Boys basketball: Scouting the Northern Lake County Conference
Coach: Sean Connor (second season)
Last year's record: 12-17, 7-7 NLCC
Top returning players: Marshall Gehrke, soph. (G, 6-3), Emmy Zamudio, sr. (G, 6-1), Joe Neumann, sr. (F, 6-4), Nate Young, sr. (G, 6-3), Jake Mallek, sr. (G, 6-3), Kyle Glassman, sr. (G, 5-11)
Top new players: Carter Webb, jr. (G, 6-3), Colby Priller, jr. (Wing, 6-5), Joel Bulka, jr. (G, 6-3)
Worth noting: The Sequoits are in good shape with four starters and 11 seniors on the roster sheet. Gehrke, all-NLCC and a Daily Herald All-Area first team pick in 2021-2022, led the team in scoring at 13 points per game and hauled in 6 boards per game. He also was an all-conference pick in football this fall. "Marshall is looking to take another step as a sophomore," said Connor, the school's 17th boys basketball coach in its 107-year existence. Zamudio led the team with 63 assists and 30 steals and is second all-time in school history in 3-point shooting accuracy in a season at 42% and free-throw percentage in a season (87.8 percent). Mallek missed last year with a knee injury, but averaged 8 points and 6 rebounds as a 10th grader on the varsity. Glassman led the team a year ago in charges taken with 13. Neumann is headed to Division I South Dakota State for football. "We have a lot of experience, good size and we are more skilled as a team," Connor said. "We should be able to play faster and will be more versatile than last season. Players added strength in the weight room to make us more physical. We want to improve on our growth at the end of last season." Antioch finished last year 5-1 overall and 3-0 in NLCC play. Two more names to watch out for: Senior 6-5 forward Mateen Kokumo transferred in from Texas and should provide depth inside, Connor noted, while senior 6-4 guard Jordan DeVaughn sat out last season, but was on the varsity as a sophomore (4 points, 2 rebounds). Connor said Grayslake Central and Wauconda are teams to watch in the NLCC. "We hope to improve on last season and finish in the top half," he said. "Keys for us will be how we handle a tougher schedule, while only having one home game before Christmas, and can we continue to build on the success we had at the end of last season." Antioch's sophomore team went 10-3 in conference last year. The Sequoits have not won a conference title or more than 20 games since 1981.
Coach: Wayne Bosworth (14th season)
Last year's record: 12-17, 9-5 NLCC
Top returning players: Braylon Gray, soph. (PG, 6-0)
Top new players: Ayden Sheppard, jr. (G, 6-0), Pryde Mendoza, jr. (G, 6-0), Will Schubert, jr. (F, 6-2), Ryan Kowalski, jr. (G, 5-10), Jake Swanson, sr. (F, 6-2)
Worth noting: The Bulldogs have just one starter back from a team that caught fire at the tail-end of last season after a slow 2-12 start (10-5 to finish). "This is a fast team that will be able to get up and down quickly and shoot the ball well," Bosworth said. "There are a lot of players on this team who can knock down shots. As this young group begins to click together, their chemistry should make them a tough group to guard." Bosworth likes the team's defensive potential. "This group of guys can get up and guard," he said. "They are quick and should be a solid defensive unit on the court together." Gray averaged 5 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists last season. "We are looking for a big jump from freshman to sophomore year from Braylon," Bosworth said. "How big of jump he can make should go a long way for this team." Sheppard is a newcomer to the varsity with potential. "Ayden is fundamentally sound and should be an immediate impact player," Bosworth said. Mendoza also is a varsity newcomer, "and the quicker adjustment he makes to this level and speed, the more successful this team will be," Bosworth added. "Pryde can score and defend." Bosworth said Grayslake Central is the team to beat in the NLCC, "by far the favorite this year," he said. "They had a tremendous summer and return key players from their second-place finish last season. On paper, we are probably middle of the back somewhere between 4 and 6. We have a very young, inexperienced group, so the quicker they can adjust to the varsity level, the more success we'll have." Grant and Mundelein are co-hosting their Thanksgiving tournament this week. Each location will have a full slate of games this week for three rounds, while Saturday's crossover finales head to Mundelein.
Coach: Brian Centella (fourth season)
Last season's record: 22-12, 10-4 NLCC (regional champions)
Top returning players: Dennis Estepp, sr. (PG, 6-1), Jake Gibson, sr. (C, 6-6), Michael Monahan, sr. (G, 6-2), Kai Taylor, sr. (G, 5-10), Sam Cooper, sr. (G, 6-2), Jack Gerbasi, sr. (F, 6-3)
Top new players: Jayden Hall, jr. (G, 5-10), Jordan Dumas, jr. (G, 6-1)
Worth noting: Central, which won a regional title and was the NLCC runner-up a year ago, looks to be the conference front-runner heading into the 2022-2023 slate with three returning starters, including Carroll College commit Estepp (all-NLCC) and inbound College of Lake County center Gibson and Monahan. "We bring back a ton of experience and will have great senior leadership," Centella said. "We had a great summer and the guys have really been committed." Centella noted one strength offensively will be the variety of players who can score the basketball. "We have a good mix of an inside-out game with big Jake Gibson surrounded by a bunch of talented guards," he said, "and Dennis is a three-year varsity starter at the point guard position. Dennis does everything well and stuffs a stat sheet. Jake started every game last year, but will take on a much bigger role offensively this year. He had a fantastic summer and fall. He has improved a lot." Centella said Central still is a defensive-minded program. "Our three returning starters are all high-level defenders," he said. "We will be a little smaller at some positions, but quickness on the perimeter will help." Centella said Taylor and Copper also will be difference-makers. "Both came off the bench for us last year, but given the opportunity to start this year, they look to take advantage of expanded minutes. Both Kai and Sam can get hot in a hurry." Centella puts the Rams, Antioch, Grant and Lakes in that upper NLCC tier. "I could probably throw Wauconda and Grayslake North in as well," he said. "The NLCC will be a very tough conference this year with a ton of great players. For us to be successful, we need to continue to be committed defensively and share the ball on offense."
Coach: Josh Feinzimer (second season)
Last year's record: 13-19, 6-8 NLCC
Top returning players: Jayden Hunt, soph. (PG, 5-10), Dominic Jankowski, sr. (G, 6-0), Jacob Donohue, sr. (F, 6-0)
Top new players: Tyler Morgan, soph. (C, 6-4), Cameron Bates, soph. (G, 6-0)
Worth noting: Hunt, Jankowski and Donohue comprise the returning starters from last year's Knights team. Jankowski should break the school scoring record this season after averaging 16 points a contest last year. Donohue set the school record for charges taken in a career and Feinzimer said he will be one of the team's best defenders this season. Jankowski was a Daily Herald All-Area pick last year, while Donohue was All-Area honorable mention. Feinzimer added Jankowski is getting a lot of Division III college looks and wants to play at the next level and also is looking to play Division II or NAIA if the opportunity arises, he added. "Our strengths will be our quickness on the offensive and defensive end and our intelligence," Feinzimer said. "Along with Dom and Jacob, we have a group of seniors that is hungry and motivated to help us. They are great leaders and are unified in their approach. Our seniors are willing to star in their roles and sacrifice for the good of the whole." Feinzimer explained the Knights will run "an equal-opportunity offense predicated on cuts, reads and timing," he said. "Defensively, we are looking to keep teams out of the paint and off the glass with pressure and help-side principles." Feinzimer explained Grayslake North's success will hinge on the contributions of others, including Morgan, Bates and Hunt, as well as seniors Casey Staver, Brock Terry, Jack Kerpan and Charlie Pritchard 'who will make an impact with their leadership and hustle," the coach noted. Feinzimer pointed out Grayslake Central, Antioch, Lakes and Grant all have main contributors back, "so I think it will be a competitive conference where teams beat up on each other," he said. "If we are in the running at the end of the conference season, it will be a successful campaign for us."
Coach: Chris Snyder (13th season)
Last season's record: 14-15, 9-5 NLCC
Top returning players: Brock Marino, sr. (F, 6-7), Tyler Anderson, sr. (G, 6-0), Tyson Dewey, sr. (G, 6-2), Cade Primack, sr. (G, 5-10), Jimmy Kania, jr. (F, 6-3)
Top new players: Cooper Lopriore, sr. (G, 5-10), Bryce Lucas, sr. (G, 5-10), Thomas Mercure, jr. (G, 6-1)
Worth noting: "We have an athletic team that should be able to get out and run," Snyder said. "We also have some very capable shooters who can help us on the offensive end. Our team athleticism should also help us on the defensive end." Three starters return for the Eagles, including Marino, an all-NLCC and Daily Herald All-Area selection last year. He's being recruited by several Division III school, Snyder noted. "Brock has really put the work in to grow as a player," Snyder added. "He had a strong year last season and is ready to have an even better season. He's a versatile player and a great leader." Offensively, Snyder said Lakes will look to share the ball and create good looks for teammates with ball and player movement, while defensively use solid technique both on the ball and off of it to challenge opponents' shots and keep the paint crowded. Dewey is a three-year varsity player, "and someone who can be a difference-maker for us," Snyder said. "Tyson is a great defender and is a very capable scorer." Anderson also will be looked upon for big things. "Tyler had a great season last year and is poised to have a strong season," Snyder said. "He will be vital for us in order to have success." Snyder said Antioch and Grayslake Central are teams to keep an eye on in the conference. "However, I do feel the conference will be very competitive as always, and we'll look to be part of the mix. For us, we need to shoot it well and really trust each other on the offensive and defensive end. We'll need to match the physical play of the teams we play in order to compete. We are excited about the group we have and look forward to a great season."
Coach: Gerald Coleman (18th season)
Last season's record: 2-30, 1-13 NLCC
Top returning players: Desmond Collins, jr. (F, 6-6), Ellis Usher, sr. (5-10)
Top new players: Labron Williams, jr. (G, 5-9), Anthony Jones, sr. (G, 6-4)
Worth noting: Usher is North Chicago's lone starter back from a year ago. He started 18 games prior to being injured. Collins was a role player last season playing his first year of organized basketball. "Desmond has shown tremendous growth over the summer," North Chicago director of basketball operations Jordan Fones said. Jones is back at North Chicago after starting for Round Lake last year. "Our team, while young, is incredibly quick, hardworking and very coachable," Fones said. "We are looking to return to the top of the conference and to compete for a conference title."
Coach: Jay Iden (fifth season)
Last season's record: 1-26, 1-13 NLCC
Top returning players: LaMarr Pierce, jr. (6-4)
Top new players: Kamar Stewart, jr. (G, 5-9), Jarren Glover, soph. (G, 5-9), Julian Jones, soph. (G, 5-9)
Worth noting: Pierce is Round Lake's lone returning starter. "LaMarr is a strong 6-4 junior," Iden said. "He had some inconsistencies as a sophomore up on varsity, but this year he is poised to have a big year for us." Stewart, Glover and Jones give the Panthers young, up-and-coming talent. "We are excited by our group of young players we have coming in," Iden said. "Kamar is extremely quick on the floor, which makes him a pesky defender. Jarren and Julian are a couple of sophomore guards we are very excited about. They are both young, but determined and have high ceilings." When talking about the group of Pierce, Jones, Glover and Isaac Jackson, Iden said he, "just has a feeling about them." Iden said a big strength will be Round Lake's commitment to speed and aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. "We are eager to watch them compete together," he said. Iden said the team is focusing offensively on putting players in situations to be successful and joked he likes whatever his scribbles down on a napkin from the previous night's NBA games. On defense, Iden noted the Panthers will look to apply disruptive pressure. With the NLCC, Iden said Antioch is his pick to click. "We are a young team again this year, so our success is going to rest upon our speed, aggressiveness and a steep learning curve for our young players. We are all we got. We are all we need."
Coach: Ty Weidner (first season)
Last season's record: 25-4, 13-1 NLCC champions
Top returning players: Braeden Carlsen, jr. (G-F, 6-3), Cayden Mudd, jr. (PG, 5-11), Christian Muniz, sr. (G, 5-11), Tyler Tylka, jr. (F, 6-4)
Top new players: Clayton Glasby, sr. (G, 6-0), Zach Miller, jr. (F, 6-5), Colton McLennan, jr. (F, 6-4), Tony Salemi, fr. (G, 6-0)
Worth noting: Weidner takes over the Bulldogs after 16 years in the program. He's a 2003 Wauconda grad. His first squad features Carlsen, who started every game as a sophomore and made the all-NLCC team. He's been on the varsity since his freshman year and is the team's lone returning starter. "Braeden has been working on his jump shot, which is much more consistent," Weidner said. "He's now an all-around player and has the potential to be conference MVP." Mudd played key minutes last season and also has been on the Bulldogs' varsity since he was a freshman, while Tylka is in his second varsity season. "Cayden is a kid who put in the work all summer and is a leader," Weidner said. "He knows our system and my expectations." Weidner said strengths with this group include length, shooting and work ethic. He added on offense Wauconda can push the ball and play quick, while defensively "we have the athletes to defend all five positions on the floor and we will look to apply pressure the full length of the floor," Weidner said. The coach added newcomer Miller has gone from a potential rotational player at the end of his sophomore year to a junior starter now. "Zach has the ability to finish inside with his length," Weidner said. Looking at how the NLCC could shake out, Weidner said Grayslake Central, Lakes and Antioch are teams to watch. "I think we can compete for yet another NLCC title if we can stay healthy and come together as a team," he said. "We have the talent, but do we have the depth? This is going to be an overall young roster. If our young bench can understand their roles once conference play rolls around, we give ourselves a chance. A lot of unknowns with us this year."