Boys basketball: Scouting the Upstate Eight Conference
Coach: Jim Wolfsmith (15th year).
Last season's record: 25-7, 16-2.
Top returning players: Kelton McEwen, jr. (G, 6-0); Nathan Scearce, jr. (G, 6-4); Marty McCarthy, sr. (G, 6-1); Keegan Kunzer, sr. (G, 6-0); Shubh Mangrola, sr. (G, 5-9); Will Poulopoulos, sr. (G, 5-9); Ethan Hedeen, sr. (G, 6-0).
Top new players: Dimitre Petrasiunas, soph. (F, 6-5); Colin Taylor, soph. (F, 6-2); Keegan Taylor, soph. (F, 6-2); Josh Taylor, sr. (F, 6-2).
Worth noting: "It will be an interesting year as we transition from playing around a 7-foot-4 center (Conrad Luczynski) to playing with speed and purpose," said Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith. Luczynski, who helped lead the Hawks to a 2nd-place conference finish last season (both losses to Larkin), graduated and is now playing at Link Year Prep Academy in Branson, Mo. McEwen earned All-Area and all-conference honors a year ago, averaging 13 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds per game. Injured last season, Scearce averaged 9 points and 4 boards per game pre-injury. McCarthy, a 3-year varsity player, is a slasher and physical defender, while Kunzer emerged as a key contributor last year. Colin and Keegan Taylor are twin forwards, while older brother Josh returns after not playing last season. "We will be able to shoot it and hopefully our defense will be aggressive," said Wolfsmith, who owns a 253-182 mark. "Rebounding will be a key." The Hawks open Monday against Wheaton Academy in the Warriors' Thanksgiving Tournament and begin UEC play at West Chicago on Dec. 1.
Coach: Rick Robinson (6th year).
Last season's record: 19-10, 11-6.
Top returning players: Jabian Acosta, sr. (G/F, 6-4); Ralph Clark, sr. (G, 6-0); Enrique Perez, sr. (F, 6-3).
Top new players: Jalen Bealer, jr. (G, 6-1); Kenneth Cooley, jr. (G, 5-10).
Worth noting: Fresh from a solid 4th-place finish in the UEC, the Tomcats return their share of talent, led by Acosta, who averaged 9.6 points and 8 rebounds per game last year, and Clark, a 3-year varsity performer. Perez should also provide some frontcourt experience. "Enrique will play a big part for us this season," said Tomcats coach Rick Robinson. "He really came on for us toward the end of last year." East Aurora begins plays St. Charles East, Proviso East and Westinghouse at the annual Ron Johnson/St. Charles East Thanksgiving Tournament. The Tomcats open UEC play against Streamwood on Dec. 1. "We never really have big kids, but we are scrappy, and we'll play hard and compete," said Robinson. "We are looking forward to a good season."
Coach: Brett Johnson (1st year).
Last season's record: 4-23, 1-17.
Top returning players: Maddox Hollian, jr. (G, 6-0); Nate Aqunio, sr. (G, 5-9); Angel Nunez, jr. (G/F, 6-1); Ismael Martinez, sr. (G, 5-9); Micah Giovenco, sr. (F, 6-2).
Top new players: Kristian Davis, sr. (F, 6-0); Terrell Arrington, jr. (G, 5-9); Jayden Yarber, sr. (F, 6-1).
Worth noting: Brett Johnson takes over at the helm for the Maroons after guiding South Elgin to a 99-74 record over the past 7 seasons. "We're excited to start a new chapter at Elgin," said Johnson, whose team returns Hollian, who averaged 10.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.5 steals per game last season. Aqunio, Nunez and Giovenco combined to score 14 points per contest a year ago. "Effort and intensity have picked up in practice and the players are excited to move forward," said Johnson. "The returnees/seniors are leading by example and believe in themselves. Expectations are that they will vastly improve from last year and we will compete in every game." Elgin opens its season Tuesday against Genoa-Kingston at the Westminster Christian Thanksgiving Tournament. The Maroons begin conference play at Fenton on Dec. 1. "We think the conference is going to be really tough this year," said Johnson. "There are a few top tier teams that will compete for the conference title but the other 6 or 7 (teams) will battle it out each and every night."
Coach: Chaz Taft (7th year).
Last season's record: 11-20, 7-10.
Top returning players: Nick Tinajero, sr. (G, 6-2); Caleb Lewis, sr. (G, 5-9); Alejandro Diaz, jr. (G, 6-2); Xavior Gonzalez, jr. (G, 5-8).
Top new players: Brandon Block, jr. (G, 6-1); Damian Harnish, jr. (G, 6-3); Angel Olea, jr. (G, 6-0); Miguel Sanchez, jr. (G, 5-8).
Worth noting: Gonzalez, who averaged 16.5 points per game as a sophomore last year, will not be available this season due to an ACL injury. "We will play without our leading scorer from a year ago (Gonzalez), but I really love this group's approach to the season," said Fenton coach Chaz Taft. "They are all about the next man up mentality and will try to make up those points by a committee instead of it resting on the shoulders of one person." The Bison begin their season Monday against Clemente at the 34th annual Chuck Mitchell Tournament in Bensenville. "This team comes to practice every day with a great attitude and work ethic, so the sky is the limit for this group."
Coach: Eric Kelly (1st year).
Last season's record: 7-24, 7-11.
Top returning players: Ari Pierson, jr. (G, 6-2); Jack Ryan, sr. (G, 6-1); Trevor Rehnstrom, jr. (G, 6-3); Aleks Jajic, jr. (F, 6-5).
Top new players: Quami Stanton, jr. (G, 5-11); Dailen Zollicoffer, jr. (G, 5-10); Gavin Bellezza, jr. (G/F, 5-11).
Worth noting: The Rams have a new head coach in Eric Kelly, who previously served as a varsity assistant for the past 9 seasons at Waubonsie Valley, Bolingbrook, Stagg, and Providence-St. Mel. "We are building a new culture with a new coaching staff," said Kelly. "We will be small and play fast." The Rams begin their season Monday against Glenbard North in the annual District 87 Thanksgiving Tournament. A 7th-place conference finisher from a year ago, the Rams open their UEC slate against 2-time defending champion Larkin on Dec. 1.
Coach: Wade Hardtke (17th season).
Last season's record: 12-16, 9-8.
Top returning players: Jalen Brown, sr. (F, 6-3); Dmanuel Payton, sr. (G, 5-8); Harper Bryan, jr. (F, 6-4); Owen Gibson, sr. (F, 6-4); Alex Lamontagna, sr. (G, 6-0).
Top new players: Cam Williams, jr. (F, 6-3); Angjelos Salca, jr. (G, 6-0); Mitch Erickson, soph. (G, 6-0).
Worth noting: Brown's name should ring familiar to Raiders' football fans after he ran for a school-record 286 yards on 21 carries with 4 touchdowns against Bartlett this past fall. On the basketball court, Brown averaged a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds per game last season. Payton, Bryan, Gibson and Lamontagna combined to provide 17 points per contest a year ago. Williams, another football standout committed to Notre Dame in 2024, heads a contingent of varsity newcomers. "We have a lot of athleticism this season," said Hardtke. "We will need to establish our identity and style early on in the season." Glenbard South begins its season against Glenbard West in the District 87 Thanksgiving Tournament. The Raiders open UEC play against West Chicago on Dec. 7. "There are a lot of new coaches in the conference so it will be interesting to see how the style of play changes."
Coach: Deryn Carter (14th year).
Last season's record: 31-4, 18-0.
Top returning players: Jakob "Cheese" Blakley, jr. (G, 6-0); Darnell Wilder, sr. (G, 5-10); Adrian Colen-York, sr. (G, 6-3); Armani Ivy, sr. (F, 6-2).
Top new players: Jackson Casebeer, jr. (F, 6-4); Tremare Reed, jr. (G, 5-9); AJ Jones, soph. (G, 5-9); Josh Hibbett, soph. (G, 5-10).
Worth noting: It will be tough to top last year's list of accomplishments, as the Royals won the most games in school history (31-4), cruised through the Upstate Eight with an unblemished 18-0 mark, and captured regional and sectional titles before being knocked off by eventual 4A state champion Glenbard West in the tournament. Larkin graduated several standouts from a year ago, including Fox All-Area Captain Damari Wheeler-Thomas (now at North Dakota State) and Fernando Perez, Jr. "We lost a lot of production from last year -- lost a lot of leadership and playmaking," said Larkin coach Deryn Carter. "We are not going to be the same type of team, but we will have some of the same qualities that we have always had." The Royals' top returnee, Jakob "Cheese" Blakley (13 ppg), will be sidelined for the first couple months due to an injury. "Jakob is recovering from surgery in the summer," said Carter. "We will have to figure some things out while he is not playing. Once he gets back, we have a chance to be one of the best teams in the area." Wilder, Colen-York and Ivy will be leaned upon in Blakley's absence, while newcomers Casebeer, Reed, Jones and Hibbett hope to provide a spark. The Royals open their season Monday at the Rockford Tip-Off Classic and begin conference play at Glenbard East on Dec. 1. Their home debut is Dec. 6 against South Elgin. "I am excited to see how good we can be when it comes playoff time," said Carter.
Coach: Philip Church (1st season).
Last season's record: 17-14, 12-5.
Top returning players: Elias Cole Williams, sr. (G/F, 6-1); Victor Sison, sr. (G/F, 6-2); Mason Montgomery, sr. (G/F, 6-1); Sean Harvey, sr. (F, 6-7); Jake Tiakhiao, sr. (G, 5-11).
Top new players: Shailen Shukti, soph. (G, 5-9); Caiden Scholl, soph. (F, 6-2); Derek Clark, jr. (F, 6-3); Luis Vergara, jr. (G, 5-10); Ethan Zagore, jr. (F, 6-1); Nathan Dinse, sr. (F, 6-2).
Worth noting: One of three first-year head coaches in the Upstate Eight, Philip Church previously served as a longtime varsity assistant at Bartlett, so he is totally familiar with the conference. "Everyone is still chasing Larkin and Bartlett," said Church. "With so many new coaches in the conference, it will be interesting to see how teams shape up come February." South Elgin lost a lot of experienced talent to graduation, leaving Church with a bit of an unknown commodity this season. "We have very little varsity experience coming back," said the coach. "Only Elias (Williams) played in last year's senior-dominated lineup so getting guys caught up to speed on how to compete at the varsity level has been a focus since June. I like the talent we have but know that our brutal nonconference schedule (Willowbrook, Benet, St. Charles North, Fremd, Burlington Central) will push the physical and mental growth for everyone." Church has high hopes for his young squad. "We've got a solid sophomore team coming up and are expecting to start competing for postseason titles this year. I think that Glenbard South, East Aurora and Fenton will shock some people. The conference unloaded a lot of talent but there are still players in the conference who are going to keep the Upstate Eight on the map." South Elgin opens its season Tuesday against Willowbrook at the St. Charles East/Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament and begins UEC play against Glenbard South on Dec. 1.
Coach: Quentin Ruff (1st season)
Last season's record: 5-27, 3-15.
Top returning players: Dakota White, sr. (G, 6-1); Jack Jeschke, sr. (F, 6-0); James Donato, jr. (F, 6-3).
Top new players: Terrell Young, soph. (G, 5-10); Isiah Shafi, jr. (F, 6-1); Francis Sagadraca, jr. (G, 5-10); Genaud Phillips, jr. (G, 5-11); Anjelo Agdagdag, jr. (G, 5-11); Tre'Sean Bush, jr. (G, 5-11); Sincir Hunter, jr. (G, 6-0); Josh Wilder, sr. (G, 5-11); Saul Zamudio, sr. (G, 5-10); James Rivera, sr. (F, 6-4); Manuel Nieto, sr. (F, 6-3); Diego Alcantar, sr. (G, 5-10).
Worth noting: The Sabres have a new coach, as Quentin Ruff takes over for Kent Payne, who guided the team the past 4 seasons. "This is my first year taking over the program and we have to build some great team chemistry," said Ruff, who brings some lofty goals into his debut campaign. "My goal is to win 15 games this year. This is a big jump, but I think if my guys buy in and lock into the system, we can make it a competitive year. White, called "the hardest worker in the program" by Ruff, averaged 9 points and 11 rebounds per game last season. Ruff's recent coaching experience includes stops at Elgin (2 years as JV), UW-Stout (1 year as an assistant), Lewis University (1 year as an assistant), and Larkin (1 year as freshman head coach). Streamwood opens its season Monday against Johnsburg at the Johnsburg Thanksgiving Tournament and begins UEC play against East Aurora on Dec. 1. "I think the conference is up for grabs," said Ruff. "Some big-time names have graduated. Some teams are returning a lot of guys so the league will be very competitive -- like it always is."
Coach: Bill Recchia (11th season).
Last season's record: 4-19, 2-15.
Top returning players: Ayden Russo, sr. (G, 5-9); Jack Schultz, sr. (G, 6-0); Caleb Williams, sr. (F, 6-5); Mason Williams, jr. (F, 6-3).
Top new players: Joe Trigueros, soph. (F, 6-2); Brayden Alderton, soph. (F, 6-0).
Worth noting: Improvement is the key word surrounding this year's Wildcats' team. "We're looking to continue the improvements made during the second half of last season," said West Chicago coach Bill Recchia. Four players -- Russo (9.3 ppg, 1.3 assists per game), Schultz, Caleb Williams, and Mason Williams return with significant varsity minutes under their belts last year, while four others -- Trigueros, Alderton, Robert Lee and Tommy Doyle are first-time varsity performers. Recchia expects the seniors to provide leadership and his team to play hard from start to finish. The Wildcats open their season Tuesday against Lisle at the Lisle Thanksgiving Tournament and begin UEC play on Dec. 1 against Bartlett.