Larkin heads into Elgin rematch playing better basketball
No area boys basketball team owns a more deceiving record than Larkin.
The Royals enter Friday's rematch against rival Elgin with a 5-17 record, but coach Deryn Carter's young team is rounding into form now that the roster as originally conceived has come together.
Some losses were inevitable this season for a team undergoing a youth movement. The Royals feature four sophomores and a freshman in prominent roles. However, of the seven players atop the current Larkin rotation, four missed most of the first semester.
Senior leader Jashon Johnson-Neals missed 10 games with a broken hand. Talented sophomore Fernando Perez Jr. missed two games with a sprained ankle. A second sprain limited him in four other games. Two players were academically ineligible until January.
Larkin is 4-3 since the roster reached full availability. That includes a 57-55 win over Glenbard East (16-7) and Saturday's 67-59 overtime loss at Schaumburg (20-4), which leads the Mid-Suburban League West.
"We thought we had a roster where if everything went well, we could compete for a conference championship," Carter said. "I think the last three weeks shows that was probably true. We knew we were going to take some early lumps. We just didn't know it would last so long because we had to piece our roster together.
"It's exciting for sure. Once some goals kind of go away because of your record, you're aiming to be as good as you can be by the end of the year. Right now we're playing better basketball than we have all season. We just have to keep going."
The west-siders aim for a regular-season sweep of visiting Elgin (5-17, 1-11). Larkin won the first Upstate Eight Conference meeting 66-45 on Jan. 10. Johnson-Neals led the way with 16 points and 7 rebounds. The 6-foot forward leads the Royals with 15.3 ppg, followed by sophomore point guard Damari Wheeler-Thomas (13.8) and Perez (12.6).
They face an Elgin team that has played since mid-January without leading scorer Xavier Bonds, no longer with the team due to disciplinary reasons, according to first-year coach Todd Allen. Bonds was the Maroons' leading scorer (14.6 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (6.7 rpg).
Elgin has lost seven straight since a 21-point win against West Chicago on Jan. 3, but Allen sees signs of improvement. The Maroons scored 70 points for the first time since November in last week's 83-74 loss to East Aurora.
"I think we're starting to come together," the Elgin coach said. "Through all the stuff we've been through, they've come every day and given their all. We're proud of that. We still have a long way to go, but we're proud of their effort."
The Maroons must cut down on turnovers in the second meeting. They committed 15 turnovers in the middle two quarters of the first game against Larkin. The Royals turned the ball over 12 times total.
"We turned it over four or five times in the first six or seven possessions of the second half," Allen said. "That gave them layups and momentum. We have to take care of the ball. We know they're going to pressure us. We just have to execute."
Larkin has won three straight games against Elgin and 18 of the last 19. The Maroons lead the all-time series 80-58.
Filling it up: Fox Valley area scoring leader Taaj Davis of Aurora Christian has been efficient.
The 6-foot-1 senior point guard averages 27.6 points per game. He shoots 52.6% from 2-point range (141 of 268) and 35.3% from 3-point range (42 of 119).
Davis gets to the free-throw line. The 75% shooter averages 8.4 attempts per game and makes 6.3. He also grabs 5.9 rebounds per game and contributes more assists per game (4.5) than turnovers (3.5).
Elite company: Huntley senior Uchenna Egekeze snared his 500th career rebound in Tuesday's 63-45 Fox Valley Conference win at McHenry.
It was the second milestone in less than a month for the three-year varsity performer. He surpassed 1,000 career points on Jan. 15 and now has 1,113.
Teammate Ryan Sroka is on track to earn the same double distinction. Also in his third varsity season, Sroka enters Friday's game at Jacobs with 478 career rebounds. The 6-foot-5 senior should reach 500 rebounds against Dundee-Crown on Feb. 18 if he maintains his pace of 6.8 rpg. He eclipsed 1,000 career points on Jan. 20.
Cary-Grove's Frank Jakubicek is already a member of the 1,000-500 club. The 6-foot-9 senior scored his 1,000th career point on Jan. 28. He enters Friday's game at Crystal Lake Central with 578 career rebounds.
One of the area's leading rebounders over the past two seasons has been St. Charles North center Conor Linke. The 6-foot-9 senior grabbed 278 rebounds last year (8.7 avg). The future Bradley Brave enters Friday's home game against Lake Park averaging 9.7 rpg.
Take two: Huntley senior Uchenna Egekeze averages 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. That is not far off the pace set by his older brother, Amanze, when he was named captain of the 2013-14 Daily Herald All-Area Team.
Amanze Egekeze averaged 17.8 points and 7.7 rebounds as a high school senior. He went on to play collegiately at Belmont and now plays professionally in Greece.