Poulakidas closes in on Neuqua Valley scoring record
Neuqua Valley's John Poulakidas and Connor Davis form one of the best one-two boys basketball punches in the area.
Both seniors can play guard or forward plus have length, height and deep-range shooting ability to cause matchup problems for opposing teams. Poulakidas, a Yale recruit, is an established player with a national reputation. His multitude of moves on the court can make him unguardable, especially when his outside jumper is falling.
Poulakidas missed last Friday's game against Naperville Central with a bone bruise, but sparked the Wildcats (4-1) to victories over Glenbard East and West Aurora. The 6-foot-5 Poulakidas is aiming to make a permanent mark at Neuqua Valley in Friday's rivalry game against Waubonsie Valley.
Poulakidas is just six points away from becoming the school's all-time leading scorer.
"The biggest thing I've been focusing on is getting wins," Poulakidas said of scoring record. "If it happens, it happens. I'm focusing on the bigger picture. We all have to be ready because we have a big game Friday."
Davis, the other half of the Wildcats' high-scoring senior duo, is proving he belongs at the next level. The 6-5 Davis made four 3-pointers in limited action in Wednesday's blowout win over West Aurora. Davis, who has an offer from Quincy, said he's focusing on finishing the condensed season strong to attract attention from colleges.
"I'm just looking for a good fit, where I'm going to have a good relationship with a coaching staff and they're going to want me and I'm going to be able to play in my first year," Davis said. "It's a waiting game. I even have to wait to see if Quincy has a spot for me. (Colleges) can't come out here to scout, so all of them are waiting to see what the game film looks like."
Five games into this season, Davis has shown he can fill it up with his shooting, ability to run the court and post up game.
"In the offseason, I worked on getting a deeper outside shot, to make sure I can shoot from the college line or even beyond that," Davis said.
Huff, Hilltoppers on fire:
After missing the last eight games with a dislocated elbow injury last season, Braden Huff is healthy and back on the court. The 6-10 Huff, one of the top players in the state, is a central factor in Glenbard West winning its first five games. Huff is averaging 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.3 blocks per game, while shooting a sizzling 45 percent on 3-pointers and 75 percent from the free-throw line in just 24 minutes per game.
Huff said the shortened season without a state tournament doesn't affect the Hilltoppers' goal of being considered among the best teams in the state. The Hilltoppers are ranked No. 5 in the most recent Associated Press Class 4A poll.
"We just want to win conference and try to go undefeated in this shortened season," Huff said. "That's important to us because we really want to gain respect as one of the best teams in Illinois, and just give everything we've got for the seniors in their final season."
Glenbard West coach Jason Opoka said his team is playing well as a unit in the first few weeks of the season.
"We've had success as a result of our player depth, length and experience," Opoka said. "We've been very unselfish and are committed to defending at a high level."
Meanwhile, Huff is one of the most sought after players in the state. His deadly long-range shooting, ballhandling and length are attracting attention from a number of colleges. He has offers from Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Creighton. Huff said one of his personal goals is to be an all-state selection.
"I want to show how much my game has improved since last year and that I've improved my skill set and physicality as a player," Huff said.
Big team at DGN:
At first glance, Downers Grove North looks like a football team playing basketball. The Trojans have an abundance of tall and strong players, and are capable of dominating teams in the paint with their aggressiveness and bulk.
Senior Elijah Carter is a perfect example of the new-look Trojans. The 6-2, 200-pound Carter looks like a nose guard or offensive lineman, but he strictly plays basketball and baseball.
Six-foot-7 senior forward Jack Mielke, a Southern Indiana recruit, possesses quality size and strength to go with a soft touch from outside. Six-foot-5 Kyle Engstler is a hard-nosed inside player who causes fits with his aggressive play and surprising array of post moves. He hauled down 10 rebounds in the win over Downers Grove South on Tuesday. Senior guard Nate Demos, at 5-11 and 175 pounds, can bully smaller guards and can drill 3-pointers.
The Trojans prefer to play at a slower pace and pound the ball inside and look for good shots. Downers Grove North coach James Thomas credited his players for working out during the pandemic.
"When COVID hit, we just said you have to continue to stay physically conditioned, and they all did that," he said. "These guys are all great friends, so they stayed on top of each other. We slow it down and try and press with just the guys running. Jack is a tremendous shooter. We always have a big at the rim, so if you don't cover them, we can pitch the ball up. Usually we're trying to run motion and try and take advantage of the mismatches.
"We don't have guys that can just break it down, so we have to deal with passing, cutting, screening and readings. They are very smart kids, so they understand very well."
Mielke added: "We play to our strengths, whether that's an 85-80 final score or the game is in the 40s. We can push it or rely on our size advantage."