Hustle pays off for Lake Zurich's Cison
Those who watched J.R. Cison play varsity basketball for St. Viator two years ago might have seen 1,000 career points in his future.
But being named Mr. Hustle at the prestigious Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament?
Who would have seen that coming for Cison?
The senior point guard, who transferred to Lake Zurich for his junior year, nabbed the Mr. Hustle award after his play at both ends of the court during the recent tourney.
"It was probably one of the awards that's meant the most to me out of any," Cison said after scoring his 1,000th career point in Lake Zurich's 63-56 win over visiting Mundelein on Tuesday night. "I've always kind of struggled on defense and been told that I wasn't the best defender and I need to improve. I've really tried to focus on it since the summer. Getting that (Mr. Hustle award) really boosted my confidence defensively."
Cison averaged 20 points and 2 steals in four games at Pekin, where Lake Zurich opened with a win over the tournament host before losing its next three. Cison, who shot 45 percent (34 of 75) in the tourney, scored 24 points against Pekin and dropped in 25 in the Bears' finale against Springfield Lanphier.
In Lake Zurich's first game of 2019, Cison had 25 points, 6 assists, 5 steals and 5 rebounds against Mundelein, as the Bears earned their first win in North Suburban Conference action.
First-year Bears coach Terry Coughlin appreciates Cison's stick-to-itiveness and hard work to help get his teammates more involved in the offense.
"He's not a super vocal guy, but (his ability to give confidence to teammates) is an aspect of leadership that we need," Coughlin said. "You can see guys playing more confidently and understanding how to play off him."
Cison is playing for his third coach in three seasons. St. Viator's Quin Hayes promoted Cison to varsity at the start of the 2016-17 season. Lake Zurich's Billy Pitcher then inserted Cison, a Lake Zurich resident, into a starting role last season. Pitcher took the head job at Lake Park following the season.
"Coach Hayes and Coach Coughlin are a lot alike," Cison said. "They push it a ton. We slowed it down more (with Pitcher) and we ran more sets."
For the season, Cison is averaging 20 points per game. He has 1,019 career points heading into Lake Zurich's game at Warren on Friday night.
No ducking Pekin: Lake Zurich took a nine-game losing streak to Pekin for the 54th annual holiday tournament, which started two days after Christmas. The Bears drew the tourney host in their opener and wasted little time making a statement.
J.R. Cison's 24 points led the way as Lake Zurich won 65-55. Lake Zurich coach Terry Coughlin was told it was just the fifth time in tournament history that Pekin lost it first game.
"Actually, Lake Zurich owns two of the five," said Coughlin, noting the Bears' 61-49 win over Pekin in 2005. Coach John Zarr's squad was led by senior guards Eric Therrien (25 points) and Austin Scott (20).
"Kolze graduated, so we got him out of here and we were able to beat Pekin in the first round," Coughlin joked of assistant coach Mike Kolze, who graduated in 2005 as Lake Zurich's all-time leading scorer with 1,962 points.
The Bears followed their win over Pekin with losses to United Township, Morton and Springfield Lanphier, but Coughlin was encouraged.
"We played really well in Pekin," Coughlin said.
Lake Zurich's second game of the day on Friday, Dec. 28 was scheduled to start at 9:30 p.m., but the Bears and Morton didn't tip off until 11:15 p.m., Coughlin said, after a slam dunk by Plainfield East junior Christian Shumate shattered a backboard.
"(The game) ended about 12:45 (a.m., Saturday)," Coughlin said. "We didn't get a call until later, so we sat in the gym for about three hours. The kids played really well and played hard."
On the rail to Carbondale: Mundelein's journey downstate over the holidays was memorable not only because the Mustangs captured the championship, winning all four of their games.
"We had fun," said sophomore center Scottie Ebube, who was named tournament MVP after averaging 19 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. "We listened to what Coach (Matt Badgley) said. We gave effort."
That fun included the team taking a train to Carbondale. The Mustangs left the day after Christmas.
"It was a fun trip," sophomore point guard Conor Enright said. "It was cool taking the train down there and hanging out with all of the guys."
Not that the Mustangs did a whole lot on the train. Still, they were able to bond.
"It was kind of boring. I'm not going to lie," Ebube said with a laugh. "But my teammates made it fun."
"I slept the whole time," Enright said. "We were playing video games, hanging out, eating snacks, listening to music. Better than sitting in a car for six hours."