Scouting the Northern Lake County Conference
Antioch SequoitsCoach: Sean Connor
Last season's record: 4-4, 3-4 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: Jake Mallek, jr., (G), Jordan DeVaughn, jr., (F), Joe Neumann, jr., (F), Kyle Glassman, jr., (G), Emmy Zamudio, jr., (G)
Top new players: Nathan Young, jr., (G), Marshall Gehrke, fresh., (G)
Worth noting: Connor takes over for former coach Tim Bowen and inherits a group with experience, athleticism, physicality and toughness, he noted. "This is a relentless group of juniors that played varsity last year and has been playing together since they were very young," Connor added. "They have great chemistry and care about each other. Combined with our seniors, they have a chance to be a feared group to play. Every day since June they have been relentless in their desire to get better and change the image of Antioch basketball." Mallek, coming off a knee injury, is the team's top returning scorer and averaged 7 points, 3 boards and 2 assists last year, while DeVaughn averaged 4 points and 3 rebounds. Connor also likes Glassman's presence on the court. "Kyle is our energy and a leader," he said. "He does the little things most don't notice that help you compete for wins." Connor said Wauconda and Grayslake Central are teams to watch in the Northern Lake County Conference, as well as North Chicago.
Grant BulldogsCoach: Wayne Bosworth
Last season's record: 2-8, 2-7 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: Randal Holm, sr., (F), Carter Kaye, sr., (G), Mikal Saavedra, sr., (G), Bobby Gray, sr., (F), Chad Kiesgen, jr., (F), Romario Bedward, sr., (F), Kyle Splitt, sr., (G), Todd Akers, sr., (G)
Top new players: Blake Laske, jr., (G), Braylon Gray, fresh., (G), James Otis, jr., (G), Bernard Morris, jr., (G), Jackson Beckett, jr., (G)
Worth noting: Bosworth will have no trouble getting a lot of his Bulldog players involved this season. "We should be a very deep team," he said. "We have a lot of guys who have worked hard over the offseason and have improved. A lot of the guys are very interchangeable and there shouldn't be any drop off going deep into the rotation. They are fun to be around. Practices are intense and very competitive. We continue to get better." Holm and Kaye are two names in particular to watch for Grant. "Randal has improved as much as anyone I have seen over a seven-month span. He's a legitimate three-level scorer who plays above the rim," Bosworth said. "Carter can shoot it as good as anyone, plays strong defense and should be a strong all-around player." Bosworth calls Grayslake Central the easy NLCC favorite with Wauconda and Grayslake North also in the conversation.
Grayslake Central RamsCoach: Brian Centella
Last season's record: 4-4, 3-4 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: Nathan Ulrichs, sr., (G-F, 6-6), Dennis Estepp, jr., (PG, 6-1), Brendan Whalen, sr., (F, 6-4), Darryl Overstreet, sr., (F, 6-2)
Top new players: Kai Taylor, jr., (PG, 5-10), Jake Gibson, jr., (C, 6-6), Michael Monahan, jr., (G, 6-2), Sam Cooper, jr., (G, 6-2)
Worth noting: "We will be pretty deep and can play lineups with very good size," said Centella, whose team is one of the preseason favorites in the Northern Lake County Conference. "We have a versatile roster that will allow us to play a variety of different ways. We have a good combination of returners and exciting newcomers." Estepp started every game at the point last year as a sophomore. "Dennis had a tremendous offseason and is set to have a really big season," Centella said. "He has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor and is a great passer." The 6-6 Ulrichs' versatility will come in handy, Centella said. "He can score in the post, but is equally comfortable scoring on the perimeter," he said. "His size and athleticism makes him a very good defender as well. He is also set to have a breakout season." Centella said the Rams should be in the mix as a conference contender along with Wauconda, Grayslake North and Lakes.
Grayslake North KnightsCoach: Josh Feinzimer
Last season's record: 9-3, 5-2 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: Joseph Valera, sr., (PG), Jacob Donahue, jr., (SF), Dominic Jankowski, jr., (SG)
Top new players: Jayden Hunt, fresh., (PG), Jack Kerpan, jr., (SG)
Worth noting: Valera led the NLCC in steals last year, while Donahue led the circuit in charges taken. Jankowski has been starting on the North varsity since freshman year. "We will be able to play very fast, both offensively and defensively," Feinzimer said. "We will also have multiple lineups where every player can handle the ball and shoot the ball." Feinzimer likes the potential of a deep bench with Vito Vizzini, Carter Barenbaum and Matt Nixon providing good minutes. Senior leadership also is in abundance with Brendon Paul, Logan Perry, Valera, Logan Perry, Ryan Page, Nixon, Vizzini and Jacob Marshall. Feinzimer is a fan of Valera's defense. "He prides himself on being a tough-nosed defender," he said. "He gets as much satisfaction in stopping his man as he does knocking down a jump shot." Feinzimer labels varsity vet Jankowski one of the best shooters in the conference. "He is a talented offensive player who can go to the basket at any moment," he said. Feinzimer said the NLCC will be tightly packed and very competitive. "Grayslake Central will pose problems with its size and depth. North Chicago will be good as usual, but we hope to be right there in the mix," he said.
Lakes EaglesCoach: Chris Snyder
Last season's record: 2-10, 2-6 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: Ethan McGruder, sr., (G), Kevin Klimas, jr., (F), Brock Marino, jr., (F), Cade Primack, jr., (G), Tyson Dewey, jr., (G)
Top new players: Tyler Anderson, jr., (G), Jimmy Kania, soph., (F), Eli Roberts, sr., (G)
Worth noting: Snyder likes his team's potential on the perimeter. "The strengths for this team will be shooting and overall athleticism," he said. "We have some guys who are very capable shooters. We should also be pretty versatile in that our guys can play and guard a few positions. We will have that along with athleticism to help us attempt to overcome some of the bigger teams we'll face this year." The 6-5 Marino had a strong summer with Lakes and on the AAU circuit. "He has really developed into a player," Snyder said. "He can shoot it very well and handle the ball. He's poised to have a breakout year." Snyder calls McGruder the team's best on-ball defender as well as one of the Eagles' better shooters. "Ethan will have a strong senior season," the coach said. In terms of the NLCC race, Snyder has Grayslake Central and Wauconda as early favorites. "It should be a very competitive conference schedule," he said. "All teams have solid players and are well-coached."
Round Lake PanthersCoach: Jay Iden
Last season's record: 8-3, 6-1, Northern Lake County champions
Top returning players: Cristian Castro, sr., (SG), Miguel Ruiz, sr., (F), Jamariel Brown, sr., (F)
Top new players: LaMarr Pierce, soph., (G-F), Anthony Jones, jr., (G-F), Elyija Winslow, sr., (G-F), Taevion Mays, jr., (G-F), Julian Jones, fresh., (PG)
Worth noting: The Panthers have won the last two Northern Lake County titles. Castro, who had a strong football season, is back after averaging 12 points per game this past spring. "Cristian is a high-caliber scorer and defender," Iden said. "He is looking to solidify his legacy as one of the top dual-sport student-athletes in the NLCC." Pierce, only a sophomore, has a high ceiling for the Panthers. "LaMarr is a first-class student-athlete," Iden said. "He has impressive size at 6-3, 180, and skill set." Iden said he has an exciting and young group of talented players, "who can defend and compete through a dynamic and exciting style of play," he said. "The more things change the more they stay the same. New players, new dynamics and a community that has our back. It's really exciting to see how these young men are dedicated to adding to the story of Lake County's best-kept secret." Iden said he's prepared for a tough conference schedule. "I believe this will be one of the strongest years yet for the NLCC," he said. "The type of year where fans will get to watch great programs, players and coaches battle every night. The conference shouldn't be slept on. Each team is intriguing."
Wauconda BulldogsCoach: Scott Luetschwager
Last season's record: 8-3, 4-3 Northern Lake County
Top returning players: Griffin Daun, sr., (G), Justin Drobnik, sr., (F), Nick Brinias, sr., (G), Garrison Carter, sr., (F), Braden Carlsen, soph., (F)
Top new players: Christian Muniz
Worth noting: Daun averaged 14.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.3 assists last year and was named all-NLCC and was a Daily Herald All-Area honorable mention selection. "Griffin glides across the offense," Luetschwager said. "When he goes up for a layup, he hangs in the air. The defense goes down and he is still hanging in the air. Defensively, his length and athleticism shuts out the wing and shrinks the court for the opposing offense." Drobnik averaged 7.3 points and 4 rebounds, while Brinias averaged 7.7 points. Carlsen was at 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds. Carter averaged 8.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2 assists two years ago. "We are a long, athletic and veteran group," said Luetschwager. Five of the current Bulldog seniors played as sophomores on the Wauconda team that reached the sectional final prior to the pandemic shutdown in 2020. "This is a group that loves being in the gym," Luetschwager said. "They are a versatile group that can beat you in different ways. You can't focus on stopping one or two players. This group is hungry to put their stamp on the program. They have high expectations." Luetschwager also has been impressed with Carter. "He can do it all," he said. "He can score in the post, midrange and from behind the arc. He runs the floor well and if need be he can lead the break. Defensively, he is a great communicator and covers a lot of space." Luetschwager said his squad and Grayslake Central figure to contend for the NLCC top spot.