Author Archives: Jakub Rudnik

Kaleb Carter’s 2021-22 End-Of-Year Superlatives: Girls Basketball

Kaleb Carter’s 2021-22 End-Of-Year Superlatives: Girls Basketball

By Kaleb Carter

The girls basketball season has been over for a while. With some time removed from the season, I wanted to share final thoughts on the great basketball I watched. I created a list of superlatives to do just that.

I witnessed 38 girls basketball games this season and this list is specific to players and teams I saw in person. Most of what I was able to get to was weekend invites, as it was the best way to see as many teams as possible. It’s a Chicagoland-heavy list, but that was the bulk of the players and teams I watched this season.

Ms. Bright Lights

Simone Sawyer  posted 35 and 31 points, respectively, against Chicago’s top two teams (Kenwood and Whitney Young), as well as 26 in a state championship win over Barrington. Sawyer never shied away from big moments. Even with a less robust average stat line than many of the state’s better players, Sawyer was considered heavily for 4A player of the year.

Most impressive looking player

Katy Eidle of Hersey looked like she was capable of anything with the ball in her hands, and had to handle a great deal of responsibility after the injury sustained to teammate Meghan Mrowicki. She led her team to a 27-5 overall, 9-1 record in MSL East — one of the best conferences in the state.

Most exciting team

Deerfield’s high-octane, guard-oriented attack made every game they were in fun to watch, regardless of opponent.

Best defensive look

Galena’ 1-3-1 zone look in the state title game almost brought them a state title, as Brimfield had scored just 12 points well into the third quarter. But Brimfield made a run and prove its might. I also watched a stream of the state semis where Galena held Serena to one point in the first half against Serena.

Glue players

As far as players who helped keep their teams together, the following caught my eye for their less-noticed contributions:

  • Stevenson’s Kendell Williams (2024)
  • Carmel Catholic’s Mia Gillis (2023)
  • Fremd’s Kace Urlacher (2023)
  • Whitney Young’s Maia Downes (2022)
  • Kenwood’s Ariana Bullock-Williams (2024).

Ms. Fearless

Kenwood’s Brianna McDaniel has a game that won’t take a backseat to anyone. She is always in attack mode and always getting to the rim. Not that she can’t shoot, her complete offensive package makes her unlike anyone I saw this year, even coming off an ACL tear. 

Most dominant team performance

It’s between a 50-21 Nazareth win over Sandburg thanks to the Roadrunners’ stifling defense, and a 64-13 Carmel Catholic win over Grayslake North. 

Most dominant individual performance

Given the circumstances, Abbey Schreacke’s 2A title game record 35 points, to go with 11 rebounds, was quite the demonstration to see, as Quincy Notre Dame claimed the state title in Redbird Arena.

Others included Lincoln-Way West’s Ava Gugliuzza scoring 40 versus Sycamore and Simone Sawyer’s 35 against Kenwood. I also watched Sophie Swanson explode in wins over Libertyville and a loss to Naperville North. 

Best game I saw

Geneva’s 59-53 win over Benet at Morton College’s Christmas Tournament featured a hot Vikings squad that handed Benet its second loss of the season and first to an Illinois team. The trio of Leah Palmer, Cassidy Arni and Zosia Wrobel played a whale of a game, and shut down one of the state’s better players in Lenee Beaumont. Meanwhile, Morgan Demos had 25 points as Benet fell just short. It looked like a postseason preview of sorts, before Geneva was upset by St. Charles East. 

Also considered Maine South’s CSL championship victory over Deerfield, Stevenson’s win over Kenwood at Trinity High School in the Midwest Hoops Spotlight Shootout, and Whitney Young’s win over Kenwood in the CPL city championship game. Lincoln-Way West’s overtime victory over Sycamore at Trinity is also worth a shoutout.

Aesthetically pleasant throwback style

Lake Zurich gets a shoutout from me for playing an extremely enjoyable brand of basketball, not because it’s high-octane and explosive, but because of its balanced, fundamentally-focused ways.

Fun bench units

Mother McAuley, Resurrection, Amundsen, Naperville North, Geneva, Batavia, Whitney Young, Stevenson.

Most hectic atmosphere

Stevenson versus Kenwood at the Midwest Hoops Spotlight Classic, as previously mentioned, was a blast. In addition to the families and fans in attendance, college coaches and those just curious about the matchups and buzz on the floor made it a wild evening at Trinity’s gym in River Forest.

Way-Too-Early Player of the Year Watchlist

1A: Amiah Hargrove, Christopher (2024); Alayna Kraus, Okawville (2024); Grace Nelson, Altamont (2024); Abby Compton, Goreville (2024); Klare Flynn, Brown County (2023); Grace Furlong, Galena (2025); Sophia Hoffman, Carlyle (2025); Sydney Richards, Neoga, (2023).

2A: Abbey Schreacke, Quincy Notre Dame (2023); Xamiya Walton, Butler College Prep (2024); Ellie Cahill, Eureka (2023); Amayah Doyle, Carterville (2024); Ensley Tedeschi, Benton (2023); Megen Senaj, Latin, (2023). 

3A: Kloe Froebe, Lincoln (2024); Janae Kent, Oak Forest (2023); Jordan Wood, Carmel Catholic (2023); Claire McDougall, Washington (2023); Mya Wardle, Peoria Notre Dame (2024); Aaliyah Guyton, Peoria (2024); Amalia Dray, Nazareth (2024); Evyn Carrier, Sycamore (2023).

4A: Lenee Beaumont, Benet (2023); Skylar Jones, Whitney Young (2023); Destiny Jackson, Whitney Young (2025); Alyssa Latham, Homewood-Flossmoor (2023); Sophie Swanson, Barrington (2023); Katy Eidle, Hersey, (2023); Tahj-Monet Bloom (2024); Lisa Thompson, Joliet West (2023); Emily Fisher, Libertyville (2023).

Glenbard West Finishes Dominant Season, Beats Young in 4A Title

Glenbard West Finishes Dominant Season, Beats Young in 4A Title

Glenbard West celebrates the first state title in program history. (Photo: Chaqwonn Jones)

By Jakub Rudnik

CHAMPAIGN — Glenbard West proved without a doubt that it is the best boys basketball team in Illinois for the 2021-22 season.

The Hilltoppers began the season at the top of the polls, and it closed out the year with a 56-34 win in the 4A state title over No. 2 Whitney Young.

Glenbard West dominated the game much like it did the season: from beginning to end. The Hilltoppers led 13-6 after the first quarter and 25-16 at halftime. A 17-4 third quarter in favor of Glenbard West put the result out of question.

No Illinois team beat the 37-1 Hilltoppers, who only fell to California’s Sierra Canyon — a nationally ranked team — on a buzzer-beater. 

“The accomplishment and the goals that these guys had at the beginning of the season and summer, to maintain them; to never look ahead, to respect all opponents; to play the right way, to have the sportsmanship, the caliber of character they have,” Jason Opoka said. “Words can’t explain how proud I am to be their coach.”

Guard Paxton Warden scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. Gonzaga recruit Braden Huff scored in a variety of ways, finishing with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Forward Ryan Renfro had eight points and four rebounds.

“Especially this game, just being the last with these guys, it was for sure one I was ready for and not willing to lose,” Huff said. “Big games like these, I just get really amped for and excited for. I think we all do.”

Glenbard West’s all-senior starting lineup of Warden, Huff, Bobby Durkin, Ryan Renfro and Caden Pierce proved once again that it had too many weapons to be stopped. The seasoned group won the first state title in season history. 

“It’s kind of a sad moment, for sure, because it’s our last moments together [as a basketball team,'” Warden said.

Whitney Young matched its second-place finish of 2018. It won a state title the previous year.

Young was the only Chicago team in Saturday’s championship games. Its loss guaranteed the first season without a Chicago state title team since 2006. A Chicago team had one at least one state title every season since Illinois moved to four classes in 2008.

Senior forward Xavier Amos led Whitney Young (25-10) with 14 points and five rebounds. Senior forward AJ Casey and senior point guard Dalen Davis each finished with six points and four rebounds.

Miracle Shot Gives Sacred Heart-Griffin 3A Title Over Metamora

Miracle Shot Gives Sacred Heart-Griffin 3A Title Over Metamora

Sacred Heart-Grffin's Zack Hawkinson embraces coach Tim Allen after winning the 3A title. (Photo: Chaqwonn Jones)

By Jakub Rudnik

CHAMPAIGN — Keshon Singleton’s last-second heave hit the rim, the backboard and then the rim two more times. 

But it went in, and Sacred Heart-Griffin won the 3A boys state title, 53-50.

It wasn’t what the Cyclones drew up with the game tied in double overtime. Instead, a kicked ball forced Singleton to throw up a fadeaway three as time expired. 

“The ball was loose and I was like, ‘Ok, I’ve gotta throw up a prayer to even have a chance,’” Singleton said. “It went in … I’m just so proud we can call ourselves state champions.”

The Cyclones needed many bounces to go their way late to even have the chance.

With 5:11 remaining in the fourth quarter, Metamora scored to go up 38-32. But Sacred Heart-Griffin held Metamora to four points the rest of regulation, forcing six turnovers with a frenetic press. 

“If you start playing defense like that, the whole team will be fouled out,” Cyclones coach Tim Allen said of turning up the defensive pressure. “You have to pull that out fourth quarter, maybe overtime. … That’s exhausting to play that hard.”

Junior forward Zack Hawkinson scored in the paint with four seconds remaining to complete the comeback. He led all players with 27 points and 13 rebounds.

Metamora led 50-46 in the second overtime after two Drew Tucker free throws. Hawkinson answered with a basket in the post to cut the lead to two.

On the other end, Metamora appeared to have a clear lane to the basket but a timeout was called by coach Danny Grieves. Instead of a Metamora basket, J’veon Bardwell made two free throws after a steal and fast break.

On the next Metamora possession, Hawkinson forced Metamora junior Ethan Kizer to dribble off his leg out of bounds. 

The possession change led to the final possession of the game.

Sacred Heart Griffin was in the 2019 state finals before they were cancelled as the pandemic began. The team started the 2021-22 season in 2A before learning they’d be bumped up to 3A. The Cyclones won two other overtime games in the state series.

“When he shot it and it hit the front of the rim, I was just like, ‘It’s going in,’ I just had a feeling,” Allen said. “Our season had been like that. 

“There’s no better ending than the ending we had today,” Allen said. 

Jake Hamilton and Singleton each finished with nine points and four rebounds for the Cyclones.

For Metamora, Tyson Swanson scored a team-high 17 points, including a 10 in a row in the third quarter. Zack Schroeder had 11 points and nine rebounds, and Drew Tucker scored 10 points.

Hoepker’s Heroics Clinch 2A State Title for Nashville over Monticello

Hoepker’s Heroics Clinch 2A State Title for Nashville over Monticello

Nashville celebrates its 2A state title. (Photo: Chaqwonn Jones)

By Jakub Rudnik

CHAMPAIGN — With 2:40 remaining in the boys 2A state title game, Monticello layup put the Sages up six. In a 31-25 game, Nashville’s deficit seemed enormous.

Twelve seconds later, Nolan Heggemeier’s three cut the lead in half. With a minute to go, Kolten Gajewski’s basket made it 31-30 Monticello. 

On the other end, Monticello’s Tanner Buehnerkemper missed a layup, rebounded by Saxton Hoepker. Hoepker slashed to the rim on the other end, finishing his own layup to put Nashville up 32-31.

After a timeout, Monticello wound down the clock. Ben Cresap was forced into a mid-range shot. 

Hoepker was there to deny him, sealing the comeback win for Nashville.

“I feel like we stole one there,” Nashville coach Patrick Weathers said. “I can’t say enough about how resilient this bunch of guys are sitting up here with me.”

Hoepker averaged 15 points per game this season, but he was scoreless until 4:31 remaining in the game. He finished with four points, five rebounds and two blocks — and arguably the two biggest plays of the game.

“For that [block] to seal the game, that’s huge,” Hoepker said. “Kilten [Gajewski] had a great game and carried us most of the way, but that block at the end felt great.”

Gajewski led all players with 14 points and 11 rebounds. He averaged less than six points and six rebounds for the season.

“I think it just goes to effort — I like playing hard,” Gajewski said. “I don’t know really what I’ve changed, but it’s been working lately. Just to go out there and play on this stage has loosened me up a little bit I guess.”

Kilten Gajewski and Saxton Hoepker embrace after winning the 2A state title.

Nashville finished as the 2A runner-up in 2019. Its football team was the football 2A runner-up in 2020. Those experiences helped 30-4 Nashville in its biggest game of the season.

“It’s a huge factor,” senior guard Isaac Turner said. “If it’s your first time playing in a state tournament, you’re going to have nerves. Since I’ve been a part of four of them, it helps me stay calm and play it like another game — not try and force, not try and do too much.”

Monticello was led by seniors Dylan Ginalick (11 points), Cresap (eight points) and Buehnerkemper (three points and 10 rebounds).

Monticello finished 33-4 and advanced further than any team in program history.

“It says here we shot 11-for-31,” Buehnerkemper said. “But I really wanted that last one to go in. I knew if I would have made that we would have won. 

“But one shot doesn’t define me,” he added. “One shot doesn’t define us. One shot doesn’t define the season. We’ve got to keep our heads up high, we did a great job.”

Yorkville Christian Overcomes Slow Start to Beat Liberty for 1A Title

Yorkville Christian Overcomes Slow Start to Beat Liberty for 1A Title

Yorkville Christian senior K.J. Vasser holds the state championship trophy. (Photo: Chaqwonn Jones)

By Jakub Rudnik

CHAMPAIGN — Down 10-8 after the first quarter, Yorkville Christian was in uncharted territory.

The Mustangs had been untested in its run to the 2022 state title game. In order, its win differentials: 62, 44, 40, 44, 34, 38 and 43 points.

Coach Aaron Sovern made sure his team knew there was plenty of game left to be played.

“I said, ‘We can’t play a whole lot worse offensively, and I don’t know that they can play a whole lot better,'” Sovern said. “‘So we’re fine.’ I think I even said, ‘Take a deep breath, let’s go.'”

Liberty played Yorkville Christian tougher than any other team in the state series, but Yorkville won each of the next three quarters to earn the first state title in program history, 54-41.

The game was a defensive struggle early on. The teams combined to shoot 7-of-24 with six turnovers in the first quarter. They were a combined 17-of-48 and 6-of-21 from three in the first half as Liberty clung to a 21-20 lead.

Liberty keyed on Yorkville Christian senior shooting guard and Duke commit Jaden Schutt. He finished with 12 points on 4-or-12 shooting, just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc.

“We looked at film in the preseason, because we knew if we were getting to the championship game we’d be facing him,” Liberty senior forward Logan Robbins said. “I just tried to look for some points I could pick up on, just to try to maybe get a little edge.”

Photo: Chaqwonn Jones

In the second half the Mustangs found their offense without Schutt. Senior guard K.J. Vasser attacked the basket, making 5-of-12 baskets overall and hitting all four of his free throws. He led the team with 15 points. Tyler Burrows hit 5-of-7 shots for 13 points. David Douglas Jr. scored 11.

Vasser was key early in the fourth during a Yorkville Christian run that broke the game open, with a pair of steals and seven points in the span of minutes.

“We went into halftime down one,” Schutt said. “When we play a lot of tough teams [during the season] we’re going to get down. I want to give a shoutout to K.J. [Vasser], just his leadership, keeping guys in it with his intensity. Him and Tyler [Burrows] just being great leaders out there.”

Yorkville Christian finished 25-13 after playing a brutal regular-season schedule filled with 4A and 3A opponents.

“It’s definitely been a grind, and definitely mission accomplished,” Sovern said. “As we’ve said forever, this was our goal at the beginning of the year. I can’t say enough about these guys, they definitely found a way.”

Liberty finished 30-6 for the season, advancing further and winning more games than any team in program history. 

An emotional coach Greg Altmix paused for 10 seconds in the post-game press conference when answering a question on how proud he was of the team.

“Players who are willing to come out and play this way and do what you ask as a coach, they make my job easy,” Altmix said.

“Knowing that a couple of guys didn’t even have the chance to even take the court last season and seeing them come back,” Altmix continued. “You have young men who are going to be successful in life because they’ve learned a lot of life lessons through basketball.”

Whitney Young Bests Kenwood for Super Sectional, City Superiority

In the eyes of Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter, there’s no rivalry with Kenwood. His team beat the Broncos 75-62 at UIC to win a 4A Super Sectional, send his team downstate and take bragging rights.

“There is no rivalry,” Slaughter said. “They have no state championships, we have five. They’ve never really beaten us in anything substantive. I don’t know how that ‘rivalry’ has come together.

“As of today, we have shown that we are the superior program, we are the superior team,” Slaughter continued. “Our girls beat their girls in the state playoffs, sent them home. Our boys have done likewise. … There is no rivalry, that myth is over. You have to beat someone to have a rivalry.”

It was an intense, often chaotic rubber match between the city’s top two teams. Young jumped out to a 23-13 lead on a Dalen Davis jumper to beat the first-quarter buzzer. Kenwood clawed back many times, but the early hole was too much to dig out of.

“You can’t come into these games, in the [Super] Sectional final and jump down to a team like Whitney Young,” Kenwood coach Mike Irvin said. “They’re a veteran team, they’ve been there. We started from behind and never could get over that hump.”

Young got contributions from across its veteran stars. Senior forward Xavier Amos had eight points in the first quarter and the first five of the final frame, finishing with 19 points. Senior forward AJ Casey scored 14 points, including six points and an assist over the final 2:34. Junior forward Daniel Johnson added 15 points and nine rebounds.

But the star of the night was Davis, who scored 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting, adding seven assists. He hit a number of contested mid-range jumpers and seemed to get to the rim at will for his patented left layups.

“We have the best guard in the city,” Slaughter added.

Whitney Young heads back downstate for the first time since 2017-18, when it finished second. It won its most recent state title the year before, in 2016-17.

“It was our last time here, so we wanted to leave a mark,” Davis said.

Kenwood’s junior stars Darrin Ames and Davius Loury were electric: Ames scored 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting; Loury scored 16 points and added 11 rebounds. Sophomore big man Calvin Robins scored 12 points and added seven boards.

But 13 turnovers and 3-16 shooting from beyond the arc cost the Broncos. Senior and Nevada commit Trey Pettigrew went 3-for-10 from the field. Fellow senior and backcourt starter Darius Robinson went scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting.

The Broncos project to return several top-rated players in their respective classes to a team that went further in the playoffs than any in program history.

“Next year, with what we have coming back, we should be in position to be No. 1 in the state,” Irvin said. 

Simeon Outlasts Lemont to Win 3A Super Sectional

With 41 seconds remaining in the 3A Super Sectional matchup with Lemont, Simeon forward Miles Rubin strode to the free-throw line.

Lemont had cut a 12-point deficit heading into the fourth to just three points, and had fouled Rubin for the one-and-one. 

He knocked down the first, just net. He shot the second: Same result.

Rubin and the Wolverines held on to beat Lemont 52-47, winning the UIC Super Sectional and advancing to the state semifinals. 

Rubin finished with a game-high 22 points, adding seven rebounds and five blocks.

“I felt like if I got going early, I would be good at the end of games,” Rubin said. “That’s what I did.”

Simeon jumped out to a 17-5 lead after the first quarter on the backs of Rubin and twin brother Wesley Rubin, who counted for 10 points and eight rebounds at the end of the quarter. Lemont had no answer early for the 6-7 junior duo.

But Lemont hung around, forcing turnovers on Simeon’s experienced backcourt and getting timely threes from its role players. The team, minus sophomore sensation Nojus Indrusaitis, went 6-for-13 from three.

But Simeon’s defense on Indrusaitis was one of the keys to the game. He finished 3-for-14 overall and 0-for-6 from beyond the arc. Simeon junior guard Michael Ratliff keyed on Indrusaitis for much of the game, giving the Wolverines key bench minutes.

“He was huge,” Simeon coach Michael Smith said. “We got in some foul trouble early in the game. Michael Ratliff came in and gave us a big boost. That’s what he does. When these guys are tired … we bring Michael Ratliff in and he can play multiple positions. He’s a bigger kid, he’s stronger … he can crash the boards really well.

“It’s not about scoring for him,” Smith continued. “It’s about whatever we need in that moment.”

Ratliff finished second on the team in scoring with nine points, adding five rebounds.

Simeon guarantees its best season finish since 2016-17, when it was runner-up, losing to Whitney Young in 4A. It has won seven state titles overall, including four straight from 2010 to 2013.

“[Going to Champaign] is going to be a great opportunity for us,” Smith said. “We just want to be competitive and go down there and finish the job.

“I told the guys, ‘Enjoy this moment right now,'” he added. “I know some teams who were just satisfied with winning this game. And they didn’t do what they were supposed to do. We just want to stay locked in, and get prepared and get ready for the next game.”

For Lemont, junior guard Matas Castillo led the way with 16 points, including a perfect 6-for-6 from the stripe down the stretch. He’s among the 10 Lemont players who are juniors or younger.

“The thing I love about this team is they have the audacity to think they’re gonna win this game,” Lemont head coach Rick Runaas said. “These guys aren’t afraid of anybody. They want to play a tough schedule. They want to play good teams. They cherish the moment. I think we’ll learn from it, and I think these guys coming back will be hungry for more.”

Boys Basketball Top Performers: Week 4

We’re a month into the boys high school season. Though COVID-19 is doing its best to slow things down, we made it to the Christmas tournament season. There’s finally been enough games for the undefeated logo map to come back.

This is the introduction of a boys version of the column Kaleb Carter has run for the past few weeks on the girls basketball side: top performers.

There are 700-plus teams and literally hundreds of players have great performances each week. Here are 10 teams and 10 players that caught my eye this week, in no particular order.

This will run each week the rest of the season, so get in touch.

Notable Week 4 Team Performances

Rockford Auburn

Beat previously undefeated Boylan (8-1, 4-1) 47-43 on Friday to move to 9-2 overall and 6-0 in the NIC-10. The Knights trailed 15-4 and were down a point in the final seconds before scoring five quick, chaotic points (below).

Auburn also knocked off a now 7-3 Rockford East team 59-50 earlier in the week. The Knights square off with undefeated Oswego East (11-0) on Wednesday at Hinsdale Central.

Oswego East

Speaking of, the Wolves are off to an 11-0 start overall and 5-0 in conference after a 41-28 win over Plainfield North. They can play in up-tempo matchups too, holding off Yorkville Christian and Duke recruit Jaden Schutt 91-87 on Tuesday, Dec. 14. Patrick Robinson scored 34 in that win.

Unranked to start the season in the Sun-Times rankings, Oswego East is up to No. 13.

Larkin

Sure, its three opponents last week have a combined record of 12-17. But Larkin’s average margin of victory was 50 – five-zero – points against Johnsburg, Glenbard East and Fenton. The Royals are 9-1 and 5-0 in the Upstate Eight. They average 73.5 points per game, which is hard to do no matter who you play.

Quincy

Two really good wins on the week to move to 9-1: The Blue Devils handed Moline its second loss of the season 63-49 on Friday. They followed that up with a 59-37 win over Quincy Notre Dame (5-3) in a crosstown showdown.

Freshman guard Bradley Longcor led all scorers with 20 points against QND.

Moline

Despite the loss to Quincy, Moline finished the week 2-1 with wins over Rock Ridge and North Scott (Iowa). More importantly, coach Sean Taylor won his 600th game on Saturday as the team moved to 7-2.

Cerro Gordo-Bement

The Broncos are 9-1 after wins over Monmouth-Roseville (55-40) and DeLand Weldon (66-18). The 1A squad is beating teams by nearly 17 points per game, and its only loss came to 2A Warrensburg-Latham, which was undefeated before a loss on Monday, Dec. 20.

Senior small forward Connor Brown has been key for CGB, averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Scales Mound

The Hornets are one of the top teams in 1A and have moved to 7-0 with wins over Eastland, Durand and Farmington, an 8-2 team in 2A.

Scales Mound is averaging the sixth most points per game (76.9) in the entire state, per Nesto Hoops.

Senior wing Benjamin Vandigo scored his 1,000th career point this week as well.

Peoria Christian

Went 3-0 on the week to move to 9-0 on the season. The big win for the 1A Chargers was 50-45 on Saturday over Teutopolis (8-2), a top-10 team in 2A.

Senior forward and Taylor commit Wes Hunt scored 57 points across the three wins and is averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds for the season.

West Aurora

Two close wins last week over 6-3 Minooka (69-66) and 7-2 Naperville Central (54-51) have moved the Blackhaws to 7-3 and given head coach Brian Johnson his 200th career win. Sophomore Josh Pickett scored 31 against Minooka, including 21 in the fourth quarter.

What a turnaround after a 1-15 campaign this spring.

Rockford Lutheran

Has won 25 straight Big North games after a win over Rockford Christian. The 2A Crusaders are 7-4 on the year but all losses have come to bigger schools (St. Charles North, Boylan, Neuqua and Waubonsie).

Though just outside of the week, Lutheran beat Buffalo Grove by 30 on Dec. 13 and Northridge by 25 on Dec. 20.

Notable Week 4 Team Performances

Ben VanderWal, Timothy Christian, Sr.

Two games for the Trojans last week. Two wins for the Trojans. Two 20-point double-doubles for Furman commit Ben Vanderwal:

  • 29 points, 15 rebounds in a 58-43 win over Westinghouse
  • 21 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals in a 49-43 win over IC Catholic

Throw in a couple head taps against ICCP and you’ve got a pretty great week:

Tate Kunzeman, Griggsville-Perry, Sr.

Had 33 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals in a 54-49 win over Mendon Unity. Scored 23 of his team’s 31 points in a loss to Pittsfield. Averaging 20.4 points per game for the season.

Trey Pettigrew

Kenwood went 3-1 in a busy week to move to 8-2. The Broncos were without point guard and top-100 2023 prospect Darrin Ames for two games in Sioux Falls, and Nevada commit Trey Pettigrew stepped up. His week:

  • 17 points, 8 assists in win over Brooks
  • 18 points, 7 assists in win over Phillips
  • 16 of Kenwood’s 32 points in loss to Sunrise Christian
  • 25 points and 7 rebounds in win over Sioux City East

Jalen Quinn, Tuscola, Sr.

Tuscola moved to 7-1 on the year behind monster games from Loyola Chicago commit Jalen Quinn:

  • 25 points, 9 rebounds in win over Tri-County
  • 32 points, 12 rebounds, 6 steals in win over Argenta-Oreana

He became the school’s all-time leading scorer the week prior:

Gavin Sarvis, Burlington Central, Sr.

The dual-sport star (football) was off to a nice start to his senior year, scoring 49 points in his first three games. Then he fractured his wrist.

He returned with a vengeance, scoring 36 points and adding four rebounds in his second game back from injury, including 16 in the fourth quarter to help beat Huntley.

Mason Kibelkis, Peotone, Sr.

The Blue Devils went 4-1 on the week, and Kibelkis had 83 points over the span of four games, including a 35-point game against Reed Custer.

Julian Triffo, Maine South, Sr.

Maine South played just one game last week, but small forward Julian Triffo made it count: 33 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.

He’s averaging a team-high 20 points and 7.8 rebounds for the 6-3 Hawks after scoring just 1 point per game as a junior.

Dillon Schmidt, Saint Viator, Jr.

Schmidt didn’t practice all week, sitting out with the flu. Then he scored 34 points and knocked down five triples in a 68-51 win over Marian Central. He out-dueled Marian sophomore Christian Bentancur, who finished with 27.

Paul Hart, St. Bede, Sr.

Put up a monster 40 points and 13 rebounds in a 69-56 win over Hall.

Jake Vaughn, Hardin County, Sr.

Vaughn had a triple double in a 74-52 win over Galatia: 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 steals.

Other Notes

2021-22 Early Signing Day: Illinois Boys

Making a decision on where to play college basketball is one of the biggest moments in a young athlete’s life.

All year long we track player commitments. These announcements are generally verbal agreements by the players to the coaches and programs they will most likely play for, but they are not binding.

During multiple windows during the year, athletes can sign official National Letters of Intent (NLI) with their programs, more formally binding athlete to program.

For basketball the Early Signing Period this year is November 10-17. The regular period runs from April 13, 2022, through May 18, 2022. 

Below is a list of all official signees during the early period.

Division I Commitments from Illinois

Commitments ordered alphabetically by high school.

Cam Kraft, Buffalo Grove

College: Xavier
Position: Shooting guard
National Rankings: 56th (Rivals); 59th (247); 61st (ESPN)
Notes: Transferred to The Skills Academy in Georgia prior to senior season

Bryce Moore, Carmel Catholic

College: Niagra
Position: Guard

Dylan Arnett, DePaul College Prep

College: UW-Milwaukee
Position: Power forward

Christian Jones, East St. Louis

College: Missouri
Position: Point guard
National Rankings: 3-star (Rivals)
Story: Fox 2: “National Signing Day: University of Missouri signs East St. Louis point guard as part of 2022 class

Bobby Durkin, Glenbard West

College: Army
Position: Small forward

Braden Huff, Glenbard West

College: Gonzaga
Position: Power forward
National Rankings: 166th (247); 4-star (ESPN); 3-star (Rivals)
Story: The Slipper Still Fits: “Gonzaga lands forward Braden Huff

Caden Pierce, Glenbard West

College: Princeton
Position: Shooting guard

Ryan Renfro, Glenbard West

College: West
Position: Power forward

Cooper Noard, Glenbrook South

College: Cornell
Position: Point guard

Nick Martinelli, Glenbrook South

College: Elon
Position: Forward
Story: Elon Athletics: “Men’s Basketball Announces Addition of Nick Martinelli To Signing Class

Trey Pettigrew, Kenwood

College: Nevada
Position: Guard
National Rankings: 127th (Rivals); 141 (247)
StoryNevada Sports Net: “Trey Pettigrew explains why playing for Nevada was the right fit for him

Damari Wheeler-Thomas, Larkin

College: North Dakota State
Position: Point guard
Story: NDSU athletics: “NDSU Men’s Basketball Adds Four on Signing Day

Tavari Johnson, Lyons

College: Akron
Position: Point guard

NJ Benson, Mount Vernon

College: Missouri State
Position: Power forward/center

Robbie Avila, Oak Forest

College: Indiana State
Position: Forward
National Rankings: 3-star (247)

Justin Mullins, Oak Park-River Forest

College: Denver
Position: Shooting guard

Kolby Giles, St. Ignatius

College: Air Force
Position: Wing

Ben VanderWal, Timothy Christian

College: Furman
Position: Small forward

Jalen Quinn, Tuscola

College: Loyola Chicago
Position: Point guard
National Rankings: 3-star (247)

AJ Casey, Whitney Young

College: Miami (Florida)
Position: Forward
National Rankings: 55th (Rivals); 57th (ESPN); 67th (247)

Xavier Amos, Whitney Young

College: Northern Illinois
Position: Forward

Jaden Schutt, Yorkville Christian

College: Duke
Position: Shooting guard
National Rankings: 47th (ESPN); 55th (247); 82nd (Rivals)

Stories

Division II Commitments from Illinois

Austin Ambrose, Batavia

College: Batavia
Position: Power forward/center

Ethan Ivan, Batavia

College: Wisconsin-Parkside
Position: Forward

Justin King, Mascoutah

College: Missouri-St. Louis
Position: Point guard

 

Patrick Robinson, Oswego East

College: Missouri-St. Louis
Position: Shooting guard

 

GBN’s Brooke Blumenfeld Overcomes ACL Injuries, Commits to NIU

Glenbrook North's Brooke Blumenfeld Overcomes ACL Injuries, Commits to NIU

Brooke Blumenfeld is the first commitment in NIU's 2022 class. (Photos courtesy Brooke Blumenfeld)

The summer before her junior year, everything was going right for Glenbrook North forward Brooke Blumenfeld.

As a sophomore in 2019-20, she led the Spartans to their best record since 1992-93, and their first regional final since 1999. Despite limitations from COVID-19, her recruiting was picking up, and she’d just received an offer from Northern Illinois. Playing for her AAU program Wolverinas, Blumenfeld scored 19 points in a game — her high with the team.

Just seconds into her next game, everything changed.

“It was the first possession,” Blumenfeld said. “I cut across the lane, my teammate threw me the ball. And it was almost like I was trying to go up for a right-handed layup, but my feet were planted. So when my body twisted, my right leg didn’t move with it.

Blumenfeld tore her left ACL in eighth grade, but initially didn’t think this injury was as severe. 

She was wrong.

The ligament was torn again, an injury that typically takes nine months or more to recover from — this time in the right knee. She said she was in disbelief after receiving the diagnosis, that it was almost an “out-of-body experience” for some time afterwards.

“The first thing that popped into my head was, ‘I can’t play,’” she said. “‘I can’t play the sport I love. I went through this once, why is this happening to me?’”

Still, Blumenfeld said giving up basketball was never a consideration. Even though she knew how much work the rehab process would be and that she’d miss junior year, she had no choice but to come back once again.

“It’s just kind of who I am,” she said. “I love waking up early and going to practice. I love the feeling after a practice. … If there’s a party, I’d rather be in the gym. That’s where I feel most comfortable. It’s my escape from the world. I really don’t know who I’d be without [basketball].”

“She’s a gym rat,” Glenbrook North head coach Nick Capalbo said. “I’ll open the gym up whenever she wants to come in. She puts a lot of work into her game — she’ll stay for hours after practice, come in every day in the summer, [use] the weight room. She’s super driven, especially with this injury.”

Without Blumenfeld, the Spartans struggled, finishing 3-12 in the shortened season. But she was there with her teammates, their biggest cheerleader in the empty gyms.

“She’s a big personality, which I love,” Capalbo said. “It’s super great to have your best player be such a leader. … I remember that something happened in a game and the whole bench went crazy, and Brooke jumped up, with a [torn] ACL, so high and so excited. And she did a chest bump with one of our players, and she hit the floor.

“I was so concerned that she was going to get hurt again when she was recovering,” he added. “But she was just so excited and happy. … That’s just her personality right there.”

brooke-blumenfeld-niu-1

Blumenfeld Commits to Northern Illinois

Despite missing her junior season — a crucial year in recruiting — Blumenfeld made her college decision on June 26, staying near home at Northern Illinois. Still, proximity wasn’t the biggest factor in the choice.

“Northern, they kept their offer [to me], and they easily could have taken it [away],” Blumenfeld said. “But they didn’t. Through the nine months, there were some schools that dropped me. … All the way through, Northern stuck with me. 

“That just says a lot about the program and how they see me not only as a basketball player, but they care about me as a person,” she continued.

With their first commitment in the 2022 recruiting class, the Huskies are getting a 6-0 forward who was one of the best players in the Central Suburban League South as a sophomore, averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds per game.

As the Spartans’ biggest player, she spent most of her first two years near the basket. 

“Freshman year she was just our strongest, biggest player, and she could make some layups,” Capalbo said. “Her jump shot is outstanding right now. … Her ability to go to the basket now, she’s worked on her left hand, her right hand, she’s worked on her post moves. Right now she’s getting that three down, that’s her next phase, what we’re working on this summer.”

For Blumenfeld, the work on her jump shot has been an effort to diversify her game.

“People, they figured out my game sophomore year was driving to the basket, I can finish around the rim,” Blumenfeld said. “They figured that out, so coaches now have [defenders] sag off me because they think I can’t shoot. In the summer league games, that’s my time to, when they’re sagging off, pull up and hit the three. And I think that just opens my game up a lot.”

That versatility should help Blumenfeld fit the role of the modern collegiate power forward, and fit in with Northern Illinois’ system.

“The way they play, it’s a lot like my AAU team,” Blumenfeld said. “They play fast, they like to push it up the court. I really wanted to make sure that the school I committed to would allow me to, if I got a rebound, take it and go. … That’s my thing, I’m six foot and I can handle the ball. And I wanted to make sure I wasn’t stuck down low in the five position all game. And the way they run their offense, they’ll allow me to do that.”

This summer Blumenfeld said she’s working on gaining back all of her explosiveness, but she has been healthy playing for both Glenbrook North and the Wolverinas. Capalbo expects her to compete for conference player of the year this winter, and both have their eyes set on a regional title and beyond. No matter what, she’s put in the work to have a chance at both, and then to play at the next level.

“I tore my ACL once, and then I did it again when everything was at my peak — my recruiting, how I was playing,” Blumenfeld said. “I’m back from that. People have doubted me, but I know what I want to do, and I’ve done it.”

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