nick Kouvelis, jr., G Jack Gorden, jr., F Jason Hurley, jr.
Outlook: With a team of almost nothing but underclassmen, Grant took its lumps last year. To the tune of only three wins. Now, the Bulldogs are hoping that it's their time to reap the benefits with one of the more experienced teams in the area. Grant returns four starters, including three juniors who started as sophomores last year. They are: forward Andy Kaye and guards Ben Kusiak and Logan Lewis. They'll be re-joined by forward James Mobley, a senior. Mobley led the team in scoring last year with 10 points per game. He also pulled down 6 rebounds per game. "We have a lot to prove this year, coming off a three-win season," Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said. "Our kids have worked extremely hard this off-season and put the necessary time into being successful. We return the four players who saw significant playing time last season and add a bunch of new juniors to the mix. We expect to be competitive." Junior guard Davion Williams is one of those new juniors who has impressed in preseason practices and can be explosive to the basket. "Davion Williams has done a complete 180 since his freshman year when he missed some time," Bosworth said. "He will absolutely have an opportunity to play at the next level after high school."
Opener: Monday at 8 p.m. vs. Hoffman Estates at Grant Thanksgiving Tournament.
LAKES EAGLESCoach: Chris Snyder, 6th season
Last year: 18-14 (9-3 North Suburban Prairie)
Last year's tournament: Lost in the sectional final to St. Patrick, 48-33.
Key players lost: G Jake Balliu (football at Winona State), F/G David Milostan, G Ben Haviland, F Ethan Sage (CLC), F/C Dalton Solbrig (volleyball at Hawaii)
Key players returning: G Jordan Mercure, sr., G Kyle Rohr, jr., F Colton Jewell, sr., F Tim Olhwein, sr.
Newcomers: G Michael Behrendt, soph., F Jack Christensen, jr., F Ian Haflinger, jr., G Stephen Gerrits, jr., F Ryan Selig, soph.
Outlook: The "want" is there. Now to find the "how." That's how Lakes coach Chris Snyder sums up his outlook for the season, a season in which the Eagles have a tough act to follow. Last year, Lakes won the North Suburban Prairie Division title, a regional title and advanced all the way to the sectional final. "This group has the 'want,' we just need to work on getting the 'how' across to them," Snyder said. "They know the expectations that have been established by the team before them and are excited and hungry to meet and exceed them." Just like the football coaches at Lakes, Snyder will rely heavily on Jordan Mercure, the quarterback of the football team. He will need to be a quarterback on the basketball court, too. "He'll be looked at to be the leader of this group," Snyder said of Mercure, a three-year varsity player. "He'll bring valuable experience. He can play any number of positions for us, so his versatility will be huge." Another key senior is Colton Jewell, a spot starter last season but mostly the Eagles' sixth-man. Meanwhile, junior Kyle Rohr, who was brought up to varsity mid-season to fill in for injured point guard Jake Balliu, will start at point guard. "Kyle established a role on last year's team and this year we will be looking for him to take the next step," Snyder said. "I think he can be a very effective player." Michael Berhrendt, another guard, is expected to play a big role for the Eagles. "We will need to rely on our overall team athleticism and have a team mindset on both the offensive and defensive ends," Snyder said. "If we can do that, we can have a successful year."
Opener: Monday at 5:30 p.m. vs. Grayslake North at the Johnsburg Thanksgiving Tournament.
ROUND LAKE PANTHERSCoach: Jeremy Fisher, 3rd season
Last year: 5-21 (1-11 North Suburban Prairie)
Last year's tournament: Lost in regional quarterfinal to Cary-Grove, 55-41.
Key players lost: Austin Soto, Cezar Rogers (CLC).
Key players returning: G Michael Green, sr., F Javari Goodwin, sr.
Newcomers: G Jordan Keith, sr.
Outlook: The eight players who return from last year's 5-21 team that went just 1-11 in the North Suburban Prairie Division all have good memories. As in, they remember the struggle. They didn't like the feeling of such a tough season and don't want to experience that feeling again. "Our players are determined to prove that we are not the same team as last year," Round Lake coach Jeremy Fisher said. "(They want to prove) that the results will be improved this season." Senior guard Michael Green will give Round Lake a good start. He averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds a game last season. Green is a four-year varsity player. "I am looking forward to seeing Michael Green perform in his senior year," Fisher said. "He had a good season last year but he is looking to improve on that and perform at the level he knows he can. It will be fun to watch him play his final season with us." Javari Goodwin, who battled back from a knee injury his sophomore year to become a starter last year and average 4 points and 5 rebounds per game, is healthy and will give Round Lake an inside presence to complement Green. Meanwhile, newcomers such as Jordan Keith, a transfer from Grayslake North, Julian Herrera and Deandre Jones will give the Panthers some much-needed depth. "That should help us in terms of staying competitive deep into games," Fisher said. "We had a good summer where we put in a lot of work and have improved in areas where we struggled last season. We are optimistic and look forward to competing against everyone on our schedule."
Opener: Monday at 8 p.m. vs. Woodstock North at Woodstock North.
VERNON HILLS COUGARSCoach: Matt McCarty, 13th season
Last year: 27-5 (12-0 North Suburban Prairie)
Last year's tournament: Lost in the sectional semifinal to Lakes, 45-39.
Key players lost: G Robby Nardini, F Matt Weaver
Key players returning: C Eric Weiler, sr., G Michael Dougherty, sr., F Jacob Helfand, sr.
Newcomers: F Derrick Jones, soph.
Outlook: It will be hard for the Cougars to be much better than they were last season, especially in North Suburban Prairie Division play. Vernon Hills ran the table and went a perfect 12-0 in the division. The Cougars then advanced to the sectional semifinals. With two double-figure scorers gone from that team, including superstar sharpshooter Robby Nardini (19.7 ppg), Vernon Hills has some work to do to keep its division winning streak going. "There are a lot of unknowns with this group," Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty said. "The one thing I love about our senior group is their attitude. It took us awhile to figure some things out over the summer so it wasn't always pretty, but they did not hang their heads. They have kept working at it so I am looking forward to the challenge of helping them reach their potential." Speaking of reach, senior Eric Weiler certainly has one. The center is 6-foot-7 and will see his role expand dramatically this year. He came off the bench and saw limited minutes last year. "This year we are counting on Eric to be a defensive stopper in the paint and to help us score the ball around the rim," McCarty said. "He continues to get stronger and has worked really hard to get to this point." Sophomore forward Derrick Jones has also left an impression with McCarty. At 6-foot-2, Jones can play around the rim. "He will do something every once in a while that really opens your eyes," McCarty said. "He is still learning to play at the speed of a varsity game consistently but he is a ton of fun to coach. He is going to be a good one."
Opener: Monday at 7:30 p.m. vs. Wheeling at Northridge Prep Thanksgiving Tournament.
WAUCONDA BULLDOGSCoach: Scott Luetschwager, 7th season
Last year: 15-13 (7-5 North Suburban Prairie)
Last year's tournament: Lost in the regional final to St. Patrick, 54-24.
Key players lost: C Ben Carlson, F Ricky Sidlowski, F Matt Bulgarelli, F Zac Lahrman.
Key players returning: G Bryan Nee, sr., G Dylan Latiolais, sr., G Parker Fink, sr.
Newcomers: G Jimmy Ott, soph.
Outlook: From size to speed. That's the transition Wauconda is making this year. Last season, the Bulldogs featured size, among the most size in Lake County, in center Ben Carlson (6-foot-8) and forwards Ricky Sidlowski (6-foot-6) and Matt Bulgarelli (6-foot-4). Now, speed and guard play is the focus. "We are a guard-heavy team this year," Wauconda coach Scott Luetschwager said of his roster, which features returning guards Bryan Nee, Dylan Latiolais and Parker Fink. "Last year's strength was our size, this year we have only two traditional post players. Everyone else is a guard. What we lack in size, we make up in our talent. There will be times that we will have to play five guards on the floor." The Bulldogs could also go with an all-senior lineup. Wauconda boasts nine seniors. Unfortunately, one of the top returning seniors on the team won't be able to play. Senior forward Zac Lahrman, an honorable mention all-area pick last season, went down with a season-ending injury recently and had surgery last month. "It won't be easy without Zac," Luetschwager said. "Like every year, we're going to have to find ways to play to our strengths."
Opener: Monday at 5:30 p.m. vs. Guerin Prep at Richmond-Burton.