Downers Grove North's run has community buzzing on eve of 1st state appearance
Jim Thomas took a few seconds to soak things in before Tip-Off of Monday's supersectional, and took a look around the stands at UIC's Credit Union 1 Arena.
It was quite a sight for the Downers Grove North coach.
Lower bowl, baseline to baseline all Thomas could see was a sea of Trojan purple -- and they were loud. The Downers Grove North community is indeed buzzing about these Trojans, who have become the talk of the state after a string of impressive postseasons wins has them at the state tournament in Champaign for the first time in school history.
"It's an unbelievable feeling. Hearing our classmates talk about the game the next day and even before the game was exciting," Downers Grove North junior guard Jack Stanton said. "Stepping on the court while hearing the purple sea in the stands gave us the utmost confidence. They've been here all year and we couldn't be prouder of them."
The Trojans (32-3) will take a 19-game winning streak into Friday's 4:15 p.m. Class 4A semifinal against Moline (33-3), which was ranked No. 2 in the final Class 4A rankings by the Associated Press. The Maroons, who have won 14 in a row are like Downers Grove North -- all four Class 4A semifinalists, actually -- seeking their first state title.
Downers Grove North has lost just twice since the first game of the season -- on back-to-back nights the first weekend in January, by a combined three points.
So postseason success shouldn't surprise.
The Trojans, though, have taken down quite a who's who to get here. They beat Proviso East in a regional final, and knocked off Young in a sectional semifinal. Downers Grove North snapped Hinsdale Central's 23-game win streak in a sectional final, then took apart fourth-ranked Kenwood 67-47 in Monday's supersectional.
Now they'll seek to become the second consecutive state champ from the West Suburban Silver, following Glenbard West last year.
"The kids are really good at staying humble," Thomas said. "To us it's a historic run, but I don't think if you ask the kids anything has changed. Last year when we went younger we had a good idea we had a core nucleus of guys that could be tough, but you never know the high end of any guys until you get in those games and get that experience. Give credit to our kids -- they've taken every opportunity and run with it."
The Trojans have a recipe dangerous any time of year, but especially in the postseason. They have shooters everywhere, led by Stanton. Downers Grove North has good size across the board, led by 6-foot-7 South Carolina baseball recruit George Wolkow. And there is a commitment to defense, giving up just 42 points per game.
"We term it as just being solid. Get the misses and go play," Thomas said. "You go through our sectional games, that is our biggest asset. Young and Proviso pressured us and we got past them and scored at the rim. I think we can play multiple styles which is unique."
Stanton leads the way, averaging 15.8 points per game and has made 102 3-pointers at a 43% rate. Max Haack, son of Downers Grove North assistant James Haack, averages 9.7 and has made 70 3s at a 40% clip. Downers Grove North made 11 3s and shot 49% from the floor against Kenwood, led by Stanton's game-high 19 points.
"All of our shooters allows us to space the floor very well and obviously teams have to play tighter defense," said Stanton, who received an offer from Dartmouth on Monday. "When they do that we're able to drive it more and get the easy ones at the basket."
Against Moline the Trojans will be tasked with defending perhaps the state's best one-two combo in 6-foot-10 senior post Owen Freeman and 6-foot senior point guard Brock Harding, both Iowa recruits.
Freeman, who transferred from Bradley-Bourbonnais this season, is averaging 18.1 points and 8.9 rebounds. He had 22 points -- and nine dunks -- in Monday's 59-55 supersectional win over Oswego East. Harding averages 18.0 points and 6.7 assists.
"They're really good. We're going to hunker down and do what we do -- it's been good enough to where we are," Thomas said. "You got to be playing well this weekend to win this weekend. They have two Big Ten players and a great supporting case, but we're going to go out and do what we do."
The Trojans very well could have to do so short-handed.
Jacob Bozeman, a 6-foot-5 senior who leads Downers Grove North in rebounds and assists and is third in scoring, suffered ligament and tendon damage with an aversion sprain in his ankle going up for a dunk in the first quarter of the sectional final, and didn't play Monday. Thomas on Wednesday seemed doubtful that Bozeman could go this weekend.
Meanwhile Jake Riemer, a 6-foot-7 junior who holds an offer from Wisconsin-Green Bay, is playing through a foot injury.
"He doesn't have the lift -- for the most part it's a matter of being able to tolerate the pain," Thomas said. "He's decided to tough it out."