Boys basketball: Scouting the West Suburban Conference

  • Last year was a dream season for coach Jason Opoka and his Glenbard West Hilltoppers. Opoka is pictured here with confetti coming down as his Class 4A state championship team was recognized at a rally at Fred L Biester Gymnasium. The Hilltoppers went 37-1 last year but graduated all five starters.

    Last year was a dream season for coach Jason Opoka and his Glenbard West Hilltoppers. Opoka is pictured here with confetti coming down as his Class 4A state championship team was recognized at a rally at Fred L Biester Gymnasium. The Hilltoppers went 37-1 last year but graduated all five starters. Patrick Kunzer/for the Daily Herald

 
 
Updated 11/21/2022 5:08 PM

WEST SUBURBAN SILVER

Downers Grove North

 

Coach: Jim Thomas (16th year).

Last season's record: 16-10, 4-4 West Suburban Silver.

Top returning players: Owen Thulin, jr. (G, 5-11); Jack Stanton, jr. (G, 6-2); Jack Reimer, jr. (F, 6-8); George Wolkow, sr. (F/C, 6-7); Max Haack, sr. (G, 6-0); Finn Kramper, sr. (F, 6-4); Jacob Bozeman, sr. (F, 6-5).

Worth noting: The Trojans return eight players from last year that saw significant time, players that were tested as sophomores and juniors. "Another year older and more seasoning should allow us to be more competitive," Thomas said. Of Downers Grove North's 10 losses last season, nine came to teams that were ranked at some point. Wolkow, a South Carolina baseball recruit, reclassified to the Class of 2023. Additions to the schedule include Bolingbrook, Rockford Lutheran and Glenbrook South, the latter game to be played at Northwestern. "We play at Wheaton Academy to start the season which will be a great check point as to where we are at to begin the season," Thomas said.

Glenbard West

Coach: Jason Opoka (fourth year).

Last season's record: 37-1, 12-0 West Suburban Silver, first place

Top returning players: Logan Brown, sr. (F, 6-6); Luuk Dusek, sr. (G, 6-0); Benji Zander, sr. (G, 5-10).

Top new players: Dominic Seaney, so. (F, 6-4)

Worth noting: The Hilltoppers are coming off one of the best seasons in Illinois basketball history. Glenbard West went undefeated against in-state competition and won the Class 4A state championship to cap off a dominant playoff run. All five starters, including DuPage County All-Area Captain Braden Huff, have graduated. But a talented core remains who have learned winning qualities. That group will be led by 6-foot-6 Haverford commit Brown, who Opoka calls "active and an animal on the glass." Dusek, a Division III prospect, had a great summer and can shoot it. Zander, another Division III prospect, is an All-State soccer player who is quick and athletic. Those three will carry the load along with Seaney, who has strong potential and physical build. "He doesn't look like a sophomore," Opoka said. Summer injuries are a concern. Declan Scheck and Michael Glover, both seniors, tore their ACLs and will be sidelined until midway through the season. "The Hilltoppers will be playing their best basketball when fully healthy," Opoka said.

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Hinsdale Central

Coach: Nick Latorre (13th season).

Last season's record: 18-12, 5-7 West Suburban Silver

Top returning players: Ben Oosterbaan, sr. (F/G, 6-6); Chase Collignon, sr. (F, 6-6); Evan Phillips, sr. (G, 5-11); Emerson Eck, sr. (G, 6-4); Billy Cernugel, sr. (F, 6-4).

Top new players: Daniel Oroszco, jr. (G, 5-10); Will Gaffney, jr. (G, 6-3).

Worth noting: Veteran coach Latorre is cautiously optimistic with significant experience returning. Oosterbaan, a Michigan baseball recruit, averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds as a junior. Also back is Collignon, who averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds, Phillips, who averaged 5 points and 3 assists, Eck, who averaged 9 points and Cernugel, who averaged 4 points and 4 rebounds per game.

Lyons Township

Coach: Tom Sloan (15th year).

Last season's record: 26-6, 9-3 West Suburban Silver, second place.

Top returning players: Nik Polonowski, sr. (G/F, 6-6); Jackson Niego, sr. (G, 6-0); Graham Smith, sr. (F, 6-5).

Top new players: Liam Taylor, jr. (F, 6-7); Michael Reilly, jr. (G/F, 6-3); Brady Chambers, jr. (F, 6-5); Caleb Greer, jr. (G, 5-9).

Worth noting: The Lions come off a stellar season that saw them win the Lyons and Burlington Central tournaments, take second in the Silver and Jack Tosh tournament to Glenbard West and advance to a sectional final. Standout guard Tavari Johnson has graduated and is now at Akron, but Lyons returns several seniors with experience from last season. Pennsylvania commit Polonowski opened eyes over the summer. Niego is drawing recruiting interest from several Division III schools. The Lions also have multiple multisport athletes. Smith is committed to Yale for football, 6-foot-6 senior Carter Reid has numerous D1 football schools recruiting him as a punter and 6-4 senior wing Connor Carroll is being recruited to play volleyball. "The Lions hope to compete for holiday tournament championships, a WSC Silver championship, and IHSA regional, sectional, and state tournament championships," Sloan said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Oak Park-River Forest

Coach: Phil Gary (third year).

Last season's record: 16-11, 8-4 West Suburban Silver

Top returning players: Christian Marshall, sr. (G, 5-10); Rodney Murphy, sr. (G, 6-3); Max Johnson, jr. (G, 5-9); Paul Kitch, sr. (G, 5-7).

Top new players: Justin Bowen, so. (G/F, 6-5); Alex Vincent, so. (C, 6-9); Mehki Austin, jr. (G, 5-9); Alex Gossett, so. (G/F, 6-5).

Worth noting: The Huskies graduated 10 seniors, and second-leading scorer Sam Lewis transferred to Simeon. But key returners Marshall, Murphy and Johnson are all back and should have their roles increased. Bowen, rated as one of the top 10 sophomores in the state, has transferred in from Lincoln Park. He makes for a long and athletic group along with 6-9 sophomore Vincent for a team that should be in the mix for a Silver title. "We have a good mix of young guys but our seniors are extremely hungry to compete for a conference title this year. They are leading the way," Gary said.

Proviso West

Coach: Dwon Kelly (fourth year).

Last season's record: 6-18, 0-12 West Suburban Silver.

Top returning players: Johntae Beavers, sr. (G, 6-0); Martrell Hightower, sr. (G, 6-3); Sam Austin, sr. (F, 6-7).

Top new players: Drake Washington, jr. (G, 6-4).

Worth noting: The Panthers graduated all five starters from last year's team that finished winless in conference. Beavers, Hightower and Austin all return that played. Washington, a combo guard, is a transfer from Bolingbrook.

York

Coach: Mike Dunn (third year).

Last season's record: 17-12, 3-9 West Suburban Silver

Top returning players: Adam Hardek, sr. (F, 6-5); Braden Richardson, jr. (F, 6-4); A.J. Levine, jr. (G, 5-11).

Top new players: Brenden Molis, jr. (F, 6-4); Kyle Waltz, jr. (F, 6-4); Ryan Pechous, jr. (G, 6-1).

Worth noting: The Dukes return four contributors from last year's 17-win team, two of them starters, and are joined by a solid junior group that won 20 games as sophomores. Hardek averaged 5 points and 5 rebounds last season, and is a returning starter along with Richardson, who averaged 6.3 points and 3.1 rebounds. Levine averaged 6.2 points and 1.5 assists as York's sixth man last season and will be counted on to score more this season. Molis, Waltz and Pechous are key additions from that successful sophomore team. "Looking to compete in the ultra competitive WSC Silver," Dunn said. "Tough schedule, including hosting the loaded Jack Tosh Christmas Tournament field with eight possible top 25 teams."

WEST SUBURBAN GOLD

Addison Trail

Coach: Brendan Lyons (17th year).

Last season's record: 13-17, 3-9 West Suburban Gold.

Top returning players: Luke Smith, so. (G, 6-0); Joey Morales, sr. (F, 6-4); Charles Little Jr., sr. (G, 6-0); Joey Verbena, sr. (G, 6-2).

Top new players: Trenton Dietz, sr. (G, 6-0).

Worth noting: The Blazers return several players who saw significant time last season, so Lyons envisions a deeper lineup that will help to facilitate a more up-tempo style of play at both ends of the court. Addison Trail will be undersized, but will look to seniors Morales, Eddie Chaidez and Alex Bucaro to provide toughness in the paint. Smith comes off an impressive freshman season in which he led the Blazers in scoring at 14 points per game and in 3-point percentage, and was second in assists at 5 per game. "He has continued to show the ability to both distribute and put the ball in the basket from all levels throughout the offseason," Lyons said. Morales averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds in 24 starts as a junior and Little averaged 5 points and 4 assists as the Blazers' sixth man. Verbena is a third-year varsity player and Dietz the leading scorer on Addison Trail's JV team last season. The Blazers added several new teams to their schedule including Lincoln-Way West and St. Charles East. "On the offensive end of the floor, we will really have to commit to playing an unselfish style of basketball, extending possessions and taking care of the basketball," Lyons said. "I think we will be able to shoot the ball well from the perimeter, especially with Little and Smith, but shot selection will be extremely important for us. On the defensive side of things, we will mix our man-to-man and zone philosophies and hope to give opponents a variety of looks throughout the course of a game. We will be undersized, so rebounding the basketball will be critical each night."

Downers Grove South

Coach: Zach Miller (second year).

Last season's record: 5-20, 3-9 West Suburban Gold.

Top returning players: Will Potter, jr. (G, 6-0); Richard Gasmen, jr. (G, 6-0); Daniel Sveiteris, so. (G/F, 6-7); Justin Sveiteris, jr. (F, 6-7); Justin Waterman, sr. (G, 6-3).

Worth noting: The Mustangs return four starters from last season. "Although our record didn't show it last season, it was a big year for these guys because they were able to learn on the floor and gain valuable experience last season in a year of rebuilding," Miller said. "There's a culmination of size and athleticism that will allow us to play a fast, aggressive, and versatile brand of basketball on both sides of the floor. This style of play is the way we want to get up and down, and create a tempo that wears the other team down through 32 minutes." That said, the Mustangs will be very young, with juniors and sophomores playing the bulk of the minutes. Potter, "tough as nails and a coach on the floor," started the entire season last year and ran the point while being assigned to guard the best player on the other team. Gasmen was brought up early last season. Crafty and strong off the bounce, the Mustangs are expecting big things out of him. Daniel Sveiteris was brought up after Christmas last year and was instant offense. "Danny will be asked to do a lot of things for us due to his size," Miller said. "His passing and floor vision are his biggest attributes that often gets overlooked because of his shooting abilities." Justin Sveiteris was brought up right after Thanksgiving last season and is a player that Miller called a "throwback" who is dominant in the paint and with his bask to the basket, and after a full season and summer will look to expand his game as a knockdown shooter. Waterman will play a significant role this season, guarding opponents' toughest offensive player and providing athleticism and a high motor. "Expect for us to get better and better as the season goes on, and take off as we learn to win," Miller said.

Hinsdale South

Coach: Mike Moretti (first year).

Last season's record: 11-19, 7-5 West Suburban Gold.

Top returning players: Brendan Savage, jr. (G, 6-2); Ayden Farrare, so. (F, 6-3); Jack Weigus, so. (G, 6-2); Elijah Fields, sr. (G, 5-10); Matt Rudolph, sr. F, 6-4).

Top new players: Matas Peczulis, jr. (G, 6-0); Chris Bolte, fr. (F, 6-4).

Worth noting: The Hornets are on their third coach in three years, looking to get back on track after last season. Moretti, while a new head coach, has coached in the Hinsdale South program for 11 years at lower levels. Savage and Farrare are returning starters. Savage averaged 10 points per game, was all-conference as a sophomore and went downstate in the 3-point contest. Farrare, a slashing wing, started as a freshman with big expectations in a bigger role. Due to an injury to Rudolph, the Hornets will likely be starting one senior (Fields), one junior (Savage), two sophomores (Weigus and Farrare) and a freshman (Bolte) to start the season. Peczulis is a transfer from Hinsdale Central who should be an immediate impact scorer and shooter. Bolte, the younger brother of former Hornets' star Garrett Bolte, is one to watch long-term. A challenging nonconference schedule includes games with New Trier, Burlington Central, Lyons Township and Lemont, with a season-opening game against Curie at the Riverside-Brookfield Thanksgiving Tournament. "We aren't going to be a big team this year in terms of size, but we can shoot with anybody and will be a team that is way better at end of season than beginning due to youth," Hinsdale South assistant coach Joe Mazzei said. "In our conference, Proviso East should be a heavy favorite, but we should contend for second. We host our regional so realistic goals are to be above .500, contend for conference, and win a regional."

Leyden

Coach: Bill Heisler (16th year).

Last season's record: 8-17, 0-12 West Suburban Gold

Top returning players: Drelyn Jones, jr. (G, 6-3); Christian Lopez, sr. (G, 5-10); Andrew Mann, sr. (F, 6-3).

Top new players: Noah Schmitt, jr. (F, 6-1); Mike Medious, jr. (C, 6-3).

Worth noting: The Eagles' experience and depth provides optimism for a turnaround after back-to-back losing seasons. Leyden returns all five starters and Heisler believes he has multiple guys who can contribute. Jones, Lopez and Mann will be counted on to carry much of the load.

"Our strengths will be our ability to defend and get out in transition," Heisler said. "Hitting shots and rebounding will be huge keys for us this year."

Morton

Coach: Anthony Martinucci (23rd year).

Last season's record: 13-12, 9-3 West Suburban Gold

Top returning players: Victor Garrett, sr. (F, 6-6); Adrian Anderson, sr. (G, 5-11).

Worth noting: Garrett and Anderson are Morton's top returning players, and also the Mustangs' only two players with varsity experience. They are joined by what Martinucci said is a talented group of juniors. "We should be better by the end of the season," Martinucci said.

Willowbrook

Coach: Chris Perkins (11th year).

Last season's record: 20-10, 10-2 West Suburban Gold, first place.

Top returning players: Noah Campbell, sr. (G, 5-10); Isaac Sobieszcyk, sr. (F, 6-3); Joey Tumilty, sr. (G, 5-10).

Top new players: Luke Davis, sr. (G, 6-0); Andrew Ciesinski, jr. (F, 6-6); Jimmy Degnan, sr. (G, 5-11).

Worth noting: With three returning starters from a conference championship team, the Warriors have high aspirations. Willowbrook has typically preferred an up-tempo style in recent years, and that will remain a staple but with size down low on this team the Warriors will look to utilize that height as much as possible and picking their spots in transition. Campbell averaged 15 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists last season. Sobieszcyk averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds and Tumilty 5 points. "There will be some early bumps in the road to start the season as we have a few banged-up players but once healthy and whole I think we will be able to make some noise in the West Suburban Gold," Perkins said.

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