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Fearless Whitney Dunn has Kenwood feeling mighty at end of season

Dunn

It doesn’t seem right to say that an undefeated team is the future of girls basketball in the state of Illinois, but that accurately portrays the Kenwood Broncos right now.

A year removed from a 27-7 season and a regional title,  Andre Lewis’ crew at Kenwood Academy raced through a pandemic-shortened season to a 13-0 mark — 9-0 in the Chicago Public League Red-South Central division. The Broncos also won the closest thing to a city championship that was possible in 2021.

On Saturday, March 20, Whitney Dunn led the Broncos to a 13-point fourth-quarter comeback on the road against Simeon, winning 73-66 in a redemptive moment against the defending 3A state champion.

“Just realizing this is close to the end of the season, end of the game, and we felt how we were feeling during city last year where we lost and all of those emotions and stuff… I feel like we recognized that this is important and that we can’t just give up and stop just because it looks bad now,” Dunn said. “At the end of the day, it’s basketball. Anything can happen. I feel like us thinking about that allowed us to play better, pick it up and start making shots.”

The junior guard’s 26-point, 5-assist effort helped bookend a rapid-fire season, a year in which Dunn further engraved herself into the conscience of girls hoop heads, who now know just how much the Broncos are not to be messed with.

“She’s fearless, she never backs down,” Lewis said. “Whitney plays her game no matter who we play against. It never changes.”

Against Simeon, it was more of the same, but with a missing piece that had to be accounted for.

When Brianna McDaniel, the top-ranked Illinois junior, went down with an ACL and meniscus tear against Evanston on March 7 the Broncos still had  half of their games remaining in a two-week span. 

“The fourth quarter versus Simeon was a testament to everything we preached all year about defending and rebounding and it generated our offense,” Lewis said.

Dunn admitted that playing without the team’s star was awkward at first, but the loaded Broncos were up for the task. 

“Brianna is obviously a really big piece for us, but at the end of the day we know how to play together and we know how to play with each other,” Dunn said. “So just playing without her, I feel like that is what pumped us at more, because I feel like we were at a disadvantage and just wanting to make up for that.”

Winning the Evanston game by a convincing 18 points (56-38), and snagging comfortable wins over the likes of Hyde Park (77-42) and Lindblom (69-43) was further evidence of how Kenwood could operate even without the mightily talented McDaniel.

Dunn averaged 22 points and 4 assists per game after McDaniel’s injury.

“I’m very proud of our team,” Lewis said. “They persevered though: one, dealing with all these new protocols and the pandemic and the new normal we have deal with, in addition to one of our best players unfortunately getting injured. And they still stuck together, stayed focused as a unit and prioritized being the best teammates to each other that they could be.”

Lewis, who just finished his ninth season as head coach of the Broncos, has five regional titles and six 20-win seasons to his name, and likely would have added to both totals with a full season. 

Dunn has seen her role grow rapidly with the Broncos, from a lockdown defender to a player who can score in bunches (17.8 points in under 20 minutes of play per game). The stopper identity still stands, however: She also averaged 3.3 steals per game.

Colleges have taken notice as she holds Division I offers from the likes of Valparaiso, Central Michigan, Cleveland State, UIC, Coppin State, Chicago State, Indiana State, UMKC, SIU, Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

Lewis says Dunn is one of the best players he’s ever coached.

“I think a lot of schools are sleeping on how good she is,” Lewis said. “Whitney has a real unique job every night. Whitney’s job is to score the basketball and stop the other team’s best perimeter player from scoring the basketball. So, Whitney accepts the challenge and she actually enjoys that. She’s a two-way player, always has been.”

One player quickly came to mind for Lewis that demonstrated how Dunn has shown herself capable of shutting down excellent offensive players. 

Dunn held eventual Girls Catholic Athletic Conference player of the year and Air Force women’s basketball commit Lauren McDonald of St. Ignatius in-check as Kenwood raced to a 42-15 halftime lead in a 64-39 win. That same game, Dunn coupled the defensive effort with a game-high 19 points (all in first half) on 7-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-8 from beyond the three-point arc.

“McDonald struggled the first half [with Dunn guarding her],” Lewis said. “(McDaniel) started guarding her and then in the fourth quarter she (Dunn) guarded her some more, but she’s given problems to a lot of players. Because Whitney is long, she moves her feet extremely well and again, she has no back-down. The same confidence and aggressiveness that she plays on offense, she plays with defense as well.”

That attitude in part comes from her brother 

“I feel like whoever I’m guarding … they shouldn’t score on me at all, period,” Dunn said. “ I feel like I developed that from my brother because he’s a really good defensive player and just him guarding me and me guarding him, he really made me better.”

With younger players like sophomore Ayanna Jackson and freshman Ariana Williams buying in on the defensive end and contributing steadily most games, Lewis felt like Kenwood had a successful year.

“We basically accomplished everything that we could have this season,” Lewis said. “To defeat a ranked St. Ignatius, who’s a very good team by the way, but to beat them the way that we did was awesome. To defeat Evanston after Bri [McDaniel] gets hurt at the end of the first quarter was great. And to be able to beat the No. 1 team in the state, what more can you ask of your kids, especially when your best player wasn’t available and gutted their way through it?”

But the Broncos — with two to-be seniors among the best in 2022 class in Illinois plus fellow returners Zoe Belcher, DonYeil Bolton, Jazelle Young and other talented younger Broncos — expect to be No. 1 on many pundits’ preseason rankings come next season, no matter where McDaniels’ recovery stands.

What does Dunn want next season? It’s simple.

“Dominate everything.”

Nick Martinelli’s inner fighter has shaped who he has become as a basketball player

In middle school Nick Martinelli was a huge UFC fan. 

He grew so fond of the sport that at one point he even thought his interest would turn into a profession.

“I wanted to be a mixed martial arts fighter,” Martinelli said. “Everything was UFC. I was a huge Connor McGregor fan. In eighth grade, I got sick during the (basketball) season, and that’s when I would go in my basement and punch this little dummy guy that I had.” 

Even though Martinelli never pursued his mixed martial arts aspirations, that fighter’s mentality has stayed with him. 

His competitiveness needed to materialize early in his basketball career because he was always competing with his two older brothers, Jimmy and Dom Martinelli. Both had successful careers at Glenbrook South and went on to play collegiate basketball. 

Jimmy — the oldest — was two-time all-conference and named the team MVP his senior year at Glenbrook South and went on to be a four-year starter at New York University. Dom finished as the Titans’ all-time leading scorer and just wrapped up his freshman season at Northwestern. 

For Nick Martinelli, seeing his older brothers’ accomplishments was sometimes difficult to deal with. 

“To be honest, I felt a little bit in his shadow (Dom’s) and Jimmy’s too when I was younger,” Martinelli said. “It’s just hard when you have older brothers that were as successful as they were.”

But now, the youngest Martinelli is making a name for himself. As a full-time starter in his junior season, the 6-foot-7 wing averaged 21.8 points and 5.9 rebounds and shot 57.7% from 3-point range in 18 games. Martinelli was also named to the Central Suburban League All-Conference Team.

In his first game as a starter, Martinelli scored 28 points in a 69-49 victory against Hersey. It begin an 11-game win streak to start the season for Glenbrook South. In the ninth game of the season, against New Trier, Martinelli dropped 34 points in a 60-53 win. 

On offense, Martinelli’s left-handed jumper and ability to secure rebounds for second-chance points made him difficult to defend for any team. Often in opposing team huddles coaches can be heard saying, “We have to do a better job against Martinelli.”

Defensively, Martinelli’s length forced players to take tough shots and required them to make precise passes. He finished the season with 10 blocks and 15 steals. 

Although Martinelli has quickly emerged as one of the better upperclassmen in Illinois, it didn’t come without him having to overcome obstacles. 

Heading into Martinelli’s sophomore year, he thought he made the necessary improvements in the offseason to earn a varsity spot. But Glenbrook South coach Phil Ralston started Martinelli on the sophomore team.

“It just lit a fire up in me to be honest,” Martinelli said. “When he (Ralston) told me I was on sophomore, I felt a little confused.” 

After playing five games on the sophomore team, Martinelli was moved up.

“Nick had to earn everything and he did so admirably,” Ralston said. “When we lost Joe Shapiro last year, Nick was the first guy off the bench and was getting what I would term ‘starter’s minutes’ in many respects. That was something he had to earn.” 

Martinelli embraced his new role and helped the team anyway he could. Glenbrook South finished the 2019-20 season 29-5 and split the Central Suburban League South title with Evanston. The Wildkits did eliminate the Titans in the Class 4A Elk Grove semifinals.

Still, Martinelli gained valuable experience in his sophomore year. And a lot of those lessons can be attributed to the one season he played with his brother Dom. 

“He wanted to win at every single drill,” Nick Martinelli said. “If you want to be great, you can’t take off drills, you can’t take off days, you always have to be the last one in the gym. I learned a ton of characteristics and good habits from him that are obviously going to benefit me in the future. I owe a ton of my success, which hasn’t been much, to Dom. 

“The way that he constantly fought,” Martinelli continued. “He played when he was sick. He played when he was hurting. And how much he wanted to win obviously showed me what I needed to do to take the next step.”

Though Dom Martinelli graduated, everything was looking promising for Glenbrook South moving forward. Nick Martinelli and point guard Cooper Noard — who started as a sophomore on varsity — would be back to help lead the Titans the following season.  

Then COVID-19 hit. And everything changed. 

“The unusual aspect of having to deal with COVID is that we didn’t have our normal summer routine where we were able to work with kids in a team atmosphere and an individual’s environment,” Ralston said. 

Despite the coronavirus’ impact on and off the basketball court, Martinelli still saw an opportunity for himself to improve his game over the summer so he would be ready for his junior season. 

Every morning Martinelli and Dom would shoot for roughly two hours at their friend’s gym, which features a shooting gun, a three-quarter basketball court and a weight room. Throughout the summer, it was common for the Martinelli brothers to be at their friend’s house for 4-to-6 hours. After a long day of doing basketball drills and working out on the turf field, the two would jump in the hot tub to recover. 

Dom also invited some of his teammates from Northwestern to train. 

“Something that I think got Nick to another level to where he is playing at now was being able to play with some of my teammates from Northwestern,” Dom Martinelli said. “Being able to compete with Big Ten players, I think that is one of the reasons why Nick has gotten so much better this offseason.”

Along with the workouts, Martinelli watched a lot of film over the summer.

From Dom’s senior season at Glenbrook South to Florida Gulf Coast and several Big Ten teams, to NBA players Luka Doncic and Doug McDermott, Martinelli dissected different basketball styles and tried to pick up bits and pieces from everything he watched. 

All the hard work Martinelli put in during the offseason translated on the basketball court. And Dom Martinelli, who was able to catch some of his brother’s games in person, could see the progress his brother made. 

“I think his confidence has skyrocketed since last season,” Dom Martinelli said. “I think that’s just due to all the work he has put in … I think he has gained confidence in that aspect. I see it in every single game.” 

And for Nick Martinelli — who has had to work for everything he has accomplished — he, Noard and senior big man Justin Lesynski were the leaders for the Titans this past season.

“I think Nick is very much a leader by example,” Ralston said. “I want Nick, Cooper and Justin to assert themselves as leaders on the team … It’s kind of hard for me to not say to guys like Nick and Coop, ‘You guys are the ones that have put in as much time as anyone in this offseason,’ so it’s hard for me as coach to not go back and say, ‘Hey, this is your team. You guys are the leaders of this team. We are going to go where you take us.’” 

The 2020-21 Glenbrook South team finished with a 16-2 record and as back-to-back CSL champions. In the condensed season, the Titans also set a school record for winning percentage at 89 percent.

Nick Martinelli at the free-throw line. (Photo: Braeden Schmidt)

At the end of the season, eight teams had the opportunity to participate in the Chipotle League of Champions tournament. Evanston was initially selected as the Central Suburban League representative for the tournament, but the school offered it to winner of the division. Glenbrook South overtook that spot when Evanston lost to New Trier on March 6. 

Two days later, Glenbrook South traveled to face the Trevians, with an opportunity to extend its half-game lead on Evanston. The Titans dominated for the majority of the first two quarters and at one point had a 22-point lead. Martinelli led all scorers with 12 points at the half. But the Trevians made a miraculous comeback and had a 63-61 lead with 47.8 seconds remaining in the game.  

After a 10-second violation, Martinelli was fouled under the basket with 10.8 seconds remaining on the clock. The junior stepped up to the free-throw line with an opportunity to tie the game.

Martinelli took his one dribble and shot. The ball hit the front of the rim and bounced left. Martinelli’s second shot hit the rim and bounced right. 

“That’s definitely one of my worst moments in basketball,” Martinelli said. “Honestly, the worst part about it was I trained for moments like that. I don’t train for making easy layups against bad teams. I train for making big shots against good teams and in important moments … But it’s a learning experience. Everyone misses shots. Michael Jordan has missed shots. Big shots. I have to work harder and patch up some things.”

The Titans lost 64-63 to the Trevians. Glenbrook South rebounded with back-to-back wins against Glenbrook North to end the season. However, it was Evanston that went on to play in the end-of-the-year tournament. 

Martinelli acknowledged that it was “painful to watch” the teams competing in the Chipotle Classic. But he does believe Glenbrook South has the players to do something special next season — as long as the team has the right mentality. 

“I think that we are going to be really deep and really skilled next season,” Martinelli said. “It all comes down to if we really want to put in the work to become state champions, and if we want to buy into what coach wants us to do.”

Martinelli’s routine now involves waking up before school to shoot at his friend’s house to reach his daily “300 makes each morning,” then getting a workout in once school is over.

With the high school season finished, that doesn’t mean Martinelli gets to take a break. In April, his AAU season will begin and Martinelli will compete against some of the best players in the country. 

Martinelli does all this because he is a competitor, a fighter. He has been this way since day one.

“I want to become a high-major player,” Martinelli said. “That’s my goal. My goal used to be to become a Division I player, but now it’s moved to something bigger because I want to strive to be the best player, the best person that I can be.”


Main image courtesy of Braeden Schmidt

Noah Franklin, Cobden Appleknockers Doing Big Things in Shortened Season

Noah Franklin & Harold Blunt

Playing a conference-only schedule, Noah Franklin and the Cobden Appleknockers have been doing things in a big way all season. 

Noah Franklin, a senior, and his brother Tyler Franklin, a sophomore, come in at 6-7 and 6-5 respectively; they are joined by 6-10 teammate Elliott Lowndes and are part of an undefeated (12-0) squad that stands tall among the trees of Southern Illinois. 

“Coaches, we all lie all the time (about height), but those three, they’re legit that size-wise,” Cobden coach Wendell Wheeler said.

On Friday, Noah Franklin broke the program scoring record which has stoop since 1979, previously held by current assistant coach Harold Blunt (1,825 points), scoring 28 in a 68-23 win over Joppa-Maple Grove.

Both Franklins and Lowndes dunked in the victory. 

“I wasn’t necessarily worried about my individual success coming into the season because I knew that if we had a solid foundation as a team with the tools that we have I knew that I’d get there,” Noah Franklin said. “So it comes with a lot of satisfaction because I know that my individual accomplishments are coming with a lot of team success.”

After Tyler Franklin broke into the lineup as a freshman, Noah Franklin has enjoyed getting to play alongside his brother. The pair was helped lead Cobden to 24 wins and a 1A regional championship in 2019-20.

“It’s been really cool –not a lot of people get to play with their siblings on the court and some take it for granted,” the senior wing/forward Noah Franklin said. “We’ve really been able to grow as players together going up to the gym for countless hours and being able to play several games on the court with each other. Sure, we butt heads at times, but we usually find a way to get over it and get what we need done finished.”

The success enjoyed by the undefeated Appleknockers isn’t lost on Wheeler, who recently picked up his 400th career victory. Wheeler is in his third year with the program and loves touting its history; Cobden is famous for the 1964 team that finished second when there was only one state tournament bracket, regardless of class.

“After that ’64 team, we (Cobden) had a big dry spell,” Wheeler said. “My first year, we’d had three 20-win seasons (in school history), had never won a regional since 64, had only been in one regional final since ’64. Hadn’t won a conference (title) since 1979.”

Cobden won that elusive conference title last season, undefeated in the South Egpytian in fact, with a handful of seniors to go along with the Franklins

The Franklins have made things a show in the tiny town of Cobden (population approximately 1,150), throwing down windmill jams and leading the Appleknockers to one of the top scoring averages in the state. In a school with a population of 184 — as of the last official count by the IHSA — that type of thing makes waves. 

“Those two together make a pretty good coach,” Wheeler said with a chuckle.

“Yeah we are really big for a high school team and that has really helped us to be able to make teams lives miserable on the defensive end altering shots, making passes difficult to make and limiting offensive rebounding opportunities,” Noah Franklin said. “Not to mention that it also really helps us on the offensive end as well, but a lot of our offense has come from our defense this year.”

The hyper-athletic and lengthy senior will take his skills to Southwest Baptist University (Division II) in Bolivar, Missouri, but not before rounding out a season for the ages. 

Wheeler is convinced that the day-to-day work Noah Franklin puts in has him plenty prepared to play at a high level collegiately. 

“You get kids from a small school sometimes and they’re the best kid in their community, their little area and they’re satisfied,” Wheeler said. “That’s not happening with him. He’s very hungry and he pushes himself, pushes Tyler which pushes our other guys.”

And with Wheeler, who retired from teaching three years ago, he’s just happy to be spending days like this coaching basketball. 

“The older coaches will tell you, the relationships you’ve built with your kids, and this has been a crazy year… this has been a great year to go through that with,” Wheeler said. “At least we’re going through that together.”

“We’re more thankful for the games we’re getting to play than upset about the ones we’re not.”

Tyler Butler Becomes a Force For Belleville East

Tyler Butler

Tenacity around the glass may be the defining characteristic of Tyler Butler’s game, but she’s doing plenty more than that right now for Belleville East.

The smile that flashes off the court can quickly fade in-game as Butler becomes intense, going around, over and through opponents to grab boards. 

“I’m not really scared of contact,” the senior forward said. “I will go up, even if I get hit in the face, I’m just used to the contact. When I usually used to play with my younger brother, he’s just a lot taller than me. I’m used to going up against taller people, getting position, especially since I’m shorter and just go after it.”

Butler was averaging 17.8 point, 14.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks and as of Sunday, Feb. 28, and adding 23 points in an overtime loss to Althoff Catholic Monday. 

Sixth-year Lancers head coach Amanda Kemezys has seen plenty of talented players come through the program, but Butler has seen a more meteoric rise than most.

That’s come from her approach to the game.

“Whether you want to call it tenacity or relentless … she does not quit,” Kemezys said. “She just keeps going after rebound after rebound after rebound. I think she has got a really good nose for the ball where she can read the angles of rebounds pretty well and does a really good job of positioning herself and getting a good angle to get a rebound and go back up with it.”

Butler hasn’t always been a basketball star. 

In her own words, she was “very short” and “overlooked” as a middle schooler.

Kemezys, who was a teacher in Butler’s middle school (West Branch Middle School in Swansea), remembers Butler then as an admittedly awkward teenager who had to grow into her body. Kemezys said if she were to ask her colleagues then if they would have predicted Butler’s rise, they would be shocked. 

A growth spurt came, and the happy-go-lucky Butler found herself competing for varsity minutes as a sophomore. She put up about six points and five rebounds per game while mostly playing behind a group of five seniors on a 20-win Lancers team in 2018-2019. 

Butler remembers looking up to Kaylah Rainey, who was limited by a heart condition and is now playing at Northwestern, as well as another particular senior. 

“When I was a sophomore I originally looked up to B’Aunce Carter as she played the same position I was,” Butler said. “I was battling with her every practice for rebounds. I feel like that’s where I got really competitive with rebounds as well as scoring against her.”

Butler averaged about 14 points and 9 rebounds per game as a junior in a rebuilding year for the Lancers. 

“We didn’t really have as much depth or experience,” Kemezys said. “We knew she was going to be our go-to to begin with this season, but she exceeded expectations already last year. We knew she would again be our star player this year, but she’s put in even more work and expanded her game. During the lockdown and everything the past year, she’s done everything to … expand all her facets.”

Elevating her game as a senior came from countless hours in the gym during COVID isolation, working on ball-handling, extending her shot outward from the basket, free-throw shooting and footwork. Take all that, add in conditioning and Butler’s on-court demeanor, and you have a killer combo.

“She is still playing almost every minute of every game for us,” Kemezys said. “You can’t tell she’s tired ever, just because that’s how hard she works and she just dines’t know  any different.”

The increased production has elicited the attention of additional colleges. 

“She’s got some offers from some local schools, some junior colleges and some D-III’s so far, so eventually she needs to make a decision here shortly,” Kemezys said. “But I think she’s waiting to see how the rest of this short season goes and the way that she’s putting up big numbers, She’s attracted a couple more coaches in the area for sure.”

A lover of science, Butler’s post-grad decision-making will rely heavily on what colleges can offer her in a number of academic areas. Aside from working on her game last year after the onset of the pandemic, Butler was attending virtual science camps, learning about the medical field, and exploring work among dietitians, pharmaceutical workers, and orthopedic surgery. 

“I don’t really have a preference basketballs-wise,” Butler said. “I just prefer a good school that’s known for their science majors which would really hope with getting into medical school also in the future. Basketball-wise I’m pretty open to many schools.”

But she has heard more coaches and recruiters in her ear since her numbers have gone up in this COVID-shortened season. 

“Recently these past few weeks, I’ve gotten a lot more (attention) especially since we actually (got) into our senior season,” Butler said. “Before they would have judged based off my junior year highlights, so they didn’t really know what I was working on in the gym before senior season actually started.”

And whether it’s dancing on the sidelines, sending coaches Tik Tok videos that remind her of them or just being goofy in general, Butler has been able to impress her coaches and teammates with her ability to turn on the switch. She’ll go from being the silly center of attention straight into a feisty mode on the court where she plays with a chip on her shoulder. 

“It’s just been really fun to watch her progress throughout the years,” Kemezys said. “When you talk of not just leaders as far as what she’s averaging, but on the team as a captain, I think it goes without saying that her hard work earns her that from everybody. Her teammates really respect her.”

Lamprecht Helps East Peoria End Four-Year Streak

Already one of the up-and-coming players in the Peoria area as a freshman, Tatym Lamprecht has elevated her game to the point of pushing East Peoria girls basketball forward as a sophomore this season.

Her 38 points propelled East Peoria past Limestone 55-49 on Wednesday, Feb. 17. That marked the Raiders’ first win in Mid-Illini Conference play since 2017, ending a 48-game conference losing streak. Her aggressiveness on the offensive end yielded her 20 free-throw attempts. She made 18.

“I didn’t think I would score that many points,” Lamprecht quietly admitted.

Her coach, Khassandrae Brown, is less modest about the sophomore, who also has scoring performances of 24 and 23 under her belt this season.

“She doesn’t shy away from contact like you get with incoming freshman up against seniors like we had last year,” Brown said. ” She’s definitely gotten more aggressive and stronger. She has worked on her shooting which has helped a lot, because now they have to respect the shot and the drive from her. She does a phenomenal job of getting to the basket.”

Her shot has been the biggest difference in going from approximately 13 points per game a season ago to being a threat to score well over 20 every night as a sophomore. With an unconventional shooting stroke — the follow-through takes her closer to the basket than more traditional form — Lamprecht naturally ends up chasing her own shot. Still, she’s not chasing misses as much as she used to.

Acting as the Raiders’ primary ball-handler as well as their most potent offensive weapon, Lamprecht has long had to face the focused attention of opposing defenses.

“I got a lot better at shooting this year and drawing fouls,” Lamprecht said.

Provided photo of Lamprecht

“I’m a lot more confident with the ball last year than I was last year.”

She has grown accustomed to box-and-1’s, triangle-and-2’s, and sometimes just facing three people in her face all at once. Teams will do a lot when playing East Peoria to make anyone but the high-scoring sophomore beat them.

Lamprecht cited her time playing for her Heart of Illinois travel squad this past summer, when she couldn’t work out with her varsity team due to coronavirus restrictions, as a large part of what has propelled her into a productive sophomore campaign.

“We hadn’t been practicing that much and it’s a lot harder doing school online,” she said about the beginning of the school year.

Others on East Peoria have begun to have to strengthen their roles on the team. Fellow class of 2023 player Paige Creviston has shown Brown glimpses of being a strong player in the post.

Seniors Jexie Bolding and Rileigh Fortune are contributing as starters for an otherwise young team. Fortune, who didn’t play as a junior to focus more on running, has aided the team this year. Kaylie Hammel, who broke her arm two years ago, wasn’t even sure about playing but is now acting as a secondary ball-handler.

“We’re trying to get some other pieces to that puzzle to all fit together,” Brown said. “When she (Lamprecht) is double-teamed or the attempt is to take her out of the offense and not let her beat (them), that we have someone that can step up and fill that roll.”

But doing so against powerful conference foes like Morton, Metamora, Dunlap, Pekin and Washington, who have all been beating up on one another in February, is easier said than done.

The Raiders are after all 1-7 in Mid-Illini play after a 73-37 loss to Dunlap Saturday. Still, they’ve made big strides this season have two-plus more seasons to build upon with Lamprecht.

“We’re real low on numbers so we have a few from each class,” Brown said. “Before the win against Limestone, we had lost 48 (straight) conference games so to finally get one of those was huge for us. We’ve been competing. Against Canton they beat us at home and then we went there and only lost by 10 and it was a close game and competitive. We’re just trying to build on that win and keep trying to compete.”

Watch her go: Altamont freshman Grace Nelson Scoring in bunches

Altamont freshman Grace Allen

Look up on the basketball court, and much of the gym sees just one side of Altamont freshman Grace Nelson:

Her back.

Nelson, the 2019 IESA state champion in the 100-meter hurdles and long jump, and a medal-winner in the 4×100 relay and 400-meter dash, was a member of Altamont’s 1A team title as a seventh grader.

This season, she’s off and running, using her pace and speed for the Altamont Indians to score 151 points over her first four games, including two 40-plus scoring outings. 

Stepping onto the varsity floor at home against Neoga in her varsity debut, she recorded a 40-point, 6-rebound game. Since, she has racked up totals of 34, 36 and 41, in that order.

Provided photo of Grace Nelson

“I would describe myself as an aggressive player, fast, just get it and go,” Nelson said. 

That’s not to say she doesn’t score in a number of other ways. She has an improving three-point stroke, honed from time spent with her Indiana Elite Havoc travel club. And she has begun to work well with teammates coming off screens and moving within Altamont’s productive transition offense. 

“I’m comfortable because they all know I can get to the basket and score,” Nelson said. “So they see an open opportunity for me down low, they’ll get me the pass. Playing together so long we’ve got good team chemistry.”

Excelling in a small town (Altamont’s population is approximately 2,300), Nelson hasn’t exactly taken local squads by surprise, as her excellence in youth basketball has been well-documented. Just weeks into her high-school career, she’s living up to the hype — reaching scoring marks most varsity stars will never achieve. 

“This is my 15th year as head varsity coach, and I have to say, coaching junior high, JV and on, she’s one of the most complete (players) that I’ve seen,” Altamont coach Katie Lurkins said. “Not just that I’ve coached, but I’ve seen in the area.”

Lurkins went so far as to say that Nelson’s success brought to mind that of former Mount Carmel and Indiana University great Tyra Buss.

“She has big goals,” Lurkins said. “The upside is I really think it’s the knowledge and the belief that she can do it. Some people had some question marks and some speculation about whether she was going to be the big deal at (this) level. I think her coming out at this level is going to push her.”

Nelson has been complemented thus far by talented teammates like fellow guard Brooke Runge, a senior and Parkland College signee. 

“I think we work pretty together pretty good and we’re a fast team so we transition a lot and get a lot of our points on transition layups,” Nelson said. 

Nelson said it was a shock to cross the 40-point threshold in her first game. Since then, however, she has come into a steady comfort on the floor each time out for now 3-1 Altamont, leading to her being awarded Illinois-Basketball.com’s first Girls Player of the Week distinction.

Nelson’s stats through four games: 37.8 points, 6 rebounds, 4.5 steals and 2 assists per game. She’s shooting 37.5 percent from three (9-of-24), 58.5 percent from the field (55-of-94) and 82.1% from the free throw line (32-of-39). She’s creating scoring chances for her team with prolific consistency, often by turning deflections into transition points.

“I’m pretty comfortable,” Nelson said. “I can finish most of my drives, finish strong and up with contact.”

Finding that continued success is something that Lurkins is confident Nelson will strive for. A combination of Nelson’s school pride, doing small things and her commitment to watching game film are all reasons Lurkins sees Nelson’s game only continuing to grow.

“She puts the ball cage away … she takes the laundry basket on and off the bus,” Lurkins said.

Getting good grades and being involved in non-basketball activities are just a few of the ways Lurkins said Nelson is a balanced kid. 

“As much success as she’s had on the court, she understands it’s her success and her team success is equally important,” Lurkins said. “This start gives her the encouragement and the energy to continue to push forward and push for those personal and team goals.”

Lindblom’s Natasha Barnes Prepared for Leadership Role as Sophomore

Whatever issues on the floor there may have been a year ago, the Lindblom Eagles’ Natasha Barnes expects to be the problem-solver this time around.

For Lindblom to break through in the Chicago Public League Red-South/Central, Barnes must fill that role in her sophomore season following a strong summer of ball with Example Sports AAU. An aspiring engineer who lists her GPA as a 4.4 on her Twitter, Barnes wants to become the type of person who fixes what’s not working.

“Learning new things, being able to mess up and being able to try again, you have to persevere, figure out what’s the problem and work,” Barnes said. 

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