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Benet’s Morgan Demos, A Navy Commit, Has Demeanor For Service

Benet's Morgan Demos, a Navy Recruit, Has Demeanor for Service

In summing up Benet Academy senior forward Morgan Demos, coach Joe Kilbride called Demos “high-caliber, high-character.”

He noted that Demos is one of the only players he’s ever coached where opposing team’s parents will reach out to compliment Demos’ demeanor. 

“She’ll go and fist-bump the kid that was beating the hell out of her all game,” Kilbride said. 

Those are the types of attributes that lend themselves to a high-potential future at the Naval Academy, where Demos, a 6-2 standout, verbally committed on Friday, July 30. 

Demos talked on and off with Navy’s coaches for over a year and creating a rolling list of her top 10 programs with Kilbride. She widened Navy’s eyes further with strong play with IL Lady Lightning this July.

After a trip to Annapolis while at a Nike event, things fell in line. She said everything about the trip and the campus enthralled her. 

“Everything about that trip felt right,” Demos said. “I met some of the players on the team. I saw the court. I saw what they had to offer with the campus.

“Currently, they’re in their plebe summer,” she continued. “So all of the incoming freshmen have to do this six-week boot camp, and so we got to see some of them in action while they were doing it. You get to see in-person what you have to go through when you go there, and I was all for it.”

Demos’ sister Madison, a Benet graduate that Morgan saw some time on the floor with, is in a service academy basketball program, playing for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. 

As the younger sister, Morgan learned quickly to soak in the information Madison was sharing at home during her own recruiting process and in talking about her time with the school.

“I would hear what she’s going through absentmindedly and I would (take) it in,” Morgan Demos said. “When I was thinking about college, I would ask a question and she would give me all the information about it, like what you can do when you’re serving after college, what you experience, you don’t have to force yourself. She was very supportive, ‘If it’s not your thing, don’t do it, you’re going to know though.’”

Demos had her sister to battle against growing up, and things got even more challenging when joined Benet Academy. She consistently found herself competing against bigger, more experienced players despite playing competitive travel ball herself. Though she’s now a Division I commit, Morgan Demos was not a starter as a freshman. 

Kilbride noted that right from the outset of her varsity career, she sat behind and battled fellow post player Ashley Konkle every day. Kilbride said that Konkle, now at Western Michigan, was understandably stronger and more physical than Demos, who he said now is strong like “a horse in the post.”

“She’s just a very responsible, hard-working, focused (player),” Kilbride said. “The colleges love the fact that she’s … a worker. She’s gotten better every year really since fifth grade. She’s gotten better every year at Benet. She’s one of those kids who’s going to keep getting better in college, and that’s important to them. They want kids where we’re not looking at their ceiling, we’re looking at where they’re starting from.”

Competing against the likes of Konkle and 2021 graduate Kendall Moriarty (now at Nebraska) helped Demos learn to adapt on the court. As Kilbride has told his players plenty of times, “Champions adjust.”

“I learned there’s different types of games for each player, and I adjusted to each type, so it was very beneficial,” Demos said. “In the post, Ashley Konkle, was a lot stronger than I was, so I had to learn to battle with that strength. She taught me very good habits that I have today.”

And while the effects have COVID-19 hindered recruiting for class of 2022 players, Kilbride felt that Demos was the type of player who was particularly affected by  colleges’ inability to see her play in-person in the summer of 2020 and this past winter. 

“She’s incredibly strong,” Kilbride said. “I’ve told coaches, ‘You can put her in a Division I practice right now and she’s not going to get broken or beaten up.’ She’s going to hold her own.”

“She’d have games where she only scored 8 points, but she got double-teamed on every catch,” Kilbride said. “So she’s creating wide-open shots for teammates on kickouts and dives and stuff. She’d have 10 rebounds and 5 blocks and she’d dominate the game having single-digit scoring.”

Benet heads into the coming school year with talent in waves. Class of 2023 guard Lenee Beaumont comes back on the heels of a summer that has yielded her over 20 college offers. Demos said Margaret Temple is a good shooter on a team full of them. Others like Emma Webb and several other underclassmen guards have given the Hawks reason to be excited. 

“We have new players and I’m excited to help them get the handle of the ropes and everything,” Demos said. “Everyone has put in so much effort when I played with them in June.”

Demos also had a parting message about the recruiting process, which has been extra stressful for many since the pandemic began. 

“Whoever has committed or hasn’t committed, they should just enjoy the process as they’re going along with it because COVID,” Demos said. “It was a bit unfortunate because it slowed the process down, but everything will work out.”

Harlem’s Mya Davidson Commits to Lindenwood, Comforted By Mother’s Wisdom

During the college commitment process, Harlem senior Mya Davidson’s mother gave her the comforting advice she needed to make a decision.

“She really emphasized, the college you choose has to feel like a home away from home,” Davidson said. “And that’s what Lindenwood was for me when I first set foot on campus, it … really felt like home.”

A skilled player on the NIC-10 runner-up Huskies a season ago, Davidson learned that lesson and others from her mother during her recruitment. Mya’s mother, Lauren, played at the University of Indianapolis — a fellow Great Lakes Valley Conference member with Lindenwood.

“I was talking to a few D-I’s, a few D-II’s,” Davidson said. “I’ve always had interest since starting freshman year (AAU and travel), and I’ve been in constant communication with them but not really offers and visits.”

Davidson got her offer from Lindenwood on July 13 and received one from McKendree as well. Davidson said her mom’s love of basketball was passed down to her early on, and she knew from the time she started playing the game that she wanted to play in college. Now, Davidson has a game that her future coaches love.

“They really don’t want to change much about me,” Davidson said. “They say I’m really versatile and they just want to enhance what I already have.”

Davidson, a 6-3 wing, scored a team-leading 13.2 points per game as a junior. She added 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.1 blocks per game, shooting 50% from the floor on 10.6 shots per game. She was named to the NIC-10 all-conference first team.

“Mya is so versatile in both her offense and defensive expertise,” Harlem coach Beth Meyer said. “She can score and defend both inside and out — and she is confident in doing so.”

This summer with Midwest Wildcats, a Rockford AAU travel squad, she worked on improving her perimeter game — she shot just 18 three-pointers as a junior, though she made 6. She said she feels comfortable taking smaller girls to the basket and handling the ball on the perimeter with bigger post defenders on her, knowing she can beat them off the dribble. 

“I don’t consider myself much of anything because I can do most of it, but I guess I consider myself more of a wing,” Davidson said. 

Meyer noted Davidson’s footwork and how she is ‘smooth’ in attacking the hoop from anywhere on the floor. That contributes to her ability to finish inside with finesse. 

“As she transitions to the next level, I think she will be a long guard who plays primarily from the perimeter,” Meyer said. “We want to do everything we can to help her develop there.”

For Harlem, critical contributors Myah Udell and Julie Bailey will be back at guard as seniors, as well as junior guard Keyara Bailey. 

With Grace Vyborney, Davidson’s cousin to the fold as a rising junior, the Huskies are hoping to make a run at defending NIC-10 champs Hononegah. 

“I feel like with our team, everyone should not be afraid to be a leader, and that’s something coach Meyer hounds in,” Davidson said. “Everyone should be able to talk, your voice matters. We want to be a really good team and talk a lot more.”

Illinois natives on the 2020-21 Lindenwood roster:

  • Senior Hennessey Handy (Joliet native ad Plainfield Central graduate)
  • Senior Julia Ruzevich (Orland Park native, Marist graduate)
  • Senior Kate Ruzevich (Orland Park native, Marist graduate)
  • Junior Blair Borrowman (New Canton native, Western-Payson graduate)
  • Freshman Kendra Lee (Arlington Heights native, Buffalo Grove graduate)

Tatiana Thomas Commits to Kent State, Continues Bolingbrook to MAC Pipeline

'Throwback' Tatiana Thomas Commits to Kent State, Continues Bolingbrook-to-MAC Pipeline

Tatiana Thomas is a throwback player of sorts in the mind of Bolingbrook girls basketball coach Chris Smith. 

“She does what she’s supposed to do,” Smith said. “You can get on her and she’s going to say, ‘Yes coach, my fault coach, I’ll do better next time coach.’ There’s never no disrespect from her at all.”

He says Thomas doesn’t take plays off, and that she has a burning desire to compete.

“Whether she does something positive or negative, she’s always positive,” Smith said. “No matter if I have to get on her and be hard on her, she’s always positive.”

After notable receiving interest from Division I programs as far back as 2019 — Thomas was offered by Marquette that June — the 5-11 forward committed to Kent State on July 3. 

“They’ve been recruiting me for a year-and-a-half, and at first I just had a lot of different schools talking to me so I wasn’t pinpoint on one school,” Thomas said. “But once I visited them, I liked the coaches. They were really nice, kind and genuine. I got to hang out with the girls and they were super sweet, and I would ask them questions and I feel like they told me how it was. Some people just gaslight you … I feel like they were pretty truthful … it seems like a good place to call home.”

Currently, four other Lady Raiders are on MAC rosters: De’Ahna Richardson at Western Michigan, Jayden Marable at Northern Illinois, Jahari Smith at Central Michigan and Treasure Thompson (LSU transfer) at Eastern Michigan. 

There wasn’t too much of an adjustment period for Thomas after her transfer from Montini before her junior season, as she exploded for 22 points in her first game with the program. Before she had even made the decision to play at Bolingbrook last summer, several of her future teammates took her on a trip to a mall to make her feel welcome. 

“I meshed with the girls really well,” Thomas said. “They’re all super nice and welcoming.”

Thomas can fill out the stat sheet in a number of ways — note her seven-steal performance against Homewood-Flossmoor — and Smith says rebounding ability sets Thomas apart from her peers. 

“She is notorious on the boards and as a defensive presence,” Smith said. “Offensively she can hit the mid-range, attack off the bounce and use her quickness.”

Despite not being the primary scoring option on the team, her all-around ability yielded her Southwest Suburban Conference Blue Division Athlete of the Year honors. And now she can potentially repeat that honor as a senior.

While the Raiders haven’t spent much time in competition this summer — Smith likes his teams to work on conditioning and skill development during the June team period — Thomas was content with the time used to further bond with teammates and prepare for the upcoming season. She’s been playing more of a shooting guard and wing spot for travel squad Illinois Lady Lightning this summer, a program that she has been part of for years. 

“I’ve definitely improved over the last year,” Thomas said. “I do a lot more outside shooting and I handle the ball a lot more. For my travel team I play the two instead of the three or four. I do play those positions still, but I’ve been mostly a two (this summer). I’m really excited to be able to go to Kent State and for them to work with me. I feel like they’re going to make my skillset so much better from what it is now.”

Kent State coach Todd Starkey told Thomas that he likes her game as is and that made Thomas feel comfortable and appreciated, she said.

“If I go to Kent State, I’ll be able to be an impact player and I’ll be able to help my team,” Thomas said. “If that means I were to be able to sit on the bench, I would do that and be the best bench player ever.”

“I really want to make sure I keep myself in shape, especially not just during the high school season but after going into college so I don’t feel like I’m going to die at the college workouts. I want to do that and I want to improve my outside game, my shot, my mid-range and get my handles better before I go off to college so I have a better transition.”

With another bonafide Division I recruit back this season in Angelina Smith, and a strong core of returning players who saw major time for Bolingbrook a season ago, Thomas enters her senior season ready to focus. 

“It’s a big relief to know where I want to go and have it all figured out and stuff, so I don’t have to be stressed out through my whole senior year so I can focus on my grades, basketball and just having fun,” Thomas said. 

Princeton Commit Taylor Charles Takes Leadership Role for Burlington Central

Taylor Charles’ defensive prowess has had colleges inquiring about her since middle school. 

“That defensive presence, at the rim specifically, she has incredible ability to change the game from the inside of the basket and out,” Burlington Central coach Collin Kalamatas said. “Not only the shot-blocking element, but her presence around the basket really discourages (other teams).”

The 6-2 Charles, who comes from an athletically gifted and academic-focused family, averaged 10.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in 2021’s shortened 15-game season. It was her first with the Rockets after spending her underclassmen years at Montini. It was numbers like those that brought programs such as Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Virginia Tech, Purdue, DePaul, Colorado and others calling.

The Burlington Central senior, with her collegiate decision behind her — Charles committed to Ivy League power Princeton on June 22 —  has been able to focus on the aspects of her game that could make her a major part of the Princeton rotation immediately after high school. 

“I think I fit in really good with how they play,” Charles said of Princeton. “They’re more defensive-oriented and that being my favorite part of the game … I also think I’ll be able to help them on offense. I have that ability.”

In the meantime, she’s taking charge as a vocal leader on a long-successful program at Burlington Central. The Rockets have a record of 205-54 over the last nine seasons between coaches Mark Smith and Kalamatas — who enters his third year as head coach. Burlington Central will look to Charles to a great degree after the loss of seniors Avery Andersen and University of Indianapolis signee Elana Wells. 

This summer, the Rockets have taken on tough competition from the likes of St. Charles North, St. Charles East, Carmel Catholic, Geneva, Sycamore and Huntley, among others. Kalamatas said Charles has stepped into a bigger leadership role this offseason.

“It’s been a really good experience for her as well as the other girls to slide under Taylor’s wing a bit and learn a lot about the game from her,” Kalamatas said. 

He also said Charles’ ability to get up the floor with long strides makes her a big weapon in the fast break. Charles said she wants to expand and better her mid-range game.

Three-year varsity players Rylie DuVal and Becca Caratti will be integral parts of a team that lost its leading scorer in Wells. Still, Burlington Central returns key contributors from a 12-3 squad that did not lose a Fox Valley Conference game a season ago. 

“I’m just trying to get all of my team motivated,” Charles said. “I think this season especially we’re going to have to play as a whole unit. Nobody can do it themselves. I’m really just trying to build confidence in all of my teammates.

“I just really want to help my team win,” she added. “Of course try to score, block as many shots I can, but I’m not one who has ever really been focused on the stats.”

Both of Charles’ parents are engineers. Looking forward to college, she hopes to study pre-med and ultimately become a neurosurgeon. She’ll jump into a Princeton program on great footing, finishing 26-1 in 2019-20 (the Ivy League cancelled its 2020-21 season due to the pandemic).

“They’re coached by coach (Carla) Berube, she’s an ex-UConn player,” Charles said. “The season before COVID … they were a top-25 team. They’ve been competing at a high level, a good level and the fact she can make that with academics is unmatched.”

Kalamatas’ look into the recruiting process provided him an unfamiliar insight into the Division-I recruiting cycle. Princeton’s desire to bring Charles aboard was notable.

“Most of the teams that had interest from really early on like the Michigan and Illinois types, they didn’t contact me at all,” Kalamatas said. “But there were a handful of schools including Princeton and Yale and Davidson that did reach out to me and talked to the head coaches a handful of times.”

Charles is the third Illinois girls prep player in the Class of 2022 to commit to an Ivy League program after Morton’s Katie Krupa (Harvard) and Evanston’s Lola Lesmond (Yale, after senior year at a prep school in Massachusetts) did so. 

“She’s such a good kid, you see it immediately talking to her, talking to her family,” Kalamatas said.

“I’m really happy she made that decision,” he added. “I know she had her pick of a lot of the top power conferences, but this is the best thing for her to play immediately, get a good education and be set for life.”

Q&A: Super Skilled Whitney Young Freshman Destiny Jackson

Destiny Jackson will only be a freshman this fall, but she is already a steady presence for the Whitney Young girls basketball team — a program that, by last count, had won at least 15 games over the summer without a loss.

Kaleb Carter of Illinois-Basketball spoke with Jackson on Thursday, June 24, after Whitney Young won summer league games against Kenwood and Batavia. Several days later Jackson picked up offers from Ohio State and Illinois after already having an offer from Arizona State.

Destiny Jackson attacks the basket during a June 24 summer league game against Kenwood at Morton College.
Destiny Jackson (Photo: Kaleb Carter)

Illinois-Basketball: How has it been getting acclimated to varsity with your teammates during this summer ball league?

Destiny Jackson: “It’s been great, I really like my teammates. I like how we bond together and we haven’t even had as many practices or games as most people, but I like how things are going so far.”

I-B: What’s nice about the (bench’s production) and depth this summer?

DJ: “It’s definitely nice to have a bench full of people who just come in the game and be what the starting lineup can be.”

I-B: Did you set any goals coming into this summer league, things you wanted to accomplish individually or as a group?

DJ: “Just molding together as a team really. It’s not really individually. I’m a pass-first point guard, so it’s about my team, just molding together as a team.

I-B: Are you all as a team setting goals for the upcoming winter season?

DJ: “Yes, we want to win city and state. Definitely. We want to go undefeated if it’s a possibility.”

I-B: Facing Kenwood is a great chance to test to see where you’re at. Even knowing they’ll still have other players back (a pair of starters that didn’t play Thursday), how nice was it to make a statement like that?

DJ: It was great, Kenwood and Whitney Young have some type of rivalry, so it was great just being able to beat Kenwood the first time we come out. The way we beat them was great.”

I-B: Have you had a chance to attend some college camps?

DJ: “I actually just went to the Louisville camp and they said they loved me. They said they’d reach out to my coach so that’s the only camp I’ve been to so far, but I’m going to go to the Marquette camp and Purdue camp.”

 

Destiny Jackson (Photos: Kaleb Carter)

 

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.”

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