Boys basketball: Scouting the East Suburban Catholic Conference and the Chicago Catholic Blue
Coach: Gene Heidkamp, 15th season
Last season's record: 25-8, 9-0 East Suburban Catholic Conference, first place.
Top returning players: Brady Kunka, sr. (F, 6-3); Niko Abusara, sr. (F, 6-5); Brayden Fagbemi, sr., (G, 5-11).
Worth noting: The Redwings must replace nearly 27 points per game from last season's 25-win regional champion with the graduations of Brennan White and Kyle Thomas, but early indications are Heidkamp should have another strong group. Benet beat Curie and had a narrow loss to Simeon at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout in June. Kunka and Abusara are returning all-conference players. Do-all type Kunka averaged 13 points and 6.1 rebounds and shot 59% as a junior. Emerging prospect Abusara holds offers from Dartmouth, Brown, Marshall and Radford. Also returning is talented point guard Fagdemi, a Johns Hopkins commit. Sam Driscoll and Parker Sulaver, who saw minutes last year off the bench, also returns. The Redwings don't have the size of past Benet teams, but do have multiple players who can create off the dribble and depth.
Coach: Dmitry Pirshin (first season)
Last season's record: 23-11, fifth East Suburban Catholic
Top returning players: Kaleb Jackson, jr. (PG, 6-0), James Dwyer, sr. (SG, 6-3), Peter Stavros, sr. (SG-SF, 6-2), Bryce Smith, jr. (SF-PF, 6-6)
Top new players: Ethan Matz, fresh. (G, 6-2)
Worth noting: Pirshin took the job in June after former coach Zack Ryan moved over to Warren Township. Dwyer is the team's only player who had any kind of starting experience last season. "James is a scorer, is a high academic, he's versatile and is a great shooter," Pershin said. Fellow team member Adam Galdoni has committed to Division I Butler for baseball. "We play together and hopefully we play fast and shoot well," Pirshin said. "We're also strong and rebound well." Pirshin said scoring points should be a strength offensively, while stinginess and forcing opponents into bad decisions comprise the defensive outlook. Pirshin gave a great compliment to Stavros. "Peter is annoying to play against," he said. "He's a great defender and a playmaker." Jackson and Smith also should play key roles. "Kaleb is a shifty combo guard who can do multiple things," Pirshin said. "Bryce has the highest potential if healthy." In terms of the East Suburban Catholic, "Benet is always good, has a lot of returners and a great coach," Pirshin said. "I have no idea honestly where we stand and how to measure. We'll have to see. We have to find what we do great and get better at it. We have to find what we do not do great and fix it. We also have to stay healthy, and making shots helps, too."
Coach: Adam DeGroot
Last season's record: 14-14
Top returning players: Tyler Surin, sr. (G, 6-2); Anthony Birsa, sr. (C, 6-5).
Top new players: James Pilapil, jr. (G, 5-10); Drew Wills, jr. (F, 6-1); Christian Holman, jr. (G, 6-0).
Worth noting: DeGroot takes over for veteran coach Joe Gura and feels this group has plenty of depth it should be able to call upon over the course of his team's rigorous regular-season schedule in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Surin was a steady performer last season, and Birsa -- provided a football injury heals well enough to allow him to go full strength -- should anchor a Joliet Catholic squad that could be an extremely difficult out once it drops to the Class 2A ranks for the postseason.
Coach: Mike Taylor, 20th year.
Last season's record: 21-10, 9-1 East Suburban Catholic Conference, second place
Top returning players: Quentin Jones, sr. (F, 6-4); Tre Davis, sr. (G, 5-10); Donovan Juzang, sr. (G, 5-10).
Top new players: Jonah Weathers, jr. (G, 6-1); James Bullock, jr. (F, 6-5); Marcus Everhart, jr. (F, 6-3); Zack Sharkey, so. (G, 5-11).
Worth noting: Jones headlines three returning starters for veteran coach Mike Taylor. The Cal Poly commit averaged 13.5 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists as a junior. Davis averaged 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists and Juzang 5 points, 2 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Davis' dad played collegiately at Wisconsin and his grandfather played at Marquette. Weathers is a Division I baseball prospect. Taylor expects his team's speed and quickness, and ability to get to the basket along with solid perimeter shooting to be strengths. "We expect to compete at a high level on a nightly basis," Taylor said.
Coach: Brian Hynes.
Last season's record: 13-14.
Top returning players: Mason Ross, sr. (G, 6-1); Kaden White, sr. (6-3, G); Eric Lewis, sr. (F, 6-3); Achilles Anderson, so. (6-4); Marquis Vance, so. (6-4); Dermot Smyth, sr. (G, 6-0); Justin Lang, sr. (6-2).
Top new players: Stephen Brown, fr. (6-7, F); Adoni Vasilakis, fr. (G, 6-0); TJ Tate, fr. (G, 5-10); Keshaun Vaval, so. (G, 6-1).
Worth noting: Hyes said he has a great group of seniors returning with a great group of young players, with freshmen Brown, Vaval, Tate and Vasilakis all expected to contribute. Five of Marist's top eight players are either freshmen or sophomores. "Looking forward to seeing how the younger players follow the seniors and become a part of the team," Hynes said. Three-sport athlete Smyth started a double overtime playoff football game at quarterback on a Saturday and was at basketball practice two days later on Monday. "He's the toughest kid I've ever coached," Hynes said. "He's very quiet but his actions speak volumes."
Coach: Sean Pearson (seventh year).
Last season's record: 19-14, 4-5 East Suburban Catholic Conference, seventh place.
Top returning players: Anthony Cullotta, sr. (G, 6-1); Matt Uphues, sr. (F, 6-2); Kharon Cotton, sr. (G, 6-2); Declan Foley, sr. (G, 5-10); Talen Pearson, jr. (G/F, 6-5).
Worth noting: The Roadrunners are looking to build off the momentum of a regional title they won last season. Leading scorer Dominic Trelenberg has graduated, but much of the core of last year's team returns. Nazareth will lean heavily on the leadership of seniors Cullotta, Uphues, Cotton and Foley, Cotton Nazareth's third-leading scorer last season. The player to watch is Talen Pearson, Nazareth's second-leading scorer as a sophomore who will look to be a difference-maker for the Roadrunners this season. "This group has firsthand experience, and understands the level of dedication and effort it takes to make it a successful season," coach Pearson said. "We have a solid understanding of our goals as a team this year, and as long as we remain focused on the fundamentals and doing the little things, we expect it to be another special year."
Coach: Michael O'Keeffe, third year.
Last season's record: 11-18, 2-7 East Suburban Catholic Conference, eighth place.
Top returning players: Rylee Untalan, sr. (5-9); Jack Glasstetter, sr. (5-8); Michael Nix, sr. (6-0); Eli Aldana, sr. (6-0); Tommy Nix, sr. (6-1); Aiden Ransden, sr. (6-1); Charlie Farrell, sr. (6-0); Joey Hernandez, so. (5-8); Dayvion Ellis, so (5-11).
Top new players: Ryan Camblin, sr. (6-6); Jake VanBooven, sr. (5-9); Matthew Casale, jr. (6-6), Mitch Humphrey, jr. (6-5); Danny Richards, jr. (6-10; Michael Smoron, jr. (6-1); Montay Washington, jr. (6-1); Matthew White, jr. (6-1); Henry Marshall, so. (6-1); Brandyn Michaels, so. (6-1).
Worth noting: The Lions will miss their four-year varsity point guard Aldana early in the season due to injury, but O'Keeffe believes they have quality depth and plenty of kids ready to step up in his absence. O'Keefe calls this a high character, unselfish and team-oriented group. He also expects this St. Viator team to be very good defensively. He's looking forward to playing 16 conference games this season. "Playing against some of the best players, coaches, and teams in the state on a weekly basis will be a challenge, but something we are really looking forward to," O'Keefe said.
Chicago Catholic Blue
Coach: Tony Young (second season).
Last season's record: 9-18, 4-9, ninth place.
Top returning players: Nate Marshall, so. (F, 6-5); Damion Porter, so. (G, 6-4); E.J. Hosty, sr. (F, 6-6); Ty Macariola, so. (G, 6-1); Reggie Taylor, jr. (G, 6-0).
Top new players: J.T. Pettigrew, so. (F, 6-6); Darshan Thomas, jr. (F/G, 6-5); Zion Young, so. (F, 6-6).
Worth noting: The Friars finished strong last season, winning a regional title and pushing eventual Class 3A runner-up St. Ignatius in the sectional semifinal. Macariola, Marshall and Porter, who all saw significant time, return, although Marshall's season debut will be delayed due to the Fenwick football team reaching the Chicago Prep Bowl championship game. They're joined by several players from a Fenwick freshman team that went 30-0 last season. Among that group is J.T. Pettigrew, the younger brother of former Fenwick star Trey Pettigrew and son of former Friars' football assistant Titcus Pettigrew, and Zion Young, Fenwick coach Tony Young's son. Fenwick's sophomore team also went 25-3 last season, so the future is bright.
"They have experience winning, but they have to get used to the speed, physicality, and demands of playing varsity," Young said. "We've got some decent size, it's just a matter of putting it together and getting guys adjusted."
Coach: Adam DeMong (third year).
Last season's record: 14-18, 6-8 Chicago Catholic League
Top returning players: Danny Peterson, jr. (G, 6-3); Christian Clarke, sr. (G, 5-10); Joe Spaccapaniccia, sr. (G, 6-1).
Top new players: Tyler Pavlik, jr. (G/F, 6-4).
Worth noting: The Broncos had a memorable finish to last season, winning the program's first regional title in 39 years. There are lots of new faces, as Montini graduated all five starters. Peterson is an excellent shooter. DeMong said that if Pavlik, a transfer from Hinsdale Central, is ruled eligible by the IHSA, the Broncos should be very competitive. "This group is young, but plays very hard and is very dangerous from beyond the arc. Excellent shooting team," DeMong said. "The Chicago Catholic League is a really deep and talented league, but we hope the tough schedule will prepare us for a late-season run again."