Benet shows it belongs with impressive June performance
At this state of his career, Benet boys basketball coach Gene Heidkamp is accustomed to the nearly annual drill.
His team loses a lot of talent from a 20-plus win team, but manages to bounce back with a new-look group that duplicates or surpasses the success of the previous season.
Early indications are Benet's 2022-23 team is shaping up to follow the same format. The Redwings lost nearly 27 points per game in scoring from the graduation of Brennan White and Kyle Thomas, but they managed to turn some heads at the 19th annual Riverside-Brookfield Summer Shootout in June.
The Redwings capped a strong three-day period with three wins in four games, including defeating Curie on Father's Day. The Redwings suffered a close loss to Simeon to end the shootout.
"This was a good weekend for us," Heidkamp said. "We played four really good teams and hung in there in the last game. I'm pleased with our effort. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we need to go, but I thought this was a productive weekend."
Heidkamp said the Redwings must rely on teamwork and athleticism to make up for what they lack in other areas.
"We don't have the size of past teams. [It's] a different team, but we have a lot of good players and some depth and guys who can really create off the dribble," Heidkamp said. "It will be a different look than teams from the past, but excited to see where it goes."
Brady Kunka, who averaged 13 points, 6.1 rebounds and shot 59% from the field to earn East Suburban Catholic All-Conference honors last season, is adding new elements to his game to prepare for more attention from opposing defenses.
A do-it-all type, Kunka is a strong and physical player capable of splitting time at different positions.
"Last year I was fortunate to be in a lot of spots where the guys got me open, so I had a few big games in conference but now it will be different," Kunka said. "Teams are going to scout me, Niko (Abusara) and Brayden (Fagbemi) and know our strengths and weaknesses. The biggest thing is diversifying our games and trusting our teammates and getting everyone involved.
"I think I've gotten better at facilitating for other guys. I struggled last year a little bit with handling the ball, taking it in gaps and with other things. Over the spring, I've gotten better at those aspects and getting my own shot off and passing to open teammates."
Abusara, a senior forward, impressed several coaches at the R-B shootout with his strong play at both ends. He scored a game-high 23 points in the loss to Simeon. Abusara received his first Division I offer from Radford on Tuesday.
"The ball wasn't in my hands as much last year," Abusara said, "but this year I'll be more facilitating and creating for my teammates and myself. It's going to be entirely different.
"I learned a lot this weekend. We played really well together and against some big guys. There's a big history with Benet, especially with guys like Frank Kaminsky and others. We have to keep playing together and improving as a team."
Fagbemi, a senior point guard, is an intriguing player with dribbling and penetrating skills and intelligence.
"It's just kind of keeping the Benet legacy going," Fagbemi said. "Coach has done a great job at Benet. To be able to be in a position and lead the team and take advantage is a great opportunity for all of us.
"I'll definitely be in a bigger role than last year when I came in and transferred and learned the Benet culture and playing with the guys. Now I have to lead the team and be a facilitator, leader and scorer."
Fagbemi said he welcomed the opportunity to showcase his skills against the elite in the state at the R-B shootout.
"This shows we're good enough to play with them," he said. "A lot of people didn't believe in us that we were good enough to play with the powerhouses. I wanted to showcase to others that I can also play. I also worked on getting stronger and more of a scorer's mentality to help the team."