Mundelein hoping to build on its recent success
Until recently, winning basketball games was a challenge at Mundelein.
In fact, for four straight seasons between 2013 and 2017, the boys team struggled to a total of just 11 victories.
Funny thing is, that seems like a lifetime ago to the current crop of Mustangs, who are confident that they will again be one of the best teams in Lake County this season.
Last year, before COVID-19 cut short the boys basketball season, Mundelein was about to play in the sectional championship game against North Suburban Conference foe Stevenson.
The Mustangs had 30 wins in 34 games at the time.
Back from that juggernaut are four starters who averaged double-figure points last year, including three players who scored about 15 points per game: guards Conor Enright, the 2019-20 Daily Herald All-Area Team Captain, and Trey Baker along with center Scottie Ebube.
All three are four-year starters, and were on the front end of Mundelein's turnaround.
Joining the big three is another seasoned veteran, Jack Bikus, who is a 3-year varsity starter. Bikus averaged 10 points per game last year.
"We return essentially everyone off a 30-4 sectional finalist team," Mundelein coach Matt Badgley said. "This is a very competitive group that desires to cement itself as one of the top teams in Chicagoland this season. The work ethic this group has developed and exhibited is something that makes them very special. They enjoy working hard in order to put themselves in a better position on game day."
Stevenson, Mundelein's opponent in that COVID-canceled sectional final last year, should be tough again as well, returning top guards Evan Ambrose and Andrew Cheing.
"The strength of our team is our intelligence," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said.
Another force in a strong North Suburban Conference should be Libertyville, which lost by 2 points to Zion-Benton in a regional championship last year.
Blake Ellingson and Chase Bonder are back after averaging 12 and 11 points per game respectively last season.
"Our depth will be important to our success," Libertyville coach Brian Zyrkowski said. "There is good balance of post and perimeter play on this team."
In the Northern Lake County Conference, Round Lake has plenty of firepower back to defend its first conference championship in 25 years.
Last year, the Panthers finished with a 21-9 record and nine seniors return from that group, including Hakim Williams, who averaged a double-double.
Williams, a 6-foot-4 point guard who averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per game, is a three-year varsity starter. He'll be flanked by veteran guards Nick Pierre and Isaiah Nixon, both of whom averaged 8 points per game last year.
"We know we are not sneaking up on anyone this year," Round Lake coach Jay Iden said. "But our defensive system speaks for itself. In this condensed season, we are preparing to ruthlessly defend what we have earned over the past three years."
Wauconda was also one of the best teams in the NLCC last season, winning 23 games and a share of the conference title. The Bulldogs also advanced to the sectional championship but the game was canceled due to COVID-19.
"We are returning five players who were key contributors last year, including Benji Chung and Nick Bulgarelli who have been on varsity since they were freshmen," Wauconda coach Scott Luetschwager said. "Their experience and understanding of the game makes coaching this group easy."
Bulgarelli is Wauconda's leading returning scorer. He averaged 10.4 points per game last season.
Grayslake North could also be a factor in the NLCC having two big scorers back in Tony Hines (15.1 ppg) and Dominic Jankowksi (14 ppg).
"It will help that we can rely on our two leading scorers from last year to provide experience and the ability to score," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said of Hines and Jankowski. "Things have been going very well at practice and the kids are very excited to get the opportunity to get back on the court and make the most of their season."
Meanwhile, Carmel has good size to be competitive in the East Suburban Catholic Conference with six players 6-foot-3 or taller.
The Corsairs will lean heavily on 6-foot-4 forward Bryce Moore, who averaged 12.1 points and 5.3 rebounds last year as a sophomore. He's been on the varsity since his freshman year.
"We want to play to our strengths," Carmel coach Zack Ryan said. "We want to play hard and compete on the defensive end and we want to play at a fast pace on the offensive end."