Ryuji Aoki StevensonA role player during Stevenson's run to a state championship last season, Aoki quickly settled into a different role this season. He was Stevenson's second-leading scorer, relied upon heavily for his crisp 3-point shooting. Aoki averaged 12.4 points per game and hit a team-high 60 3-pointers at a 43 percent clip. He had a season-high five 3-pointers in a game against Neuqua Valley earlier this season. "His bread and butter is definitely his 3-point shooting," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said of Aoki. "He's got a quick trigger and a nice rise and he doesn't flinch if he's defended. Ryuji's just worked his tail off. He's the one who comes to practice early and stays late and watches a ton of film. He's worked to diversify his game and now he's really good at getting to the basket."
Jack Beckman Grayslake CentralWith his long locks held back by a head band, Beckman might have the hair du jour for teenage boys, but his game on the court is old school. "He's a throwback," Grayslake Central coach Kosta Kougias said. "You don't get too many post players anymore who like to play with their backs to the basket. But Jack was really good at that." Beckman was also good at hitting the boards and defending the rim. "He would battle and battle for rebounds," Kougias said. "He would fight and battle like every play was his last. He also led us in charges taken. He was a great protector of the rim. He did it all for us." The 6-foot-6 Beckman averaged 12 points, 8 rebounds and 1 block per game for the Rams.
Maurice Chambers WarrenWarren got off to a rough start this season, winning just three times over its first 10 games. "Maurice's leadership in practices is what helped us get through that more than anything," Warren coach Jon Jasnoch said. "He'd say, 'Let's go. Let's move on.' He wouldn't let the guys put their heads down.' The guys respect him and they look to him and I think they really responded to his attitude and leadership." Chambers, a 6-foot guard, topped Warren in scoring at 10 points per game. He also ranked among the team leaders in 3-pointers and assists.
Michael Dougherty Vernon HillsAs Dougherty went, so did Vernon Hills. "When we won games, it was Michael who played really well," Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty said. Dougherty played exactly that role in a huge Prairie Division win for Vernon Hills against Grant. Grant entered the game undefeated in division play. "Michael was the best player on the floor that night," McCarty said. "He attacked the basket well and he had a ton of steals and deflections on defense." Dougherty averaged 11.5 points per game and was among Vernon Hills' leaders in steals and assists. "Michael is a really good slasher. He can get to the basket," McCarty said. "On defense, he can be a menace. He'll guard the other team's best player. He has very quick hands on defense. Even if his shot isn't falling, he's still motivated to bring his defense."
CJ Duff CarmelWith CJ Duff on his roster, Zack Ryan essentially hit the "new coach lottery." "It's pretty nice when you've got a Division I player for your first two years as a head coach," said Ryan, now in his second season at Carmel. "Division I players don't just grow on trees. I was so lucky to get to coach CJ. Not only is he such a great player, but he's the hardest worker on the team and a great leader and student. He's going to go down as one of the best players and role models to ever go through this program at Carmel." Duff, a 3-year starter and 4-year varsity player at Carmel who will be playing basketball at Western Illinois next year, averaged 19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals per game this season. He also led the team with 57 made 3-pointers. "He led us in every statistical category," Ryan said. "He's able to do so many things: shoot, pass, rebound, post-up, defend, handle the ball. Because of that, I think he'll be able to step in and play right away next year at Western."
Aidan Einloth Grayslake NorthAs a freshman, Einloth was pulled up to varsity to help fill in for an injured player. "We told him we were going to take it one game at a time," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "In his first varsity game, we were struggling, so we put him in for the second half, and we just couldn't take him off the floor. He played so well. I was like, 'This kid is never going back down (to the underlevels) again.'" Einloth's career has been just as impressive as his first game. He will leave Grayslake North with more than 1,400 career points and as the program's all-time assist leader with more than 350 assists, 100 more than the next closest on the list. "For a 6-foot-5 big man to get that many assists, that's impressive," Grunloh said. "It just shows you how unselfish he is. He's fine kicking out. He's not going to force anything." That was evident in Einloth's 70 percent field goal percentage. He also hit 45 percent of his 3-pointers en route to 15 points per game. He also averaged 8 rebounds and 3 assists per game. "There were so many games where he was 9-of-10 from the field, 8-of-9. He literally missed one or two shots per game. He was so efficient." Also a standout in the classroom with a 35 ACT, Einloth will be playing basketball next year at MIT.
Michael Green Round LakeGreen had the green light to look for his shot anywhere on the floor, and he often found the bottom of the net, to the tune of 14 points per game. As Round Lake's most potent offensive weapon, Green often saw defenses that were dedicated to stopping him: face-guarding, box-and-ones, triangle and twos. "Teams were definitely trying to key on him this year," Round Lake coach Jeremy Fisher said of Green, a three-year varsity starter who also averaged about 5 rebounds per game. "He had to learn to deal with that. He would try to get his teammates more involved by passing more or screening more." Green will finish among the top five on Round Lake's all-time scoring list with more than 1,000 career points.
Colton Jewell LakesWhen Lakes leading scorer Kyle Rohr went down in late January with a season-ending knee injury, Jewell, a 6-foot-3 senior forward, knew he needed to produce a gem in each game for the rest of the season. "A lot fell on Colton with Kyle out," Lakes coach Chris Snyder said. "Colton realized he needed to step up even more and he did that. He's always been a team guy, wanting to do whatever he can for the guys. I think he's a big reason we were able to stick together after Kyle's injury. Colton became more vocal on the court, like a coach on the floor and he was a steadying influence. And he just played hard." Jewell averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds per game. He shot 55 percent from the floor and recorded 4 double-doubles.
John Kerr GrantAn averaged-sized B-team player as a freshman, Kerr has relentlessly worked to put himself on the A-list. Now a 6-foot-5 junior forward, Kerr's growth spurt and work ethic put him in position to be a primary option in the Grant offense. Kerr averaged 13 points per game, and was efficient. He hit 56 percent of his field goals. He also pulled down 7 rebounds. "John really broke out this year in his first year on varsity," Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said. "He just plays really hard, always going hard for rebounds, and he's tough in the post. He's got a really good work ethic. He grew so quick, but he's finally grown into his body and his confidence has grown, too."
Ben Kimpler LibertyvilleBusy helping the football team make a run to the Class 7A state championship game in late November, Kimpler didn't join the basketball team until December. His presence was missed. "You could tell when he arrived that things were different," Libertyville coach Brent Mork said of Kimpler, a 6-foot-6 defensive end, and forward in basketball. "Having Ben back changed the complexion of the team and totally changed the intensity of our practices. He's physical and competitive and he makes us really tough in the paint and around the rim. It was amazing how seamlessly Ben transitioned from football to basketball." Kimpler averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds for the Wildcats. He also connected on 50 percent of his field goal attempts.
Nick Meyer Lake ZurichMeyer can put the ball in the basket. He averaged 13 points per game for the Bears and was a dangerous 3-point shooter. He hit five 3-pointers in a single quarter against Zion-Benton. But Meyer may have made his biggest impact this season on defense. "Nick stepped up in the big games and played defense against some of the best players in the conference," said Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher, noting that Meyer held fellow all-area selections Justin Smith (Stevenson) and Drew Peterson (Libertyville) below their averages twice each. "We didn't realize that Nick was such a good defender, but he just really emerged in that area this year. He's a very good athlete, he's smart, he doesn't go for fakes and he's just ready to step up and take on the challenge of guarding a really good player."
Nick Penny Lake ZurichThis Penny was priceless for Lake Zurich. Penny, a senior guard, led Lake Zurich in points (17 ppg), rebounds (6.5 rpg) and assists (4 apg). "It's rare to see one guy lead you in all three of those categories," Lake Zurich coach Billy Pitcher said. "Nick did so much for us. He's such a tough kid, just an ultra-competitor. He wants to win at everything, every drill, every game. He was the heart and soul of our team and is a big reason we've had back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in 15 years." Penny broke the single-season record at Lake Zurich for most made free throws with 168.
Drew Peterson LibertyvillePeterson is a match-up nightmare, a 6-foot-5 guard who can drain 3-pointers, drive to the basket and score in the post. "A lot of teams would get up on him and at the beginning of the season, that was tough on Drew because he wasn't used to the physicality of varsity basketball," Libertyville coach Brent Mork said of Peterson, a slender sophomore. "But he embraced it as the season went on and he made teams pay by playing low to the ground and getting to the basket." Peterson led Libertyville in scoring with 15 points per game. He was the team's best shooter, hitting 53 percent of his shots and 50 percent of his 3-pointers. He also averaged 5 rebounds per game. "As Drew gets stronger, he'll be able to expand his game even more," Mork said. "He's going to take his game to another level."
Justin Smith StevensonThe best dunker in the area, Smith has bling to his game. He's also got the grit. Smith is fierce on the boards and gets many of his 17 points per game on hard-fought putbacks. He averages 8.2 rebounds per game. Defensively, Smith gives the Patriots a strong presence in the paint and can be a shot-blocking weapon. This season, the junior has also added more long-range shooting to his game. He's hit 26 3-pointers. "Justin is really tough to guard," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "He's just really, really good. A lot of times, we'll just throw it up there and let him go get it." Smith already has multiple offers to major Division I programs.
Jamal Thomas Grayslake NorthA move-in from Detroit last spring, Thomas, a junior, was able to settle in quickly at Grayslake North. Thomas earned the spot as the Knights' starting point guard and put up big-time numbers as a distributor and a scorer, despite rarely playing the entire game. Grayslake North had so many blowout wins that Thomas sat out nine fourth quarters. Yet, he still averaged 18 points and 6 assists per game. He also pulled down 5 rebounds per game. In two games this season, Thomas also recorded triple-doubles. Against Crystal Lake South, he rolled up 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds. Against Woodstock, he finished with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists, and didn't play at all in the fourth quarter. "That first triple-double against Crystal Lake South came in our fourth game of the season, and all of us as a staff were like, 'We knew he was good, but wow!' That was a coming out party for Jamal," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "He is so good in transition. He really thrives in our up-tempo offense. And he's got the best vision. He can push the ball fast, and is still so under control to find teammates or to create for himself."
Ryuji Aoki Stevenson Sr. G
Jack Beckman Grayslake Central Sr. F
Maurice Chambers Warren Sr. G
Michael Dougherty Vernon Hills Sr. F
CJ Duff Carmel Sr. G
Aidan Einloth Grayslake North Sr. F
Michael Green Round Lake Sr. F
Colton Jewell Lakes Sr. F
John Kerr Grant Jr. F
Ben Kimpler Libertyville Sr. F
Nick Meyer Lake Zurich Sr. F
Nick Penny Lake Zurich Sr. G
Drew Peterson Libertyville Soph. G
Justin Smith* Stevenson Jr. F
Jamal Thomas Grayslake North Jr. G
* All-area team captain
Honorable mentionG Danny Brito, Antioch, sr.; F James Connolly, Grayslake North, soph.; G Rodney Herenton, Stevenson, sr.; G Trevor Koch, Antioch, sr.; G Ben Kusiak, Grant, jr.; G Bobby Krebs, Grayslake North, sr.; G Logan Lewis, Grant, jr.; G Tommy Marcotte, Mundelein, soph.; G Bryan Nee, Wauconda, sr.; F Johnny Roeser, Carmel, fr.; G Kyle Rohr, jr.; G Sam Ruhlmann, Grayslake Central, sr.; F Matt Stephens, Carmel, sr.; G Jarod Stonis, Wauconda, jr.
Selections and profiles by Patricia Babcock McGraw