Author Archives: Kaleb Carter

Q&A: Glenbard West Forward Ryan Renfro Due to See Increased College Interest

On one of the biggest teams in the state, Ryan Renfro is an overlooked athlete who wouldn’t be in the background at nearly any other boys basketball program in Illinois. As it is, the 6-8, 225-pound senior forward who plays in the middle of Glenbard West’s arduous 1-3-1 zone, is surrounded by some of the other more talented players in the state of Illinois.

The Hitters went 13-1 in 2021, blowing away most of their competition and beginning to receive warranted respect from Chicago-area and statewide media. They have been remarkably large for several years now, something Illinois-Basketball.com wrote about in November. And while many will understandably shower adulation upon the likes of Division-I talent Braden Huff, Caden Pierce and newcomer Bobby Durkin, Renfro is starting to put on display the type of athletic feats and on-the-floor determination that should have more colleges calling soon. 

While not possessing as much shooting or ball-handling skills necessarily as some of his teammates, Renfro possesses the traits that winning programs need in players to put them over the top. As a quarterback previously, his footwork is an aspect of his game that will steadily improve. A physically imposing post presence, Renfro can play bully ball around the rim and does so often on the offensive glass.

Governors State had offered as Renfro a spot on the team as of June 24. More offers are surely to follow.

Ryan Renfro, at center playing defense against Michele Clark. (Photo Kaleb Carter)

Illinois-Basketball.com’s Kaleb Carter spoke with Renfro following two Ridgewood Live shootout wins over Michele Clark and Maine South. 

Illinois-Basketball: What are you guys doing well this summer?

Ryan Renfro: “We may have five guys on the court, but we’re all one player. We’re all working the ball around, getting it to each other. We’ve been playing (together) since fourth grade, so we all know each other really well. I think it’s the chemistry that stands out the most. We’re always looking for the extra pass, it’s just a ton of fun.”

I-B: As an individual, do you try to have an individual identity yourself or is there anything in particular you’re trying to do when you’re on the floor?

RR: “When I’m on the floor, I’m just trying to find the small things to impact the team. I’ve got some of the greatest scorers in the state [around me], so my role, I feel like I really have to go for every offensive rebound or get helpline, maybe take a charge. But I mean, that stuff is just going to lead to scoring on my end, so I just love making the extra pass, hustling, because that’s what helps our team the most.”

I-B: You guys are playing some of the best teams you can this sumer, so how do you think you guys have responded in some of these instances and where do you still want to improve? 

RR: “We’re just hoping to come out and try and blow every team out. Nobody would expect Glenbard West to be good, so we’re just trying to make a name for ourselves. We have a big target on our back this year, so I mean, it’s just going out there, proving them wrong and just staying humble because we know we can do it ourselves.”

I-B: As you’ve got the attention for being the “big team” — what has that been like?

RR: Yeah *laughs* the big team. Oh yeah, we have a lot of teams that like to talk bad about us, say we’re overrated and stuff, but at the end of the day, we know what to do, we’ve been here many times. Height is height. We were going to be the same team no matter what, but it does help though.”

I-B: You do want to play college basketball, so what are your expectations in terms of what type of college you’d like to attend?

RR: “I like to shoot big. You shoot for the moon and land in the stars is what I say so hopefully I can end up playing mid-major basketball at the DI level. I don’t know what my options are yet, but I’m just hoping I can play at the next level…hopefully mid-major for sure.”

I-B: Are you considering JUCO then going up, etc.?

RR: “If that’s the option, that’s what it is. If prep school is the option, it is. I’m not going to quit. Basketball is the sport.”

I-B: Have you made any college visits or had anyone reach out to you?

RR: “ I have not made any visits, but I have talked with West Point (Army), North Dakota and Cleveland State reached out to me. It’s nothing final yet. I just started this recruitment process. A bunch of schools have been texting me, it’s pretty fun. Nothing yet, hopefully some more though. I’ve just got to play my game and hopefully more will come.”

(Photo: Kaleb Carter)

Ridgewood Live Notebook: Tinley Park, Kenwood and Others (+Photo Gallery)​

Keon Richardson at Ridgewood Live 2021

Ridgewood Live Notebook: Tinley Park, Kenwood and Others (+Photo Gallery)

Ridgewood hosted a live event and tournament June 25 to June 27. More than 80 boys teams from the Chicagoland participated, and many of the top players in the state were on display.

Kaleb Carter stopped by the event Friday and caught a number of games and got a chance to chat with some of the standouts.

Tinley Park's Keon Richardson Eyes the Future

Keon Richardson at Ridgewood Live 2021
Tinley Park's Keon Richardson at the Ridgewood Live event. (Photo: Kaleb Carter)

Keon Richardson said that Tinley Park is starting to put the pieces together that could lead to a successful winter season. While some of his teammates have missed action thus far in the summer period, the senior point guard and the Titans showed flashes of excellence.

“Summer been good, got a lot of competition,” Richardson. “Good up and down. The Hillcrest tournament was good.”

At Ridgewood, Richardson showed off a pass-first mindset and distinct court vision that has led to college contact from Tulsa and IUPUI. He’s due for a July 1 visit to Tulsa.

“I’m looking for a school that lets the guards be free, lets the guards coach on the floor,” Richardson said.

Kenwood's Davius Loury Does It All

Kenwood Davius Loury
Kenwood's Davius Loury (0) and JJ Taylor (1) guard a St. Charles East ball-handler. (Photo: Kaleb Carter)

Kenwood assistant coach PJ Jones said that rising junior Davis Loury, a 6-7 wing with more than a handful of Division I offers, is the Broncos’ “Mr. do-it-all.”

Quite a compliment for a program that has some of most talented players in the state of Illinois. 

“He’s kind of what makes our team go, especially (since) he’s a mismatch for most teams,” Jones said. “Some of our other guys really take up the other team’s best defender, so that usually leaves Davius with someone smaller on him … just getting him to crash the boards, post up when he’s got a little guy and shoot over top of them.”

Loury received an offer Friday from Appalachian State while at the event. He also holds offers from DePaul, Illinois, LSU, Miami (OH), Nebraska and Western Illinois.

This summer alongside his talented teammates, Loury is working on several simple aspects of his game. He emphasized his need to become a better ball-handler.

“My shot, dribbling, passing the ball, drive-and-kick and more athleticism,” Loury said. 

According to Jones, Loury’s versatility gives Kenwood more options, especially on the offensive end. 

“He’s another option to bring the ball up and run the offense through, that’s great,” Jones said. “It relieves some pressure off the other guys. For him as a player, being able to do multiple things, he played great defense today, being able to defend all five spots is something we want to see out of him.”

In addition to a flock of major Division I coaches being in attendance for 5-star recruit JJ Taylor (Class of 2023), the Broncos showcased Darrin Ames (2023) and recently returned and highly recruited Trey Pettigrew, a senior, on the floor. 

“He left Illinois when he was ranked the the No. 2 player in the state,” Jones said of Pettigrew. “With the COVID season in limbo, he moved out to Arizona. He was ranked the No. 5 player out in Arizona. With him, getting acclimated with the guys, he’s played in the same AAU program as some of the younger guys, different teams though, 16U teams, 17U teams. Getting him acclimated and letting him know that college coaches know that you can score the ball, but we want to see you facilitate a little more, personal that’s what I want to see him down.”

With rising freshmen Bryce Heard and Rob Walls contributing as well, the Broncos’ lone loss at the three-day event came to Glenbard West, a team loaded with senior, college-level talent.

Other Notable Teams and Players

  • St. Charles East’s Trent Warren (class of 2022) had a hot shooting weekend, putting up double-digits in three straight games, including 20 against Kenwood and 25 versus Fenton. He also used our photo (we see you, Trent) for his new Twitter profile avatar. 
  • Lots of coaches were in attendance, including Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Illinois’ Brad Underwood, Wisconsin’s Greg Hard, Bradley’s Brian Wardle, UIC’s Luke Yaklich and plenty of others. Former NBA superstar Shawn Marion was even there watching Kenwood. 
  • DePaul College Prep has reloaded, and perhaps most intriguing is Dylan Arnett (2022), a 6-9 forward who walked away from the event with a Western Michigan offer. He showed himself capable of replacing some of the production lost down low from North Dakota signee Brian Matthews. 
  • Hillcrest and Tinley Park both showcased potential in the form of talented guards and springy forwards, but both will need the extra time leading up to the season to put things together. Matthew Moore (2023) and Bryce Tillery (2023) of Hillcrest showed flashes of what could make Hillcrest nearly as good as it was in 2021
  • I don’t have much to say about Glenbard West that hasn’t been said. They look like state championship material. They’re downright huge. The 1-3-1 zone they trot out covers more space than any other zone that comes to mind at the high school level. GBW did finish the event undefeated, including a close win over Kenwood. A couple spurts from senior transfer Bobby Durkin (Hinsdale South), including a deep 3-pointer and a two-handed slam in rapid succession, opened eyes. 
  • I was witness at the end of my day to a close affair between Whitney Young and Lake Forest. Asa Thomas is no joke and is dangerous from wherever and in creating. Whitney Young’s length and athleticism plus clutch plays late from D-I recruits A.J. Casey (offered by Florida Saturday), Xavier Amos (2022) and Daniel Johnson (2023) led to the win over a charged up Lake Forest squad. Casey is so smooth and improving in his all-around game. 
  • DeKalb’s Martez Jackson (2022) is a scrappy guard who defends just the way DeKalb teams have been taught to over the last handful of years by head coaches Al Biancalana and Mike Reynolds (both of whom I covered previously at the DeKalb Daily Chronicle). 
  • Simeon’s  Rubin twins, Miles and Wesley (recent transfers from Homewood-Flossmoor) have tremendous upside as incoming juniors. They are going to be ridiculous to try and stop as a tandem in the coming years.
  • Bolingbrook has some fearless guards and lots of size. Beware of coach Robert Brost’s perennially reliable bunch. 
  • The way Batavia guard Trent Tousana carries himself showcases his confidence, and I’m excited to hear how often he scores in bunches this year. 

Girls Notebook: Butler College Prep trio picking up major college interest; Kenwood and Whitney Young opening eyes

Butler College Prep’s triumphant trio of Camille Jackson, Xamiya Walton and Christin Brewer are helping the Lynx take on all comers this summer, showcasing talent that has had Division I colleges calling steadily.

Class of 2022 guard Camille Jackson returns for one last go around after leading her squad to consecutive Noble League championships. 

At Morton College’s summer league, the Lynx played tough against one of the better programs in the state in Kenwood, and then ran past St. Ignatius Thursday. The scores mattered less than the chemistry displayed on the floor for one of Chicago’s better small class programs. 

Camille Jackson takes a jumper.

“We’re on a roll and we have a lot to accomplish, but it also means we’re getting better as a program,” Jackson said. 

With collegiate offers rolling in at the Division I level, Jackson has expressed the most interest in DePaul and Illinois. 

“So far, I’m narrowing it down, getting closer to making an announcement, but it’s been DePaul and Illinois so far,” Jackson said.

Jackson isn’t the only one drawing interest from big midwest programs.

Walton (class of 2024), has wowed due to her handles and shooting ability. Loyola, Illinois, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Western Michigan, Memphis and Xavier have all extended offers. 

“It feels really great with these colleges showing interest because it’s what we work for,” Walton said. “Seeing the hard work pay off, it’s showing that you should be where you are and deserve everything. It’s really nice talking to these colleges, staying in touch and stuff and talking to new schools every week.”

All three of the Lynx expressed that competing against the state’s best teams helps prepare them for the regular season. For Butler, that means continuing its dominance of the Noble League.

“I feel like it’s a big accomplishment,” Brewer said of winning a second consecutive Noble title last season. “We didn’t have that much time to practice and have a season so to win it as a team, it was really good.”

Butler’s Christin Brewer drives into the paint against St. Igantius

“Once they said we’d have a Noble championship, we said we’d win it,” Walton said. “So I think that was nice to get us going for the summer league and we’re hoping to let this roll into next season.”

Lynx coach Xaver Walton, Xamiya Walton’s father, expressed that he felt Brewer would have drawn more attention from strong college programs if given the chance with a full season last year. 

A St. Ignatius player and Butler’s Camille Jackson battle for the ball.

And while Brewer, a 6-1 forward with improving ball-handling skills, is hoping that she is playing college ball next year while studying business administration, she’s fine focusing on the now. 

“This summer we’ve got out of this (Morton) tournament [becoming] more conditioned working as a team, bonding, [learning] how to play together,” Brewer said.

That doesn’t mean the Lynx don’t have big goals.

“We’ve been stressing we want to be state champions for our (class), Jackson said, with her teammates in agreement 

Young’s Jones and Jackson drawing attention  

Whitney Young’s lengthy class of 2023 forward Skylar Jones showcased the athleticism and skill on the block that showed why schools like DePaul, Syracuse and Miami have felt the need to extend an offer. Tanila Marshall, a now-senior, combines with Jones to give the Dolphins an improving and athletic presence around the rim. 

Jones was part of a Dolphins group that went undefeated in 12 games over the course of the summer league. 

“Skylar just got back from Louisville camp,” Whitney Young coach Krissy Harper said. “She is definitely a player to watch and everybody should know about her.”

Harper added about complementary guard Olivia Vick (class of 2023), who combos with Lily Montalvo (2023) for a swift and skilled backcourt: “Dead eye shooter. She’s actually working now on her mid-range and putting the ball on the floor and expanding her game. But if you leave her open for the three, she will knock it down.”

On top of all that returning talent, Young adds freshman point guard Destiny Jackson who already holds offers from Illinois and Ohio State.

“Our freshman is so good,” Harper said. “She came in with confidence. As a point guard you need that. She’s leading the team and she’s doing an excellent job.”

Broncos finding form

Kenwood’s Whitney Dunn (2022) has led the way in the absence of injured top prospect Brianna McDaniel (2022) while getting help from a supporting cast that’s finding its way. Freshman Ariella Hennigan showed talent in bursts, while Ayanna Jackson (2023), Jazelle Young (2023) and Ariana Williams (2024) proved exciting, especially so against Butler. Jackson in particular was a playmaker of note, scoring in the post, making timely passes and more.

It will be exciting to see DonYeil Bolton, a senior forward with multiple college offers, and McDaniel this winter when they return to the floor. 

Camille Jackson of butler tries to drive past Whitney Young of Kenwood while Jazelle Young (32) readies defensively.

First look at Example Academy

Example Academy, perhaps the most talented program in the summer league, is a newly founded prep program with players carried over from Example Sports’ AAU program. With a boatload of Division I and other collegiate-level talent, the likes of Jasmine Brown, Kennise Johnson-Etienne, Madisyn Saracco, Nakiyah Mays-Prince among others will be highly coveted and written about aplenty in the coming years. 

More shots from the Morton College Summer League

Wisconsin Coaching Staff Key to Tessa Towers Commitment

Batavia girls basketball coach Kevin Jensen has had his fair share of athletes go on to collegiate athletics, but Monday may have been the first time he was yelping for joy after hearing a college decision.

Tessa Towers, a 6-5 rising senior, made official her commitment to the Wisconsin Badgers after a visit and offer on June 16. Towers met with prospective future teammates and picked up good vibes immediately. 

Towers

“I just have a feeling this is it,” Jensen recalls Towers telling him.

Jensen’s response: Why wait or prolong what seems to be a natural fit?

“It’s a dream come true,” Towers said. 

“I could just see how they treat their players there and it’s just amazing,” Towers said. “I just wanted to go to a school where there’s a good coaching staff and there’s coaches who care about their players … all their players told me that that they do deeply care.”

Towers shared the thrill of her decision with those closest to her.

“My family, they’re all so excited for me,” Towers said. “My mom, she was so excited as well. She loves Wisconsin. She was so excited for me to get the next chapter of my life done.” 

The Badgers women’s basketball program, featuring multiple Illinois natives already, is heading into its first season under coach Marisa Moseley. Brooke Schramek of Naperville (Benet Academy) and former Lake Forest star Halle Douglass will be sophomores. Both Illinois natives played over 17 minutes per game as freshmen as the Badgers went 5-19. 

A unanimous all-conference player in the DuKane Conference this past season, Towers is a double-double machine with top-level strength on the block. Jensen said that there are things about her game that would surprise observers who just see Towers for her size, citing her ability to run the floor, improving leadership qualities and overall athleticism.

Jensen believes Towers has plenty of untapped potential and certainly has high hopes for what she can do for the Badgers. But for now, he has reason to be thrilled about a Batavia Bulldogs team that has as much talent as any in his decade-plus tenure in the role. Towers is central to that.

“She has the capability to be utterly dominant,” Jensen said. “She could put up a 20-rebound game like nothing. She could get six blocks like nothing. She’s not going to do it every night, but you might see a 30- or 40-point night this season. Even if he doesn’t have those things, she affects the game in so many ways.”

In a 5-11 season, Batavia found itself in close games with some of the Chicagoland suburbs’ stronger area programs like Burlington Central (a 63-60 loss), South Elgin (56-49 win), Lake Park (losses by 59-55 and 72-69), Geneva (a 60-57 loss) and St. Charles North (a 49-46 win).

The Bulldogs will face another tough schedule in 2021-22, but with a fellow Division I recruit Brooke Carlson — a rising sophomore — back to lead the way at point guard, Batavia has plenty of reason to be optimistic about the upside of this squad. Jensen said Carlson is one of the toughest and most explosive players he’s ever coached. 

“I think we’re pretty good as a pair,” Towers said. “Me and her, we work so well together. She is such a great passer … She can move the ball around so well. I feel like me and her this year are going to be unstoppable.” 

With the Bulldogs competing with a renewed hunger at the Geneva and Morton College summer leagues, Jensen can’t help but have a certain ring to his voice as he anticipates what’s to come.  

“I can see in a lot of their eyes, even what we’ve done in the summer, the level of focus and the level of seriousness in which they’re taking even the little things, from my standpoint,” Jensen said. “It’s really fun to see.”

Towers wants to expand her shooting range and level of comfort further from the basket this season. She’s just fine taking her time before ultimately taking her quiet, but growing confidence to Madison.

“I want to help my team as much as I can,” Towers said. “I just want to have a great senior year this year and play our hardest and make it as far as we can.”

New Head Coach Sean Connor is Learning and Doing for Antioch

Sean Connor is a man of different sides. He’s a father and husband. A math teacher. A sophomore basketball and ultimate frisbee coach. The man who runs fall basketball league.

It’s no surprise that Antioch’s new head varsity boys basketball coach knows what it takes to juggle tasks. He’s worn many hats coaching, scouting and organizing in the world of high school hoops. Still, Connor — who spent seven years at Chicago’s DePaul College prep teaching and coaching — bided his time before taking a head coaching job.

“I think I always knew I had a lot to learn,” Connor, now a Grayslake resident, said. “You look at all the different experiences I’ve had, and the more head coaches I was under the more I realized, ‘Like man, you’ve really got to make sure you understand this facet or this facet.’”

“It’s easy to say you want to be a varsity coach, but you’ve got to realize when you take on that duty, there’s more to it than just running the varsity team,” he continued.

Connor was hired Thursday, June 18, by Antioch. He was immediately thrust into the role: That same day at the Carmel Catholic Summer League he got to see his new Sequoit players in action.

Connor’s most recent coaching experience was at DePaul College Prep as the head sophomore coach, winning two Catholic League titles in six seasons. Before that he was with the sophomores at York and Geneva, and he has other experience building up youth feeder programs at programs like Marmion.

At DePaul, and when it was previously known as Gordon Tech, Connor was an assistant coach for a program in a school without much recent historical success before Tom Kleinschmidt’s arrival. 

“It was hard to rebuild the program and try to help coach Kleinschmidt achieve the vision he had and what we wanted to be,” Connor said. “That was a long process. Obviously it’s very fulfilling to see everything come to a head this past year after going downstate and having the opportunity to see the guys compete in the Chipotle Classic. But I know some people didn’t understand the amount of work that really went in over the last 8-to-10 years in rebuilding that thing, and how many times people said no and, ‘DePaul’s not good enough.’

“It’s just been a really cool experience to be part of that rebuild and have all these visions and goals the school set and a lot of them come to fulfillment,” he added.

That type of experience informed the type of attributes he wants his program at Antioch to showcase. That doesn’t mean he will remove any agency from his Sequoits players. 

Connor wants his players to take ownership of what’s to come in the process of program-building. He wants this especially for the upcoming seniors — a group who have seen three varsity coaches during their tenure after Tim Bowen’s departure after two seasons.

“I’ve always been very student-centered,” Connor said. “One of the things we’re going to do this week, and I’ve given the guys homework, is to think about what do you want Antioch basketball to be known for. Because I don’t think it’s appropriate that I come in and tell them what they should be in a community that I don’t have very strong roots in.”

A Woodstock graduate who still has family there, a more recent move to Grayslake put Connor’s family in a good position to look for new head coaching jobs. Growing up in Woodstock, Connor says he relates to what kids from Antioch experience growing up. He doesn’t doubt that will greatly influence the team they become. With an already organized feeder program — a selling point for Connor, who is already familiar with the region north of Chicago — he anticipates fitting in with the community’s existing identity. 

“(Antioch) and Woodstock are both blue collar, out on the rim of the country versus suburban area, and I really relate to a lot of the kids in the community,” Connor said. “Because I grew up in a similar situation where you have just enough and have you have to work hard to get by.”

The newly anointed head coach was looking forward to taking his team to compete at Rockford and getting to know his new players. Kobe Kriese, a threat to fill the hoop up a season ago, is now gone. 

Antioch has some seniors leaders and a large group of returning juniors. It also has talented underclassmen in sophomores like Coby Priller and Carter Webb back and the anticipated arrival of freshman Marshall Gehrke. Many moving pieces create a cloudy but enticing picture for the team’s future. 

“The seniors have been fantastic in terms of leadership, being where they need to be and starting to give input as to where they want to be,” Connor said. 

“There’s a very cool blend of experience: a lot of guys with varsity experience and then some young talent,” he continued. “We’ve got four players over 6-5, so it’ll be really cool to watch these guys grow over the summer and then really interesting to see what it looks like in November.”

While Antioch has had some recent success — the Sequoits won three consecutive regional titles between 2016 and 2018 despite three losing records — Connor things they can elevate past the traditional powers north of Chicago. 

“I think they can disrupt the status quo in Illinois basketball because nobody is always looking at Antioch as the team to come out of the north suburbs,” Connor said. “Since you know it’s North Chicago, Waukegan, Zion-Benton, Round Lake and some of these other programs have been really strong. It’ll be really cool to track us over these next few years.

Girls Underclassmen to Watch: Black Diamond Conference

AMIAH HARGROVE | CHRISTOPHER

POWER FORWARD | Fr. | 6-2

23.1 PPG | 11.2 RPG | 1.5 APG | 3.0 BPG 

  • First Team All-State: AP 
  • First Team All-State: IBCA
  • First Team and MVP: Black Diamond West Division
  • All-South Team: Southern Illinois Coaches Association
  • Led Christopher turnaround from 5-24 in 2019-20 to 10-1 overall, 9-1 conference record in 2020-21 as outright Black Diamond West champs
  • Offers: Illinois, Missouri State, Arkansas State

AWARDS

OFFERS

COACH'S COMMENTS

“For most of the year, we started four sophomores and a freshman. We are only graduating two of the fourteen players on the roster this year. Our entire starting lineup will be back next year. I was proud of the way the girls competed this year. After going 5-24 last year, it was a major turnaround. Part of that turnaround was adding a phenomenal freshman in Amiah Hargorve. The other part was the experience that the now sophomores gained as freshman at the varsity level last year. We held teams to 35 points a game on defense.” – Coach Seiger Shurtz

MAKAYLA DEJEAR | CHRISTOPHER

GUARD | So. | 5-4

7.9 PPG | 2.5 RPG | 1.5 SPG 

  • All-Conference: Black Diamond West Division
  • Team-high 21 three-pointers made
  • Hudl Profile

AWARDS

CARSON BELANGEE | HAMILTON COUNTY

GUARD | So. | 5-7

8.7 PPG | 3.0 RPG | 2.1 APG | 1.1 SPG 

  • All-Conference: Black Diamond East Division

AWARDS

KAELEE KARCHER | HAMILTON COUNTY

FORWARD | So. | 5-8

8.1 PPG | 3.1 RPG | 1.4 APG  | 1.6 SPG

  • All-Conference: Black Diamond East Division

  • Scored career-high 19 points against Fairfield

  • Also all-conference volleyball player

AWARDS

KATE BOOK | FAIRFIELD

GUARD | So. | 5-7

4.6 PPG | 56.8 FG% 

  • All Conference: Black Diamond East Division
  • 4.6 points, shot 56.8% from the floor

AWARDS

ISABEL SHEPHARD | EDWARDS COUNTY

FORWARD | So. | 5-8

  • All-Conference: Black Diamond East Division 
  • Scored 20 points twice as a freshman
  • Hudl profile

AWARDS

Girls Underclassmen to Watch: Big Twelve Conference

With the shortened 2020-21 hoops season in the books, Illinois-Basketball.com is on a mission this offseason to make note of some of the best returning players in the state.

We’ve been tracking all-conference honors and other awards since the season ended, and have reached out to every coach in the conference for statistics and other info.

Below are the top-performing underclassmen from the Big Twelve Conference.

Big Twelve Conference Girls Underclassmen

DENALI CRAIG-EDWARDS | PEORIA

WING | So. | 6-0

17.5 PPG | 11 RPG | 3 APG | 2 SPG 

COACH'S COMMENTS

“Exceptional understanding for the game, athletic, strong, creates numerous mismatches with her versatility, size, and tremendous 3-point shooting.  She is also an Exceptional Student with a 4.0 GPA.” – Coach Meeche Edwards

AWARDS

AALIYAH GUYTON | PEORIA

GUARD | FR. | 5-7

17 PPG | 3 RPG | 4 APG | 3 SPG 

COACH'S COMMENTS

“Point guard/Shooting guard with phenomenal understanding for the game.  Ability to finish around the bucket and create opportunities for her players.  An excellent shooter and slasher, with tremendous work ethic on and off the floor.  She is another exceptional student with a 3.9 GPA.” – Coach Meechie Edwards

AWARDS

COLLEGE OFFERS

Vanderbilt

JA'KIYA JORDAN | PEORIA

GUARD | Fr. | 5-10

6 PPG | 2 RPG 

COACH'S COMMENTS

“Exceptional ability to finish around the bucket, and create mismatches as well with her ability to shoot from beyond the 3-point line and standing at a strong 5’10”.  Great room for growth and the hunger to get better everyday. For her age, understands the game well, works hard, and is another exceptional student with a 4.0 GPA. – Coach Meechie Edwards

MYA WARDLE | PEORIA NOTRE DAME

GUARD | Fr. | 5-7

12.6 PPG 

  • IBCA Class 3A All-State Special Mention

  • First team All-Big Twelve

AWARDS

COLLEGE OFFERS

Eastern Illinois

ELIZABETH DALY | PEORIA NOTRE DAME

FORWARD | So. | 6-0

5.6 RPG 

  • First team All-Big Twelve

AWARDS

SOPHIA FEENEY | NORMAL COMMUNITY

GUARD | So. | 5-4

14.8 PPG | 5.3 RPG 

  • First team All-Big Twelve

AWARDS

KAMRYN HEIDER | RICHWOODS

GUARD | Fr. | 5-7

  • First team all-Big Twelve

  • Had a 22-point, 6 3-pointer, 6-steal, 8-assist game

AWARDS

ASHLEY WILCOX | NORMAL WEST

GUARD | So. | 5-8

  • First team All-Big Twelve

AWARDS

KATIE BARGER | BLOOMINGTON

POINT GUARD | So. | 5-8

  • Honorable mention All-Big Twelve
  • 12-points, 13-rebound, 4-assist game vs. Manual
  • 16-point, 8-rebound game against Champaign Central.
  • Hudl profile

AWARDS

AVERY LOSCHEN | CENTENNIAL

GUARD | So. | 5-6

AWARDS

ADDY MCLEOD | CENTRAL

GUARD | So. | 5-5

  • Honorable mention All-Big Twelve

  • Champaign News-Gazette honorable mention

  • Scored 19 in a win over Manual, 16 in a loss to Peoria Notre Dame

AWARDS

MCKENZIE SPRAGUE | URBANA

GUARD | So.

  • Honorable mention All-Big Twelve

AWARDS

‘The Missing Piece:’ Okaw Valley grad wins National Player of the Year

From tiny Bethany, Illinois (population 1,216), Drury University junior Paige Robinson seemed destined for big things from the outset of her basketball career. 

Okay Valley girls basketball coach Brad Ackers saw it from the beginning of her time on the team there. Ackers calls Robinson a gym rat and said he’s not all that surprised by her success.

“Paige’s IQ is off the charts in terms of the game of basketball and her instinct,” Ackers said. “She’s as skilled as any player I’ve ever been around in terms of ball-handling and shooting. That’s been apparent pretty much from the get-go.”

The junior for the NCAA Division II national runner-up Drury Panthers received a phone call recently that may not have shocked her high school coach, but certainly took her aback.  

Robinson had been named the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division II National Player of The Year. 

“I got a random phone call from my head coach (Amy Eagan),” Robinson said. “Didn’t expect it whatsoever and I started bawling my eyes out. It just proves my hard work paid off.”

Robinson, boasted averages per game of 21.1 points, 4.8 assists, 2 steals and 2.4 3-pointers, and sank 39.6% of her three-point shots this season. Robinson said it was her defense that perhaps had improved the most.

“I was always known as a scorer in high school, and even in my freshman and sophomore year (of college),” Robinson said. “I think I’ve matured as a player and as a person on and off the court.”

The award was handed down just before the Panthers played in the Division II national semifinals in Columbus, Ohio. Robinson had already collected Great Lakes Valley Conference regular season and conference tournament MVP for the Panthers, who went on to fall in the national championship game to defending champs Lubbock Christian 69-59.

When Robinson was being recruited by Drury, while also drawing Division I interest simultaneously, a piece of confidence in Robinson’s abilities from the Drury staff stuck with her. As the 2017-18 Mattoon Journal Gazette & Charleston Times-Courier Player of The Year, Robinson had put many excellent pieces of her game together.

“When I was getting recruited my coach was telling me you’re the missing piece to a national championship and that just really stuck with me,” Robinson said. “That was a huge part in me coming to Drury and I’m glad I’m here.”

Drury was undefeated in 2019-20 before the pandemic brought a premature end to the campaign. Getting as far as Drury has this season, after losing several important seniors from that group, fell largely on the shoulders of the Okaw Valley graduate. 

“We had a lot of people thinking we weren’t going to make it as far as we did,” Robinson said. “We had a few seniors graduate. We had a girl before me, Hailey Diestelkamp, she was the national player of the year and everyone thought that since she was leaving and Daejah Bernard was leaving they thought that we weren’t going to make it all the way. So we just used that as a chip on our shoulders and carried that with us throughout the season.”

The Panthers won by single-digits in the national quarterfinals and semifinals in the Greater Columbus Convention Center. That came after a round of 16 home victory over national power Ashland (OH). 

The game being played at the convention center is the latest in a line of slights that women’s basketball advocates have highlighted toward the end of this past season most notably. 

Robinson said each team at the championship game was allotted 36 tickets apiece, and the game was played in a ballroom. 

By comparison, the men’s Division II title game was played at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana, an arena with a seating capacity of 11,000 with seemingly several hundred in attendance (official attendance listed as 1,080). 

“I think when people think of D-II, they think of those kids who couldn’t have made it D-I, but a lot of us had D-I offers and we could easily go up to D-I and compete with those kids,” Robinson said. “I think if people watch us, they can see how high of a level we play at and how much we deserve as athletes. It was disappointing like I said to play at an arena like that, but I think if people give us more support, they’ll see why we think we deserve more.”

The Panthers came from behind multiple times in the tournament to get to the final, and even came from down 20 to within four points in the title game. 

Robinson, who is currently treating some nagging injuries while entering offseason mode, is already thinking of what it’ll take to elevate things to another level next season for the Panthers. 

Paige Robinson dribbles down the court in an NCAA tournament game against Ashland. (Credit -Terry Griffin, DU sports communications)

Not that Robinson isn’t used to playing through trouble. As a high schooler, Robinson fought through what she didn’t know was a torn labrum sustained in Okaw Valley’s conference tournament, and played through the pain to the state semifinals. Ackers also mentioned other injuries Robinson has gutted out. 

“She’s a killer,” Achers said. “She just is.”  

It takes more than nagging injuries to keep her off the floor. 

“We take away It takes a lot of hard work to get there,” Robinson said. “We’re not just going to walk in to the season next year and just expect to get that far. We took a tough loss in the middle of the season, and I think that shaped us into then team we were at the end of the season.”

Next season, Robinson will see how a storybook season fits in the puzzle of the Division II landscape. 

“Losing it last year due to COVID and then actually getting all the way this year, it was a huge stride for us,” Robinson said. “Hopefully we’ll be back there next year.

Girls Underclassmen to Watch: Big Northern Conference

With the shortened 2020-21 hoops season in the books, Illinois-Basketball.com is on a mission this offseason to make note of some of the best returning players in the state.

We’ve been tracking all-conference honors and other awards since the season ended, and have reached out to every coach in the conference for statistics and other info.

Below are the top-performing underclassmen from the Big Northern Conference.

ELLA GOVIG | DIXON

FORWARD | So. | 5-11

10.1 PPG | 7.8 RPG | 1.5 APG | 1.1 BPG 

  • Second team all-BNC
  • Sauk Valley media honorable mention all-area
  • Eight double-doubles in sophomore season

AWARDS

COACH'S COMMENTS

“Ella is a gifted post scorer and finisher but is also incredibly smart and plays with amazing heart, competes hard on every play. Even as a sophomore she was a tremendous leader for us and brought energy to everything she did, and she did that while guarding everyone’s top option in the post. Had big scoring games in several big wins, including at Byron (17) and vs Bago (12).” – Luke Ravlin

AVA KULTGEN | BYRON

WING | So.

CAMPBELL SCHRANK | WINNEBAGO

GUARD | So. | 5-9

AWARDS

ELLA GRUNDSTROM | BYRON

GUARD | So.

AWARDS

SYDNEY CARLSON | ROCKFORD LUTHERAN

So.

  • Honorable mention All-BNC

AWARDS

HADLEY LUTZ | OREGON

WING | So.

10.3 PPG | 4.9 RPG  | 2.6 APG | 1.9 SPG

AWARDS

COURTNEY PARK | ROCKFORD CHRISTIAN

FORWARD | So. | 5-11

7.2 PPG | 5.1 RPG | 1.2 BPG | 1.1 SPG

  • Honorable mention All-BNC
  • Shot 53-of-112 from the field (47.3%)

AWARDS

KAITLYN PARK | ROCKFORD CHRISTIAN

FORWARD | Fr.

7.4 PPG | 3.3 RPG | 1.2 SPG

  • Team-high 18 3-pointers on 36.7% shooting

Girls Underclassmen to watch: Apollo Conference

With the shortened 2020-21 hoops season in the books, Illinois-Basketball.com is on a mission this offseason to make note of some of the best returning players in the state.

We’ve been tracking all-conference honors and other awards since the season ended, and have reached out to every coach in the conference for statistics and other info.

Below are the top-performing underclassmen from the Apollo Conference.

KLOE FROEBE | LINCOLN

POINT GUARD | Fr. | 5-9

26.4 PPG 

  • One of the best class of 2024 players in the state
  • IBCA all-state honoree; only freshman on the 3A team
  • AP First Team All-State
  • Holds scholarship offers from Illinois, Harvard
  • Broke program freshman scoring record, averaged 26.3 points per game
  • First team all-Apollo

OFFERS

AWARDS

DENVER ANDERSON | MT. ZION

GUARD | Fr. | 5-11

17 PPG | 9 RPG 

  • IBCA 3A Honorable Mention
  • First-team All-Apollo
  • Averaged 17 points, 9 rebounds

AWARDS

SAVANNAH ORGERON | MAHOMET-SEYMOUR

FORWARD | So. | 5-11

14.8 PPG | 5.3 RPG 

AWARDS

DURBIN THOMAS | MAHOMET-SEYMOUR

GUARD | So. | 5-5

8.2 PPG | 3.4 RPG | 3.6 APG | 1.9 SPG

  • Special Mention All-Champaign News-Gazette
  • Averaged 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.9 steals; shot 71% from the free-throw line

AWARDS

ALYCIA TRIPLETT | CHARLESTON

FORWARD | So. | 5-11

10.2 PPG | 10.1 RPG | 1.4 BPG | 2.5 SPG

  • Second-team All-Apollo
  • Had a 16-point, 21-rebound game
  • Averaged 10.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 1.4 blocks (per MaxPreps)

AWARDS

ANNIE FROST | EFFINGHAM

FORWARD | So. | 5-10

  • Second-team All-Apollo

AWARDS

AUBREY KIETZMAN | TAYLORVILLE

GUARD | Fr. | 5-5

8.4 PPG | 1.1 SPG

  • Averaged 8.4 points; 1.1 steals
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