Navigato, Ludwig finishing stellar college careers
During the course of their illustrious high school basketball careers, Geneva's Nate Navigato and St. Charles North's Jake Ludwig waged several battles while providing veteran leadership and superb all-around play for their respective teams.
Four years later, the former area standouts have enjoyed tremendous success at the collegiate level -- Navigato at the University of Toledo and Ludwig at Roosevelt University.
Now, the seniors are hoping to leave in the most memorable fashion -- by reaching postseason play.
Navigato, a 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward, currently averages 12.4 points per game for the Rockets (20-5), who own an 8-4 record in the Mid-American Conference West Division standings.
Used primarily as the team's sixth man as a freshman (8.4 ppg) and sophomore (9.5 ppg), Navigato started 33 of 34 games last year as a junior, averaging 12.2 points while setting a single-season school record with 94 3-point baskets as the Rockets finished 23-11 and captured the MAC West with a 13-5 mark before losing to Buffalo in the MAC tournament championship.
He also became the 46th player in Toledo history to surpass the 1,000-point plateau.
This season, Navigato has started all 25 games and leads the team with 64 3-pointers while shooting 45 percent (64 of 141) from beyond the arc.
Earlier this year, Navigato became the school's career 3-point leader, eclipsing Nick Moore (276 from 1999-2003).
"I'm enjoying my senior year," said Navigato, who has connected on 288 career 3-pointers. "We've had a couple tough losses but we're playing well together."
Last week, Toledo suffered an 88-82 loss to MAC East leader and 24th-ranked Buffalo before a Savage Arena record crowd of 7,401.
"It was a game we should have won but we had a couple tough stretches," said Navigato. "Our crowd was awesome though."
The 2015 Geneva graduate left a permanent mark on the program, departing as the school's all-time leader in scoring (1,764 points), 3-point baskets (176), assists (227), steals (132) and blocked shots (69).
As a senior, Navigato averaged 20.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while leading the Vikings to a 4th-place Class 4A state showing and school-record 30 wins.
The 3-time all-conference member and 2-time Upstate Eight Conference River Division Player of the Year earned IBCA first team all-state accolades in 2014-2015.
Navigato admits there was a learning curve upon arriving at Toledo.
"I was shocked at how fast the game was played at the collegiate level," he said.
This past offseason, Navigato focused on becoming a better all-around player.
"The biggest thing is my confidence level is up," he said. "I've worked on driving to the basket and creating more for my teammates. I'm not just a 3-point shooter."
Navigato, who plans on graduating in May with a double major in marketing and management, has one more goal in mind -- helping Toledo reach the NCAA Tournament.
"We were so close last year," he said.
No matter what happens, Navigato will leave Ohio with no regrets.
"It has been a great four years here," said Navigato, who hopes to play professionally overseas. "I've accomplished a lot but I couldn't have done it without my coaches and teammates. Coach (Tod) Kowalczyk has been great -- he trusts in us and gives us freedom. As a player, that's all you can ask."
Ludwig, meanwhile, has changed the landscape for basketball at Chicago-based Roosevelt.
Last November, the 6-1 guard became the school's all-time leading scorer when he scored his 1,591st point during the team's 63-59 victory over Bellevue.
Heading into the Lakers' Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal clash with Robert Morris on Tuesday night, Ludwig is currently just 25 points shy of surpassing the 2,000-point mark.
Not too shabby for a guy who at first hadn't planned on playing collegiately.
"I changed my mind," recalled Ludwig, who guided the North Stars to a pair of 18-win seasons as a senior and sophomore. "I figured, 'let's try this out for a year and give it a shot.' I wasn't sure what to expect."
As a junior last year, Ludwig helped lead Roosevelt to its first NAIA Division II national tournament berth.
"It was an amazing experience," he said. "We hung our first banner in the school gym."
Ludwig currently leads the Lakers (18-12, 12-8) in several categories, including scoring (17.4 ppg), assists (125) and free-throw percentage (12th nationally at .856 -- 137 of 160).
"I couldn't have asked for a better a college-athlete experience," he said. "I've learned so much about time management and taking on more responsibilities."
Ludwig's teammates were once familiar foes -- St. Charles East's Jake Asquini (8.6 ppg with 71 3-pointers) and Geneva's Fuzak brothers -- Bennett (10.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Chandler (7.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg).
"It's so fun," said Ludwig. "We all start. Jake (Asquini) has been my roommate the past two years. I hit the game-winner against them (the Saints) my senior year (North's 78-75 OT win) but then they knocked us out in the regional (East won 62-55).
"Jake is probably the best shooter I've ever seen."
Majoring in business management, Ludwig also hopes to continue playing professionally.
"I'd like to play in Europe or wherever," he said. "If it doesn't work out, I'll enter the real world."
You can reach Craig Brueske at email@example.com