Scouting Fox boys basketball
St. Charles North returns to the court Feb. 9 at Larkin, the first action for the North Stars since their sectional semifinal victory last year over Rockton Hononegah.
Of course the North Stars never got to play that next game, a highly anticipated matchup with Cary-Grove for the 4A McHenry sectional title.
Like the Trojans, St. Charles North graduated most of the lineup that would have played that night. The North Stars, in fact, won't have a single starter back for this year's abbreviated season.
They will turn to two promising juniors, 6-foot-8 Ethan Marlowe and 6-4 Max Love, to lead the way, both of whom played substantial minutes last season. Marlowe is receiving DI and DII interest, while Love is getting DII and DIII looks.
"They both have improved significantly during the long off-season," coach Tom Poulin said.
Junior Justin Hughes should provide shooting while seniors Sammy Dedobbeleare, Kyle Spence and Martin Didier along with junior Jude Love are all poised to play large roles.
Geneva (19-13) also is coming off a regional championship and returns three starters. Senior Nathan Valentine, an all-conference guard who will play at Illinois Wesleyan, 6-9 senior Dylan Fuzak (Indiana Tech), senior Quintin McNeive, 6-7 junior Chris Suger and senior Brian Wrenn give coach Scott Hennig a mix of size, shooting and experience. Hennig will work junior newcomers Ryan Husky, Daniel Alworth and Alex Smith into the rotation.
Six seniors return from St. Charles East's up-tempo, 24-8, co-DKC champs that averaged 70.6 ppg. "It would have been heartbreaking if these kids did not have a chance at the opportunity they have been working on for four years," coach Pat Woods said.
Lightning quick PG Joe Musial, one of the best finishers around the basket according to Woods, is back along with Brice Clayborn and 6-5 Zachariah Masud. Junior newcomer Trent Warren can shoot the 3, junior guard AJ Gaca is a three-sport athlete and 6-5 Kelton McCaslin provides defense and rebounding.
Juniors Ethan Ivan and Trent Tousana and senior Luke Fehrenbacher are back at Batavia. The Bulldogs also will be counting on seniors Jack Valente, Luke Nelson and Matt Rash along with juniors Austin Ambrose, AJ Sanders, Eric Newberry and Drew Bartels.
"We are looking to be very competitive in a great conference," coach Jim Nazos said. "We have experienced players that mesh well with a talented junior class."
Larkin's 9-21 record last year was misleading -- its 1-14 start was followed by an 8-7 finish and hard-fought regional loss to Cary-Grove. The Royals played mostly sophomores and freshmen; they have 7 of their top 8 back.
That includes junior point guard Damari Wheeler-Thomas who averaged 14 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds and holds a handful of Division I offers. Another junior, 6-3 Fernando Perez, averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds.
"I believe we had a chance to be really good this year," Royals coach Deryn Carter said. "We are actually very junior heavy and will be better next year but thought this year we would be back to what we had been in the recent past."
Streamwood coach Kent Payne likes the experience his seniors gained last year. They can "take the next step in competitiveness," said Payne, looking to once again play with a quick tempo.
Those seniors include three guards who averaged double figures -- Kyle Maybrun (12.8 ppg), Jakobe Strong (14.7 ppg) and Zach Marquez (12.3 ppg) -- and also Darrel Luce and Kody Wright. Junior guard Richard Santiago averaged 4.2 ppg while junior forward Chris Calderon will join the rotation.
Seniors Darien Jackson (10 ppg) and Gio Griffin (8 ppg) give Elgin two returning starters to build around while the Maroons also rely on point guard Manny Hernandez and guard Aygeon Abner. Coach Todd Allen said Elgin will try to counter a lack of size with hard-nosed defense.
Cary-Grove and Huntley staged a tight two-team race last year for the FVC crown last year. The Trojans (31-3) edged the Red Raiders at 17-1 to 16-2, then won a third meeting 49-46 in double overtime in the sectional semifinals.
Both will look quite a bit different.
The Trojans' inside-outside duo of Frank Jakubicek and Beau Frericks has graduated. But Cary-Grove does have all-conference selection Ryan Weaver back along with junior Mikie Clarke and senior Drew Sepeczi.
Huntley graduated its starting lineup and will rebuild around junior Ben Ahmer, who has the most returning varsity experience, and a junior class that went 31-0 as sophomores.
"We have a young roster but the guys are very competitive," Huntley coach Will Benson said.
Burlington Central (23-10) made an impressive debut in its first year in the FVC, taking third at 12-6. The Rockets ended the year on a bitter note, watching a 6-point lead in the final minute slip away of a 60-59 regional championship loss to St. Francis.
Juniors Zac Schmidt, Gavin Sarvis and Carson Seyller return, all starters last year as sophomores, return. Guard Steven Langtim is the lone senior in the rotation which also includes juniors Nick Carpenter and Trestan Wagner and sophomores Andrew Scharnowski, Matthew Lemon and Nolan Milas.
"We hope to be competitive in an always challenging and competitive Fox Valley Conference," said coach Brett Porto, 220-106 in his 12th year at his alma mater.
Crystal Lake South won 17 games last year and returns starters Brock Jewson and Cooper LePage. Casey Haskin graduated early and would have been a 3-year starter. Junior Isaiah Kirkeeng is recovered from a broken leg while the Gators also will rely on seniors Nathan Dalzell and Jaden Womack, junior Arnav Jain and sophomore Nathan Van Witzeburg.
"We have a new-look team that is going to be small in size but we should have some speed and quickness," Gators coach Matt LePage said.
Hampshire (22-11) ended its season like St. Charles North and Cary-Grove -- still alive in a sectional final. The Whips were coming off a semifinal win over Rockford Boylan but never got the chance to play Wauconda for a sectional crown.
They'll have seniors JT Parreno, Zach Bailey, Chris Le, Zakk Percival, Ryan Smekrud and Logan Thompson back with juniors Kevin Dela Paz and Adam Ugochukwu. Second-year coach Mike Featherly will work in junior newcomers Tyler Mella, Matt Dumoulin, Joey Pearsall, Frankie Szpila and Miles Wiggins along with sophomore Bailey Woods.
"We have a young team in terms of varsity experience," Featherly said. "They look to continue building on the high expectations we have as a program."
Jacobs (18-15, 10-8) returns four three-year varsity players and will play a sophomore and two freshmen, 6-foot-6 Grant Stec and 6-4 Josh Belser.
"Grant Stec has a chance to be really good," Jacobs coach Jimmy Roberts said. "Great athlete, smart, picks up things very quickly, and being 6-6, 220 as a freshman helps as well."
The younger players will learn from veterans James Hayes (sr., G), Zach Leahy (sr., G), Robert Pennel (sr., G), Matthew Lodi (sr., F) and Adrian Garcia (sr., G). Junior Nick McCoy and sophomore Jackson Martucci also will play.
In his 18th season at Dundee-Crown, Lance Huber only has three players who saw meaningful varsity minutes: senior Terrell Powell and juniors Kennon Cook and Jason Huber.
The Chargers (13-16) also will play seniors Josh Harris, Graham Carlson and Steve Castleberry, and juniors Hunter Guyon, Ryan Schultz, Gabe Rivera and Mason Searles.
"It has been a strange year to say the least," Huber said. "We are just grateful to be playing basketball and are hoping to gel into a team that plays for each other and have some fun in this shortened season."
What it lacks in size, St. Edward (9-23) will make up for with shooting and ballhandling. Senior three-year starter and returning all-conference player Erik Hill leads the returners after averaging 15 points. Junior Jacob Brier scored 6 a game, and junior Robert Wilson and senior Liam Pomeroy also were in the rotation. They will be joined this year by senior Zeke Rolando, juniors Ryan Sauceda, Ty Brieger and Diego Bedolla, and sophomores Carson Busto and Ben Zielinski.
"We are looking to improve on last year's season and feel we will be competitive in the Metro," St. Edward coach Andy Zielinski said. "We also are hoping to avoid the injury bug."
Three all-conference selections -- sophomore Ben Lothery (16 ppg), senior Matt Ellett (16 ppg) and senior Brandon Keeran -- have coach Bryan Bradshaw excited to see what Harvest Christian (18-13) can do.
The Lions' next-door neighbor, Westminster Christian (7-19), returns all-conference junior forward Justin Glanzer. Juniors Justin McGinnis and Erik Haegland, sophomore Nathanael Ephrem and freshmen Montay Washington, Darius Holmes and Genaud Phillips all will have key roles.
Marmion has four returning starters: sophomore Colin Wainscott, junior Sean Kavanaugh and seniors Corey Crowder and Nick Reid (Central College). Jake Silagi will play at Beloit.
Aurora Central Catholic returns two three-year players who averaged 10 points a game last year, 6-2 Danny Cwinski and 6-2 Dylan Bryant.
Out west, down south
Both West Aurora and Kaneland play in conferences with no other schools in the Daily Herald coverage area, the Southwest Prairie and Interstate Eight, respectively.
The Blackhawks ended an 11-22 season on a high note by winning a regional as a No. 14 seed. No starters are back; 6-foot-8 senior Jon Dowd and juniors Isaiah Siler, Ty Rogers and Kenyon Weekley will make up the new look for coach Brian Johnson's squad.
Jamari Meeks started every game last year for Kaneland, Porter Conroy is a two-way standout, and 6-foot-5 senior David Kolev is another player who has really improved, according to coach Ernie Colombe.
Editor's note: Repeated efforts were made to contact every school in the Daily Herald coverage area.