Benet still waiting to put full lineup together
Heading into this boys basketball season, Colin Crothers and Matt Reid were the only Benet players with any varsity experience.
After 13 games they have yet to play a minute together.
Crothers, a 6-foot-8 four-year varsity member committed to Johns Hopkins University, missed the first seven games with a foot injury. He returned on Dec. 21 in a victory over Brother Rice, the first game missed by Reid due to mononucleosis.
Redwings coach Gene Heidkamp doesn't expect Reid, a senior guard, to return until the end of January at the earliest. That means Benet will have to wait at least that long to finally put its full lineup on the court.
"It wasn't what we were planning on or hoping for but that's part of basketball," Heidkamp said. "The guys did a good job playing without an important piece at the start of the season, and they're doing a good job now playing without an important piece."
Six-four Jacob Snell, a Miami of Ohio football recruit, returned to the program this season and has done a tremendous job in the post. Sam Hennessy and others have stepped up in the backcourt to fill in for the ball-handling and defensive spark Reid provides.
Benet is 9-4 overall and 2-1 in the East Suburban Catholic Conference heading into Friday's league game at Nazareth.
"We haven't had (Crothers and Reid) for a practice or a game this season," Heidkamp said. "I'm not sure what the puzzle's going to look like when we have everyone, but hopefully we have the opportunity to see it."
When Billy Pitcher coached at Lake Zurich, he loved taking his teams to the Pekin Holiday Tournament.
Last season -- his first at Lake Park -- Pitcher wanted his new team to enjoy the experience. In the Lancers' first year at Pekin, they defended their No. 1 seed by winning the title with wins over Limestone, United Twp., Pekin and Lanphier.
"It was awesome, a great experience," Pitcher said. "Huge crowds. It's all basketball down there. As soon as I heard there was an opening, I wanted to make sure we got in there."
Now that they've won titles at the Wheaton Academy and Pekin tournaments, the Lancers focus on a run at the DuKane Conference title and earning a top seed in the Class 4A Addison Trail sectional behind all-Pekin performers Luke Sgarbossa and Trevor Montiel.
Lake Park's conference hopes took a hit with Saturday's home loss to St. Charles North, but there's still plenty of time to recover.
"We don't want to overreact to one game in January," Pitcher said. "It's a long season."
No one saw an 11-1 start coming from a Glenbard West team that graduated all its starters and 90 percent of its scoring, including Evan Taylor, the 2018-19 Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Captain.
No one except maybe first-year coach Jason Opoka, who coached just about every varsity player during his time at the sophomore level.
"People ask me if I'm surprised, and I'm not," Opoka said. "These kids believe. It started in the summer when we saw some success and gained some confidence."
With three talented sophomores -- Braden Huff, Paxton Warden and Caden Pierce -- a senior leader in Diallo Phillips and very little experience, the Hilltoppers already boast championships in the Thanksgiving and holiday tournament they hosted.
The schedule, however, gets much tougher. It starts with four straight road games including three in the West Suburban Silver against Oak Park, York and Hinsdale Central.
"Are we going to see some bumps in the road? Absolutely," Opoka said. "But as long as they understand and grow from it, that's what's important."