Scouting the Upstate Eight

  • John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comLarkin's Damari Wheeler-Thomas recently signed to play college basketball at North Dakota State.

    John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comLarkin's Damari Wheeler-Thomas recently signed to play college basketball at North Dakota State.

  • Jalen Brown, pictured guarding Glenbard West's Ryan Renfro in Glenbard South's season opener Monday, is one of the newcomers to watch for the Raiders this season.

    Jalen Brown, pictured guarding Glenbard West's Ryan Renfro in Glenbard South's season opener Monday, is one of the newcomers to watch for the Raiders this season. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Bartlett's 7-foot-2 center Conrad Luczynski is back for his senior year after helping the Hawks go 12-4 last season.

    Bartlett's 7-foot-2 center Conrad Luczynski is back for his senior year after helping the Hawks go 12-4 last season. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/23/2021 8:03 AM

Bartlett Coach: Jim Wolfsmith (15th season).

Last season's record: 12-4 overall, 7-2 UEC.

 

Top returning players: Conrad Luczynski, sr. (C, 7-3); Marty McCarthy, jr. (G, 6-1); Kelton McEwen, soph. (G, 6-0); Nathan Scearce, soph. (G, 6-2); Ian Smith, sr. (G, 6-2).

Top new players: Jacob Magnanao, sr. (G, 5-10).

Worth noting: The Hawks accomplished a great deal in a shortened season this past spring, capturing the conference title and conference tournament championship with a victory over East Aurora. "The team is coming off a great season and has much to prove this season," said Wolfsmith. "We are replacing three grit seniors in Clark Lewis, George Betevis and Frances Resurreccion. They did a ton of little things -- rebounding (combined for 12 per game), drawing charges, getting loose balls, playing good defense." Luczynski, one of the tallest players in the area and the state, averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots per contest last season. Smith, meanwhile, is a shooting guard who averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds per game a year ago. Both are currently uncommitted. McEwen averaged 14 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists as a freshman, while Scearce and McCarthy averaged 6 and 5 points, respectively, with the former shooting 39% from beyond the 3-point arc. "The talent is there but there's much to be done as we attempt a full season again," said Wolfsmith.

East Aurora Coach: Rick Robinson (5th season).

Last season's record: 8-3 overall, 5-3 UEC.

Top returning players: Jabian Acosta, jr. (F, 6-4); Jullian Acosta, sr. (G/F, 6-2); Ralph Clark, jr. (G, 6-0); Calvin Savage, soph. (G, 5-10).

Top new players: Ibraham Korona, sr. (C, 6-6); James Parker, soph. (G, 5-8); Nate Robinson, sr. (G, 5-10).

Worth noting: East Aurora, which won 4 of its first 5 games last spring, went on to finish second in the UEC tournament with victories over Fenton and Larkin. The Tomcats return plenty of talent from that squad, led by Jullian Acosta, a 4-year varsity player, and Jabian Acosta, a 3-year varsity performer. Clark and Savage provide backcourt experience, while Korona will take on some difficult defensive assignments in the UEC while playing the post. The Tomcats open the season at the always-tough St. Charles East/Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament before beginning conference play Dec. 3 at Glenbard South. "We are excited about the upcoming season and look forward to competing in the Upstate Eight again this year, said Robinson.

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Elgin Coach: Todd Allen (3rd season).

Last season's record: 3-11 overall, 1-5 UEC.

Top returning players: Nate Aquino, jr. (G, 5-8); Carlos Cardenas, sr. (C, 6-0); Micah Giovenco, jr. (F/C, 6-2); Maddox Hollian, soph. (G, 5-10); Matt Lawson, soph. (G, 5-10); Victor Rivera, sr. (G, 5-9).

Top new players: Anthony Flores, jr. (G, 5-7); Ismael Martinez, jr. (G, 5-9); Angel Nunez, soph. (F, 6-0); Cole Weiler, jr. (G/F, 5-11).

Worth noting: "We have a young and hungry team," said Allen. "The players are buying into their roles. Playing defense will be a huge key to the success of the team." Hollian and Lawson, both sophomores, were called up to the varsity team midway through last season and gained invaluable experience. "They came up for the last six games as freshmen," said Allen. Elgin opens its season this week at the Westminster Thanksgiving Tournament and begins conference play Dec. 2 at Fenton. "Finding the chemistry in the early season games will be a big key as well," said Allen. "The UEC will be tough. We can make strides in the conference by playing hard, playing defense, and playing together."

Fenton Coach: Chaz Taft (5th season).

Last season's record: 5-8 overall, 3-4 UEC.

Top returning players: Xavier Gonzalez, soph. (G, 5-7); Michael Rago, sr. (G, 5-9).

Top new players: Freddy Carranza, jr. (G/F, 6-0); Alejandro Diaz, soph. (G, 6-0); Caleb Lewis, jr. (G, 5-10); Connor Queyquep, sr. (F, 6-1); Nick Tinajero, jr. (G, 6-0).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Worth noting: "We are excited about this team and all the hard work they have been putting in during the offseason," said Taft. "If you look at our roster, you will see many new faces, but this group has been playing together since the sixth grade. The way that each of them holds each other accountable and pushes each other to get better is everything you want in a team -- where the sky is the limit for them. The future is very bright for the Bison." Taft has taken a leave of absence for the 2021-2022 season, with 5-year assistant Tim O'Connell taking over the head coaching duties. "My youngest son was involved in a drowning accident and is fighting for his life," said Taft. Fenton opens the season this week at its own 33rd annual Chuck Mitchell Tournament against Waukegan, Montini and Rolling Meadows.

Glenbard East Coach: Al Biancalana (Second season; 24th season as a high school coach in Illinois and California).

Last season's record: 3-13 overall, 3-6 UEC.

Top returning players: Tyrese Buffkin, sr. (G, 6-3); Isaiah Calvin, sr. (G, 6-3); Jordan Rech, sr. (G, 6-0).

Top new players: Troy Cooper, jr. (F, 6-4); Matt Guthrie, sr. (F, 6-3); Ari Pierson, soph. (G, 6-0); Trevor Rehnstrom, soph. (G, 6-3); Jack Ryan, jr. (G, 6-0).

Worth noting: Biancalana, who also spent 10 years coaching at the NCAA Division I level -- at Bradley and UIC -- thinks his squad will have a different look in 2021-2022. "We'll be a much deeper, perimeter-oriented team," said the coach, who guided a state championship team while in California. Buffkin, the team's leading returning scorer, should be a player to watch in the UEC. "Tyrese should have a breakout season and establish himself as one of the better players in the Upstate Eight," said Biancalana. "Jack Ryan and Troy Cooper are coming off impressive summers, and the sophomores will contribute." The Rams open their season at the District 87 Thanksgiving Tournament before playing host to Streamwood on Dec. 2 in the UEC debut.

Glenbard South Coach: Wade Hardtke (16th season).

Last season's record: 5-8 overall, 3-4 UEC.

Top returning players: Louie Esposito, sr. (G, 5-10); D'Manual Payton, jr. (G, 5-8); Armon Yarbrough, sr. (G, 5-10).

Top new players: Jalen Brown, jr. (F, 6-2); Harper Bryan, soph. (F, 6-3); Owen Gibson, jr. (F, 6-3).

Worth noting: After compiling back-to-back 20-plus win seasons in 2018-2019 (25-7) and 2019-2020 (24-5 overall, 16-2 UEC), the Raiders finished 5-8 during their abbreviated 2020-2021 campaign this past spring. However, they showed competitive signs, highlighted by a 60-54 regular-season victory over Larkin. Esposito, Payton, and Yarbrough return to bolster the backcourt for Glenbard South, which begins its season this week at the District 87 Thanksgiving Tournament. The Raiders, who participate at the ICCP/Westmont Holiday Classic in December, open their UEC season Dec. 3 against East Aurora in Glen Ellyn.

Larkin Coach: Deryn Carter (13th season).

Last season's record: 8-4 overall, 6-2 UEC.

Top returning players: Dontrelle Maxie, sr. (F, 6-1); Fernando Perez, Jr., sr. (G, 6-3); Jamarion Stubbs, sr. (G, 5-9); Damari Wheeler-Thomas, sr. (G, 6-0).

Top new players: Jakob "Cheese" Blakley, soph. (G, 6-1); Darnell Wilder, jr. (G, 5-10).

Worth noting: Led by All-Area and All-UEC selections Perez, Jr., and Wheeler-Thomas, the Royals possess a potent 1-2 punch that can beat teams in different ways. Wheeler-Thomas, a slasher who can take over a game, recently signed a national letter of intent with North Dakota State. Carter feels that Perez, Jr., one of the area's top scorers and rebounders, is also a scholarship-level player. The veteran Larkin coach also is optimistic for Blakley, who is "considered a top 15-20 player in his class." Larkin, which opens its season this week against Rockford Guilford, Rockford Auburn, Bogan, Harlem and Rockford East at the Rockford Guilford Tip-Off Classic, visits South Elgin on Dec. 2 in its UEC debut. The Royals play defending UEC champion Bartlett on Dec. 7.

South Elgin Coach: Brett Johnson (5th season).

Last season's record: 10-4 overall, 7-2 UEC.

Top returning players: Jadin Ashby, sr. (G, 5-7); Drew Cwik, sr. (G, 6-2); Josh Genz, sr. (G, 6-1); Michael Hankins, sr. (C, 6-5); Jalen Jones, sr. (G, 6-3); Rocco Marzullo, sr. (G, 5-10); Keith Wiley, sr. (F, 6-2); Kendis Wiley, sr. (F/C, 6-4).

Top new players: Derek Clark, soph. (G, 6-1); Sean Harvey, jr. (F, 6-6); Victor Sison, jr. (G, 6-2); Jake Tiaokhiao, jr. (G, 5-11); Elias Cole Williams, jr. (G/F, 6-1).

Worth noting: Despite the graduation loss of leading scorer and All-Area and All-UEC guard Aaron Wafford (now playing at Carroll), the Storm return plenty of punch, led by Cwik, Jones, Hankins, and Wiley. South Elgin, which opens its season this week against Proviso East, Benet Academy and Plainfield East at the Ron Johnson/St. Charles East Thanksgiving Tournament, also participates in the Hinkle Holiday Classic at Jacobs next month. South Elgin will waste little time jumping into conference action against perennial power Larkin. The Storm will also take part in its own Shootout on Dec. 11, as well as competing in the Winter Classic Shootout on Jan. 8 at Downers Grove North.

Streamwood Coach: Kent Payne (4th season).

Last season's record: 8-9 overall, 6-3 UEC.

Top returning players: Cris Calderon, sr. (F, 6-2); Richard Santiago, sr. (G, 6-2).

Top new players: James Donato, soph. (G, 6-2); Jack Jeschke, jr. (G, 5-10); Sammy Johnson, sr. (G, 5-11); James Rivera, jr. (F, 6-3); Jacob Rubio, sr. (G, 5-10); Francis Sagadraca, soph. (G, 5-7); Nic Trybulec, sr. (G, 5-10); Dakota White, jr. (G, 5-11).

Worth noting: Payne feels strongly about the competitive nature of the Upstate Eight this season. "The Upstate Eight should be very good this season," said the coach. "Bartlett and Larkin will be two of the top teams in the state. From top to bottom, the league will be dynamite." The youthful Sabres open their season this week at the St. Viator Thanksgiving Classic before participating at the Hinkle Holiday Classic next month at Jacobs. Streamwood begins its conference campaign at Glenbard East on Dec. 2, before playing host to South Elgin on Dec. 7.

West Chicago Coach: Bill Recchia (10th season).

Last season's record: 0-7 overall, 0-7 UEC.

Top returning players: James Kostomiris, sr. (G, 5-8); Caleb Williams, jr. (F, 6-5).

Top new players: Keenan O'Keefe, jr. (F, 5-11); Hudson Parker, soph. (G, 5-11); Ayden Russo, jr. (G, 5-6); Mason Williams, soph. (F, 6-3).

Worth noting: The Wildcats will be looking for their first victory since the 2019-2020 campaign following an 0-7 mark during last spring's abbreviated season. "We have a young, inexperienced group that has to learn how to quickly become varsity players," said Recchia. West Chicago will need a team rebounding approach on a nightly basis against the likes of taller Bartlett, East Aurora, Glenbard East and South Elgin. The Wildcats, who begin their UEC slate on Dec. 2 at Bartlett, opens the season this week at the Lisle Thanksgiving Tournament. Next month, West Chicago competes at the Chuck Dayton Classic in DeKalb (Dec. 27-30).

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