Category Archives: Boys

Vision Clear as Bolingbrook/St. Ignatius Pair Commit to Miami RedHawks

Vision Clear as Bolingbrook/St. Ignatius Pair Commit to Miami RedHawks

By Kaleb Carter

Jackson Kotecki and Mekhi Cooper both feel that there is a well-detailed plan laid out before them. That trust provided to them by the Miami RedHawks coaching staff is what led the pair to both commit within days of each other to the Division I men’s basketball program in Oxford, Ohio. 

 

Cooper, a 5-10 Class of 2023 guard for Bolingbrook, and Kotecki, a 6-9 Class of 2023 forward for St. Ignatius, both cited a vision shown to them by the Miami coaches in their recruiting visits. Kotecki said he bonded with the Miami coaches more than any other staff. 

 

“I enjoyed every second of it,” Kotecki said of his visit. “The coaches’ plan for me, they physically gave me …a spreadsheet thing of how they’re going to develop me. They showed me the plan. It wasn’t like they were just saying it so that they gave me confidence that they’re really going to help develop me as a player.”

Cooper said that he believes he’ll develop well under Steele’s tutelage. 

 

“It feels great to have made a decision the biggest factors (for) me were the coaching staff from Miami showed so much love and support during the recruiting process and got to build a strong relationship,” Cooper said. “I also loved coach Steele(‘s) focus on player development and how much he believes and trust me.”

The pair are familiar with one another, having played together before for travel club Mac Irvin Fire. 

 

“I’m really excited man,” Kotecki said. “Mekhi was my man on the Fire and to be going to college together is awesome.”

 

“I know Jackson well, we (played) together one year of AAU, so that felt good to team up with him again,” Cooper said. 

Kotecki is plenty confident in his growing offensive skills, but is aware teams came calling when they saw his defensive capabilities guarding players all over the floor. 

 

“They (Miami) really wanted me and wanted to build their team around having tall, versatile guys, guys that can play multiple positions, not just one position,” Kantecki said. “That was something I was looking for in a program.”

 

Kotecki picked up his first offer in June and admitted it was stressful to see so many players around him picking up offers before him. He had confidence in his own abilities, but wasn’t seeing the interest from coaches he expected. 

 

“You see all your friends that you play with getting offers and you’re like, ‘why am I not getting offers?’ And that starts going through your mind,” Kotecki said. “Just knowing from experience and having to play through that was tough, but I just had to power through that and I did and it worked out.”

 

The big man said that his coaches, from Matt Monroe with the Wolfpack, to his Fundamental U coaches, gave him the confidence to grow this summer. It proved to be the needed growth for colleges to come clamoring. 

 

“To go out there and play with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder and be like ‘yeah, I am better than most of these kids that are ranked higher than me and just trying to not worry about that,’” Kotecki said. “Just going out and whoever is put in front of me I’m going to lock them up and I’m going to go as hard as I can through the whole game.”

 

Both state semifinalists a year ago, (Bolingbrook in 4A and St. Ignatius in 3A), the pair, both verbal commits, bring a winning pedigree to coach Travis Steele’s first recruiting class at the helm of the RedHawks. The RedHawks already have Illinois ties. 


Deerfield graduate Jackson Kenyon is a rising senior on the roster. Senior guard Will Stevens is a Chicago native. Sophomore Bryson Tatum is an Urbana graduate. Steele was also once a men’s basketball assistant at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel. 

 

Cooper, a standout at the Ridgewood Shootout this summer, put much on display in his game that leads writers like yours truly to believe he will quickly be college-ready.  Coach Robert Brost’s Raiders do tend to churn out college-ready players with remarkable consistency. 

 

“This year I really want to get bigger and stronger and this season I’m hoping to get back downstate and get a ring,” Cooper said.

 

“I know we’ll be able to get back down to state,” Kotecki said. “I have the confidence in our guys. Even though we have a younger team, we lost a lot of seniors, I know the younger guys are going to be able to step up. We’re going to be able to get back down to where we were and hopefully further.”

Ridgewood Notebook: Indrusaitis Settling In With St. Rita; Notes on Bloom’s Brown, WV’s Langendorf

Ridgewood Notebook: Indrusaitis Settling In With St. Rita; Notes on Bloom’s Brown, WV’s Langendorf

By Kaleb Carter

Nojus Indrusaitis is drawing eyes on a national level after an explosive sophomore season. But his prep career has taken him into Chicago, as the rising junior has a new squad.

The class of 2024 wing was previously part of a burgeoning young group at Lemont. Early June he shared his intent to transfer and has been playing with the St. Rita Mustangs since.

He’ll join an already talented group with power conference recruiting prowess from the likes of fellow rising juniors Morez Johnson, an Illinois commit, and James Brown.

After going 23-12 a season ago, Indrusaitis’ arrival places the Mustangs among the upper echelon of the state a season removed from a sectional finals appearance (a 75-68 loss to consensus Illinois top-10 squad Kenwood). 

The Sun-Times’ Michael O’Brien actually had Lemont ranked higher in his 2021-22 end-of-season Super 25 rankings (Lemont at 13, St. Rita at 22). But Indrusaits’ presence makes St. Rita instantly superior to last season’s team in terms of talent on the floor. 

“It was just an opportunity to play against the best, and getting better is my main priority,” Indrusaitis said. “My goal would be to be a better defender for next year.”

At the Ridgewood Live Event (June 24-26) and Riverside Brookfield Shootout (the weekend prior), Indrusaitis’ athleticism was on display. The lengthy 6-6 combo player, said he’s hit a growth spurt since last year.

The capable scorer recently picked up offers from Marquette, Missouri and Iowa. He’s held an offer from Illinois since last season, and has offers from DePaul and Maryland as well. 

Indrusaitis said that needed chemistry with his new teammates will come through time spent together on the court. 

“I want to have a good relationship with them,” Indrusaitis said. “(I’m) looking for the best opportunity like finding out where I could impact winning.”

Indrusaitis has been playing on the Meanstreets 16U AAU team, and is plenty familiar with teammate Brown. 

“Our mindset is to win every time we step on the floor and be aggressive on defense,” Indrusaitis said. “Just being the best that I can motivates me.”

Jordan Brown Finding His Voice for Reloaded Bloom Township

Jordan Brown is an unassuming presence on the basketball court. But he should begin to draw eyes as Bloom reloads with a talented bunch of returners and transfers. 

Bloom lost its top two scorers from a season ago in brothers K.J. and Gianni Cobb, as the pair transferred to Perspectives. 

Brown is a 6-3 senior guard who facilitates aplenty and was able to step into big scoring role at times a season ago. He will have to more in 2022-23 as the top returning scorer. 

Coach Dante Maddox Sr. said that while 6-7 senior center Michael Garner is the most vocal of those on the floor, he’s pushing Brown to take on a bigger role in that facet of the game. 

“I’ve just been trying to use my voice,” Brown said. “I used to be real quiet because I was scared to talk. But as coach is trusting me more, I started to get comfortable with talking to my teammates.”

“Jordan is a 3.5 [GPA] student,” Maddox Sr. said. “High character, low maintenance and is selfless. He is about the team and has been raised right by his family. Family-oriented young man. He will help a program because he is a winner on and off the court.

Maddox also noted that Raeshom Harris, a 6-4 senior guard, will be key in helping new transfers adapt to the culture of the program, as will junior wings Jaden Clark (6–4) and Santana Flowers (6-5). 

Transfers Elijah Livermore (sophomore point guard), and seniors Jayden Watson (6-6) and Lierre Collier (6-2) will contribute majorly. 

At the Ridgewood Live Event, the Blazing Trojans trounced St. Charles North and handed New Trier a double-digit defeat, both of which Illinois-basketball.com was in attendance for. Bloom also defeated DePaul Prep and Normal West. 

Brown said he has lofty goals for the season. To get there, he knows his shooting has to improve, and he’s confident the college offers will soon begin to roll in. Improving his shooting is his most immediate goal. 

“I noticed throughout the course of last year’s season, teams having been making me shoot because I go the basket so much, so shooting 100,” he said. 

Langendorf Keys in on Defense for Waubonsie Valley

The offensive production isn’t in question for Waubonsie Valley 6-6 senior forward Jackson Langendorf. 

The Langendorf name has been a feature of Aurora-area hoops the last few years. His brother Carter, once an all-DuPage Valley Conference player, is now playing at Concordia University. 

Jackson Langendorf was an all-DVC player and second team Naperville Sun all-area while averaging 11.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game as a junior. At Ridgewood, he showed off an array of back-to-the-basket moves in the post, as well as some face-up looks to mid-range depth. He’s already taken time to add to his offensive game this offseason. 

“I thought I had a good [junior] season, but there was a lot more I could’ve done and it was my first varsity season so I definitely learned a lot,” the rising senior said. “This year I definitely feel like I’ve gotten stronger and more athletic and will improve upon both those things throughout the rest of the summer. I’ve also sped up my shot and cleaned up the mechanics, so I’m feeling a lot more confident in that. And I feel like I’m really versatile, so I’m pretty excited about what I and the team can do this season.”

Where Langendorf knows he needs to be part of something bigger is on the defensive side of the ball in the second year under coach Andrew Schweitzer. 

“We have such long close outs we’ve got to be able to contest while not letting guys just get in the lane,” Langendorf said. “But one of the other biggest things is communication. Again that’s important in any defense but because our defense is always changing — due to personnel or play style of the other team — we really have to communicate. For me, the biggest things to make us successful is playing physical and keeping the ball out of the post when we can, then contesting shots in the corners and definitely rebounding.”

Teammate Treshawn Blissett, a junior 6-5 forward, also garnered attention at Ridgewood. 

For the weekend, the Warriors lost to Glenbrook North, Riverside Brookfield and Marist, but found themsleves in lower-scoring games, seemingly to their liking. Before Ridgewood, the Warriors had blossomed at Normal West’s shootout, which included a 16-point win over Rock Island. 

“The summer has been going really well for us,” Langendorf said. “We went 4-0 last weekend at Normal West, and we’ve been spending a lot of time in the weight room and getting more athletic. As a group this offseason we’re working on getting even better at our defense because it’s our second year playing it as a program and it’s so unique. And we’re also working on sharpening up our offense of course, but I’d say our biggest priority besides the X’s and O’s has definitely been the weight room.”

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.”

Hinton’s Maturation Lands Him Spot with D-II Power Northwest Missouri State

This summer, early in his final AAU season with M14 hoops, Jonah Hinton was trying to do too much. He was frustrated that his game wasn’t improving as fast as he had hoped.

A new attitude helped. Having confidence and enjoying himself started to pay off on the floor.

“I think a lot of young players put a lot of stress on ourselves with this expectation of being this social media (star) and being five-star recruits and things like that,” Hinton said. “They look at these people like role models and trying to be like them and instead of being more like yourself. I think I figured that out the second half of AAU … after the month of May I figured that out and my performance, I started to play more like myself. I was more aggressive, I was trying new things and a lot of that worked out and helped me out.” 

Hinton, a 6-1, 165-pound guard, said the travel coaching staff, as well as basketball trainer Ryan Paradise, contributed to his changing mindset. 

“I was trying to do too much,” Hinton said. “I was thinking on the court too much and that was causing me to turn the ball over, not be able to handle the pressure as well. Some of the pointers they gave me was just, ‘Keep it simple.’ I think that’s the best advice I got.

“Don’t make things too complicated,” Hinton added. “Just read a defender and make a move, read the secondary defense. And that really helped me as a point guard.”

Former RedHawks star Chris Conway, now a contributor at Oakland University, had similar advice for Hinton.

“I did not play varsity my freshman and sophomore year, but he (Conway) was there watching my games, giving me pointers, just giving me different things to do on the court, and another thing he was saying was to just keep it simple,” Hinton said. 

Having long-held Division I dreams, Hinton elected to commit to Division II powerhouse Northwest Missouri State, which has won three of the last four national championships. The Bearcats’ current roster features Illinois natives Mitch Mascari, a redshirt freshman from Geneva, and freshman Luke Moustakas, a Brother Rice graduate.

“They had recruited me toward the end of my AAU season, but I had been looking at them and I went on a visit right before senior year started,” Hinton said. “The business school is really good and that’s what I think I want to major in. And their basketball program, they are the top Division II program. The system … the way they run their offense and things like that, success, winning, I really want to be a part of that type of culture.”

This season for Naperville Central, Hinton has become a vocal leader who has been willing to make plays late for a now 19-7 RedHawks squad. The RedHawks core has led them to 10 wins in their last 13 games. 

“Jonah and Mantas Zilys and James Jopes, the three of them are a trio, but those two can really score in different ways and Jopes is more of a three-point specialist,” Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer said.

Naperville Central fell to 6-3 in the DuPage Valley Conference after a loss to DeKalb Friday.

“Over the summer, I wasn’t really as vocal because I had other players around that me that they’re going to college to play basketball and that’s what their focus is, so we click better on that level,” Hinton said. “Naperville Central has definitely taught me to be more of a leader, be more vocal so I can get everyone on the same page as me.”

Hinton has already proven his mettle against the DVC, leading the RedHawks from 16 down in the fourth quarter in a 59-56 win over DeKalb and 10 down to a victory against rival Naperville North, 71-61. Sandwiched between that was a heavy 72-53 loss to Neuqua Valley.

So it goes in the parity-filled DVC. 

“He refuses to let his team or himself go down without a fight,” Kramer said of the comeback wins.

Kramer noted that he thinks that Hinton will grow yet, and needs to build muscle onto his frame to excel at the next level. But for now, he’s taking over games like he did against Naperville North and DeKalb. 

“It was unbelievable,” Kramer said. “That stuff doesn’t happen unless you have a great leader, and that’s what he is. He makes his teammates better, he contributes every way he can in all aspects of the game. He’s a special player and I’m extremely happy for him to go to a school of that caliber.”

After developing his game in near every facet — Kramer says he shoots well from deep and in the mid-range, and is finding teammates for looks more than ever — Hinton is looking well-prepared to play at the collegiate level.

“He’s improved a ton from last year,” Kramer said. “We liked where he was at last year, but he’s put in a lot of hard work and just developed all aspects of his game. I think a big part of his game is maturity. He doesn’t get rattled.

“When he was younger he would maybe let certain things affect him,” Kramer added. “[But now] his composure is outstanding and kind of lets the game come to him a little bit more.”

Undefeated Richland County (Olney) Tigers understand their roles; Kennard leading Mt. Carmel

There’s nothing particularly flashy about what the Richland County (Olney) Tigers do. No magic tricks were needed to defeat the Mt. Carmel Aces 52-40, as Chase Travis and the Tigers improved to 18-0 and grabbed full control of the Little Illini Conference race.

Sophomore guard Ian Winkler and senior guard Drew Blank each scored a game-high 15 points, including some early buckets when Mt. Carmel was having some offensive success in the first half. Blank hit timely shots and a number of Tigers stepped up at the free throw line. 

With the game still hanging in the balance with 1:10 to go, junior guard Dawson Brown drilled a three-pointer right in front of the Tiger bench to put the Tigers up 46-40.

Senior wing Chase Travis, despite being held relatively in-check — Travis is averaging 20.1 points per game after scoring 12 Friday — has seen his teammates make timely plays again and again as the Tigers (18-0, 5-0 LIC) have won eight games by single digits. He had the go-ahead assist that put the Tigers up 42-40 and helped Olney end the game on a 14-0 run.

Richland County continues to find ways to get the job done, and keep its undefeated stretch going. 

“In the season and times that we live in right now, there are so many things able to go wrong with quarantining and things that we have had some keys guys miss games,” Travis said. “And we are so deep that we still win when we don’t have everyone or [are] not at 100 percent.

“I think we have different guys for different situations, so one night might call for other guys that provide more strength and toughness, while the next night will require a little more outside shooting,” Travis continued. “And I think people understand these roles and step up when it is their time.”

Travis has become one of southern Illinois’ top producers, showing an all-around game that frequently has him finishing smoothly and efficiently at the rim.

“The most important thing for me is the off-season work I put in, working on my game both on the court and a bunch of work in the weight room,” Travis said. “But last year helped me a lot because we had no seniors so I got to step up last year and fill that role.”

Defeating Mt. Carmel Friday in a raucous environment, gave the battle-tested Tigers another boost of confidence. 

“We need(ed) to be ready for them to give us everything they have, and we have to play well because life on the road is tough,” Travis said.  “So staying mentally tough is one of the biggest things we try and keep at the forefront of everything we do. But with all that being said, we did beat them twice and we have a really good all-around team, so there is still a confidence with that that needs to be brought to the game.”

 

The Tigers’ best overall state finish in coach Rob Flanagan’s tenure, a stretch that dates back to 1998, was third in 2A in 2008. The Tigers’ last regional title, which was in 2A, came in the 2011-12 season.

This year, Richland County is one of the smaller 3A programs in the state at 735 students. The cut-off for 3A currently for basketball is (685.1) and over.

As for Travis, his goals going forward remain simple. 

“Just keep showing up each game to give ourselves a chance to win,” Travis said. “A goal of mine has always been to be a part of the first 3A regional championship team at Olney.”

 

Mt. Carmel got 10 points from Blayne Sisson and 9 each from Gage Kennard and Gavin Smith. Smith in particular came through with timely buckets in the second half that gave Mt. Carmel life and several early fourth-quarter leads.

Kennard has been the team’s primary scorer, filling up the hoop to the tune of 22 points per game. 

“He has started since he was a freshman and has always been a great shooter, but this year he has really added a lot to his game,” Aces coach Tyler Buss said. “He’s scoring in a variety of different ways for us.” 

Buss said the team is at its best when wearing opponents down with its defense and pressure. That has led to strong second halves of play for the Aces.

Of the Aces’ five losses, three have come to Olney. The two squads could play a fourth time, as the Little Illini Conference Tournament looms. 

“We need to get back to what got us off to a great start,” Buss said. “We have hit a rough patch and we are really going to rely on our upperclassmen to lead us through this. We need to be more consistent on the offensive end. Not just shooting the ball but paying attention to detail and just cleaning up a lot of our actions. I really feel that at its best, this team is good enough to win a regional and sectional. But we have also shown if we don’t bring it on both ends we could get beat by just about anyone.”

This story has been updated with quotes from Aces coach Tyler Buss.

 

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