By Joe Henricksen
They sport a sparkling 19-1 record, despite playing just three home games up to this point in the season. They won the Elgin Holiday Tournament and the Rockton-Hononegah Martin Luther King Tournament. Yet Neuqua Valley is rarely talked about when the discussion of the state's elite teams is brought up.
In fact, despite some impressive credentials and a little love from the City/Suburban Hoops Report and Illinois Prep Bulls-eye, Neuqua Valley has been the forgotten team in Chicago area rankings. The Wildcats, who are No. 7 in the City/Suburban Hoops Report current rankings, are not even among the top 10 ranked teams in the most recent Chicago Sun-Times Top 25 poll. And the Chicago Tribune has Neuqua Valley ranked No. 17.
Neuqua Valley has given highly-regarded Morton, which won the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, one of its two losses on the season. The Wildcats have gone on the road and beaten Bolingbrook and Quincy, knocked off Glenbrook South and Jack Cooley in the title game at Elgin, and just recently capped off a brilliant four days of basketball. Neuqua Valley picked up five wins in a four-day period.
While district rival Waubonsie Valley is down this season, it was still an emotional game last Friday night for Neuqua Valley. Following the convincing 68-51 win over Waubonsie, coach Todd Sutton's team traveled to Rockton-Hononegah and beat Hoffman Estates and Rockford Guilford on Saturday. Then on Monday Neuqua beat both talented Zion-Benton and Normal. While the ranking was very inflated, Normal was previously the No. 3 ranked team in Class 4A. The lone loss for the Wildcats was an overtime defeat to East Aurora on the road.
Under Sutton the Wildcats have averaged 23 wins a season this decade. Take away the 14-14 record in 2003-2004 and Neuqua Valley is an awfully impressive 169-42 in a seven-year period. But this year's team may be the one that opens everyone's eyes this March. Neuqua Valley has been everything the Hoops Report had anticipated, which ranked the Wildcats No. 16 in the preseason after winning a sectional title a year ago.
Neuqua has a little of everything, including parts that go so well together. The Wildcats feature 6-5 junior Kareem Amedu inside. He has emerged as more than a role player as his post-up game and rebounding have become huge factors around the basket. There is 6-5 junior Dwayne Evans, the team's most talented and versatile player who can get a little done inside and on the perimeter. Derek Raridon, the son of North Central College coach Todd Raridon, is a 6-5 senior who can stretch defenses with his shooting. They have a pair of steady senior guards in Ryan Wagner and Nolan Brown, while junior Rahjan Muhammad gives the team speed, athleticism and a little scoring punch on the perimeter.
Together this group, along with continued success that could very well have Neuqua Valley heading into the postseason with a 27-1 record, will get people talking soon enough.
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