Geneva players staying in shape despite strike
The Geneva boys basketball team's home opener scheduled for Friday against St. Charles North was postponed on Thursday due to the ongoing teachers strike in Geneva District 304.
A makeup date for the DuKane Conference game has not been announced.
The disruption stalls the momentum of undefeated Geneva (6-0, 1-0). Led by seniors Mitch Mascari and Jack McDonald, the Vikings won the Crystal Lake Central Thanksgiving Tournament and have since won road games at Wheaton Warrenville South and Bartlett.
The veteran squad -- nine seniors populate the 16-man Geneva roster along with returning junior Josh Preston -- continued to practice this week without coaches present.
Unable to use the school gym, the Vikings held unsupervised practices at the Geneva Park District and at a private facility in St. Charles owned by St. Charles North graduate Chris Conrad, a player development coach for the Illinois Wolves AAU travel basketball program.
"It's been a weird week," McDonald said. "All of us were excited for our first home game against North, but we're still going to the gym. Not having school, I feel like we've actually been on the court more than we usually are. We have set practices for an hour and a half to two hours every day, then most of us are going to other gyms and getting shots up.
"I'm just hoping to get back to school and get back to a normal schedule. We've been playing some great basketball and I think as the season goes on we'll start clicking even more."
Geneva second-year coach Scott Hennig called the situation unfortunate.
"I feel really bad for the kids because a lot of them put a lot of hard work and time in to get better in the off-season," Hennig said. "It's unfortunate, not just for our basketball kids but the whole community. We're suffering, but as a community we'll get through this.
"And as a basketball program we'll be OK. I have a veteran group that has been through the grind. I know they're doing things to keep their skill level up and prepare for whatever's next and Jack and Mitch are such good leaders. We'll regroup when we're able to come back together. We're off to a great start. Hopefully, we regroup and the sooner the better, but there are still a lot of unknowns."
The postponement allowed St. Charles North (3-3, 0-1) to get back to basics in practice on Thursday. Rather than work on game prep for Geneva, the North Stars refreshed themselves on Xs and Os now that Billy Durocher, Nick DeMarco and Thomas Kellen are back in the fold after a 14-game football season.
"We're still working toward consistency so we could use the extra practice days," St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin said. "Plus, I'll be able to get out and scout on Friday night, which is a rare thing nowadays."
The North Stars host a nonconference game against Jacobs (4-3) on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Sabre-metrics: The Streamwood boys basketball team did not win an Upstate Eight Conference game last season, which made last Saturday's 70-60 victory over Glenbard East in the league opener all the more poignant for the Sabres and new coach Kent Payne.
"Last year we didn't win any games so 1-0 feels good," said 6-foot-7 senior Keenon Cole, a Northern Illinois recruit. "Our coach has us in the right mindset. We're all working hard and doing the right things. If we keep listening to coach and working hard, we'll have a regional-winning team."
Payne, who coached St. Edward to a downstate appearance in 1992, was hired in June. He thinks the Sabres' early season schedule will prepare them for more UEC wins.
"By the time Christmas rolls around we will have played 16 games," Payne said. "Then January starts and, hopefully, we're playing together. We just have to keep building. But we're not short on working. I'm real proud of our guys. Our guys compete and they're still learning. It's a process for us."
Helping with the process are assistant coaches Cully Payne and Nick Neari. A Schaumburg graduate, Cully later played at Iowa and Loyola. Neari played at Wisconsin-Parkside after graduating from St. Charles North.
"They played at the next level and I'm going to play at the next level," Cole said, "so every day they are helping me and everyone become a better player. They're teaching us things that are really hard to teach, like every possession matters, being in passing lanes matters and playing defense matters because defense will win us games."
Streamwood (2-4, 1-0) returns to UEC action with a home game against South Elgin (4-1, 1-0) on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Every day I write the book: If it seems like St. Charles East guard Nate Ortiz has the book on the player he defends, it's because he does.
Well, it's a binder, actually.
Contained within are pages and pages of handwritten notes on the players Ortiz will likely defend. He pores over game films and jots down the opponents' strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, preferences, plays run through him, etc.
"My notes usually fill the front and back of a sheet of paper," he said. "It's ridiculous."
That appetite for preparation partly explains why Ortiz was able to defend 6-foot-7 Streamwood forward Keenon Cole so effectively after Saints coach Patrick Woods switched the 6-3 senior onto the NIU-bound scorer midway through the second quarter of the Saints' 68-51 victory on Tuesday.
Cole, an athletic big who handles the ball well and creates his own shot on the perimeter, scored 11 points in the game's first nine minutes with a classic post defender guarding him outside. Cole was held to 6 points the rest of the game after the switch to the quicker defender.
Ortiz worked to become his team's best defensive player. He could always score. That's why he was elevated to the sophomore team as a freshman three years ago. However, his defense was not up to par back then so coach Rob Klemm leveled with him.
"Coach pulled me aside and told me if I want to play on the varsity level, my defense would not get me there," Ortiz said. "Ever since then it's been night and day.
"Part of it was getting stronger in my lower body and stronger in general. Then there's having the will. It doesn't take skill to play defense. It takes will and physical conditioning. There's not a whole lot to it."