Scouting DuPage County boys basketball
Like a handful of excellent teams last year, Timothy Christian was so good -- and so unlucky -- it didn't even get to end its season.
The Trojans made the Class 2A state tournament only to see it canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similarly, Lake Park and Naperville Central will never know just how far they could have gone, set to meet for a Class 4A sectional final when the season ended.
That disappoint might never fade, but those three teams -- like the rest of DuPage County -- are glad to finally be playing again.
"We're hoping for a strong performance to build on the 2019-2020 season," Trojans coach Scott Plaisier said.
Timothy Christian (28-5) is led by 6-3 senior wing Josh Harris, a "big-time scorer," according to Plaisier who is closing in on 1,000 points. Leading rebounder Ben VanderWal, a 6-6 junior, also returns as does senior guard Ben Jones. Junior Trey Keizer and senior Matija Marinkovich will help the Trojans compete in a conference race that Plaisier said features Aurora Christian, Riverside-Brookfield and ICCP.
Lake Park went 25-8 year and was the No. 1 seed heading into that Naperville Central matchup. The Lancers don't have a single starter back; senior Alex Burzawa transferred to Feltrim Academy in Florida to play a full season, and coach Billy Pitcher said Burzawa has been getting some Division II college interest. Lake Park will rely mostly on its junior class that as sophomores won 23 games including Vito Lagioia, Sebastian Blachut and Desmond Horton, plus senior Tony Czaja.
Elsewhere in the DuKane Conference, Glenbard North coach Joe Larson returns senior starters Jacob Bonnema and Matt Murray while looking for increased contributions from juniors Payton Bowser and Donald Davis, and senior Julianne Pamfilo.
Seniors Connor Haake and Sam Cascella started at times last year for Wheaton North (16-15) who is looking for an eighth straight winning season. Having two seniors back who missed their junior years, Troy Hegranes and Tristan Mackay, will certainly help.
Falcons coach Dave Brackmann said junior Robbie Bonga had a great year at the sophomore level and is ready to make a big contribution. He's also looking for juniors Matk Forcucci, Hugh Werner, Noah Froebe and Seth Kortenhoeven, and senior Braden Parente, to make an impact.
Wheaton Warrenville South (20-12) returns one all-conference selection -- senior Parker Brown -- and two honorable mention picks: junior Tyler Fawcett and Yonatan Algawerash.
Seniors Jaylen Brown, Micah Kim, Aidan McCoyd, Brandon Schnack and Michael McCann also return for coach Mike Healy who also is looking for contributions from juniors Danny Healy, Rourke Robinson and Sam Michalak.
Naperville Central point guard Aidan Kramer and two guard Kyle Baskin are back from its Sweet 16 team. Kramer led the team in assists and Baskin provided relentless defense, and both can score in different ways. Coach Pete Kramer's team went 23-10, and they also have Jonah Hinton, a junior guard with great skills, versatile junior guard James Jopes, sophomore Mantas Zilys, senior Andrius Avina and senior Sam Williams.
Waubonsie Valley had an excellent 27-5 season, upset by West Aurora in its regional opener. The Warriors feature Loyola recruit Ben Schwieger, a 6-foot-6 senior who averaged 16.2 points. He'll be joined by seniors Adri Malushi (7.1 ppg, drew 22 charges), Justin Starks (4.3 ppg), Carter Langendorf (4.5 ppg) and Chase Sandefur. Junior guard Tyler Helbing came up in January and averaged 3.8 ppg.
"This senior class is so fun and they have been such an asset to this school, they deserve a season," WV coach Jason Mead said.
Metea Valley (11-18) coach Isaiah Davis doesn't have a returning starter. He hopes his bench players from last year like 6-foot-9 Henry Krzyzewski can make strides. Transfer Malik Bell is another to watch along with junior Charlie Nosek, Scott Lou and junior Srivant Avulabalayyagari.
"We have a lot of guys who have shown improvements, but we do not have a lot of experience returning," Davis said.
Senior Grant Johnson (14 ppg) and junior Zeke Williams (9.8 ppg) return to the starting lineup at Naperville North (14-17). Huskies coach Gene Nolan also is counting on seniors Liam Kim, Peter Krebs and Jacob Scharm.
Neuqua Valley (23-9) has quite a one-two punch with a pair of 6-foot-5 seniors. Coach Todd Sutton said three-year starter Connor Davis has all-state potential, and John Poulakidas is the "best shooter in Illinois." Poulakidas will play at Yale.
Another senior, Nick Porter, came off bench last year and will take on a bigger role while 6-5 senior Zach Davis will be a first-time starter. Others to watch include Visagan Subramanian, sophomore Mark Mennecke, and juniors Colle Vonnahme and Jayden Dean. Sutton said defense and rebounding will determine their success.
Glenbard South set a school record with 25 wins last year while winning the UEC title. The Raiders have two all-conference players back: Aryton Temcio (13 ppg, 7 rpg) and Cade Hardtke (8 ppg, 4 apg). Hardtke will move into the school's all-time top 10 in assists with 24 more.
Trevor Burnett (4 ppg) got minutes as a sophomore. Other contributors will be Yazan Blan, Louie Esposito, D'Manual Payton and Armon Yarbrough.
Fenton won 21 games a year ago, going 11-7 in the Upstate Eight. It was the Bison's most wins since 1976. Two starters are back: Frankie Krygier and Gerell Wilson. Coach Chaz Taft, a 1996 Fenton grad, also brings back seniors Marcus Rule, Patrick Block, Sherby Brown and Tristan Hausen while welcoming newcomers Michael Rago, Gerimiah Wilson and Gerry Pelayo.
West Chicago coach Bill Recchia said the Wildcats hope to make defense the trademark of what he called a "hard-working group" led by senior point guard Jacob Lim, senior guard Marque Phillips and junior guard James Kostomiris.
Glenbard East has a new coach, 2015 Illinois Basketball Hall of Famer Al Biancalana, who has 23 years of experience most recently at DeKalb, along with 10 years as a Division I assistant at Bradley and UIC.
He'll have three starters back from a 22-9 team: 6-5 senior LaDonus Rogers (7.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg), 6-foot senior Joe Hamilton (5.6 ppg) and 6-3 senior Jack Rivas (5.1 ppg). The Rams also have seniors Terence Spencer, Sean Banks and Nick Janega along with newcomers from the UEC sophomore champions: Jordan Rech, Dylan Crowe and Tyrese Buffkin.
"This group has a chance to be very competitive in the abbreviated Upstate Conference," Biancalana said.
York (28-5) also has a new coach, Mike Dunne. Senior Jeffrey Grace is a 4-year varsity player who averaged 7.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Junior Nick Hesch (6.2 ppg) is a 2-year starter. Seniors Denton Rhode and Luke Malga plus junior Drew Kircher and sophomore Alex Sherman will play heavy minutes.
Addison Trail senior Robert Roskiewicz, a 3-year varsity player, had 11 double-doubles while averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. The 6-7 senior will get help from junior guards Sammy Renc and Jacob Daniels.
Glenbard West will look to improve on a 3-9 conference record, 16-14 overall. Coach Jason Opoka has a gem in 6-9 junior forward Braden Huff who averaged 15.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks as a sophomore and also is a standout in the classroom with a 5.28 GPA. He holds offers from Northwestern, Creighton, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin.
"At his size, he has the ability to play at all three levels and facilitate an offense," Opoka said.
Junior guard Caden Pierce is another excellent student with a 5.4 GPA who also has Division I potential with offers from UIC and Milwaukee-Wisconsin. Other Hilltoppers to watch include junior guard Paxton Warden and senior guard and Carnegie Mellon commit Aidan Murphy, both who started last year, along with senior forward Daniel Mulcare, junior forward Ryan Renfro and senior center Troy Glover II.
Hinsdale Central senior Charlie Sessa (8 ppg), who will play football at Columbia, senior Quinn Cain (Tufts University) and senior combo guard Charlie Herbst lead Hinsdale Central (14-17). The newcomers include juniors Jake Quast and Matt Hughes, and sophomores Ben Oosterbaan and Chase Colignon.
Hinsdale South is coming off the best season in school history but graduated four of its top six. Coach Brett Moore said he hopes to reload instead of rebuild behind Bobby Durkin who as a sophomore made a record 72 3s. Garret Bolte will transition from a do-everything role player to a key player on offense and defense.
Downers Grove South (9-19) brings back its starting five: seniors Jake Dimovski (10 ppg), Kobe Jones, Kyle Fenner and Michael Rheintgen plus junior Nathan Waterman (8.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg). Coach Kris Olson also adds a junior class that had a successful sophomore season including Chris Bell, Harold Dismukes, Patrick Laurich, Keaton O'Leary and Jaylen Montgomery.
Ryan Tyszkiewicz takes over as interim coach at Willowbrook after seven seasons as the sophomore coach. The Warriors graduated most of the roster from last year's 13-20 squad and have just started tryouts, said Tyszkiewicz.
Downers Grove North returns all but one starter from last year's 14-15 team. Senior Jack Mielke (Southern Indiana commit) leads a balanced attack from 10 other seniors: 6-5 Kyle Engslter, 6-6 Kevin Bozeman, 6-6 Matt Schellbach, Eli Carter, Jake and Nate Demos, Jake Morgan, Will Riemer and Aiden Stephens, plus junior Griffin Ilyavi. This group went 43-3 as underclassmen.
Benet is coming off another excellent season at 24-9. Starters Tyler Van Eekeren (Washington University commit) and Sam Hennessy return.
St. Francis came from 6 points down in the final minute for a 60-59 win over Burlington Central in a 3A regional championship game. Coach Erin Dwyer said he's watched replays of that when he needed a lift these past few months with no basketball.
Juniors Sebastian Miller and Brendan Yarusso averaged 10 points a game while seniors Jack Locascio, Brian Zulauf, Nick Ciombor, Logan McLoud and Zak Gjerde bring depth.
Montini coach Adam DeMong said the Broncos (9-22) are looking to surprise with a veteran team that includes senior guard Jemari Moore, junior forward Andrew Stokes, senior guard AJ Ashford, senior guard Antoine Harris and junior guard Tyler Leeberg.
Wheaton Academy (22-11) doesn't return a starter but coach Steve Thonn likes his junior class that has only lost 5 games the last 2 years. Senior subs from last year Jack Oswald and Bryce Swift join juniors Sam Anderson, Cole Andrews and Josh Oswald plus senior Gabe Sams to form the nucleus for a young Warriors team.
IC Catholic Prep's ninth-year coach T.J. Tyrrell is excited about transfer Darius Ezell, who had to sit out last year. Seniors Danny Roberto, Johnny Falduto and Michael Hilgart have three years of varsity experience. Senior Justin Hall returns from injury, and ICCP (17-16) also is counting on Antonio Richardson and John Hilgart who saw big minutes last season as sophomores.
Two more to watch
Senior returnees Qati Dalipi, Tyler Jarvis and Leo Requiron work with junior newcomers Caleb Kleinz, Nikola Bagdanovic, Ryan Domin and sophomore Joey Dooley for Westmont, 14-19 last year and 5-7 in the Metro Suburban. Dalipi averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"This a crazy year for obvious reasons," coach Craig Etheridge said. "Trying to get the new players to mesh with returning players is going to be difficult."
Lisle (18-14) tied for last year's Illinois Central Eight title at 11-3 before losing to Wheaton Academy in the regional semifinals. Senior point guard Sean Etzkorn, senior shooting guard Cal Payne and senior forward Josh Farrell return while sophomore Jahki Gray is a newcomer to watch.
Editor's note: Repeated efforts were made to contact every school in the Daily Herald coverage area.