By Joe Henricksen

A hand full of wild cards

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By Joe Henricksen

Some of last year's most important players on a few of the breakthrough teams weren't the biggest stars; they only reinforced their team's rise. Now those players have to be replaced. They weren't the big names found in newspaper articles or heavily courted by college coaches. But these types of players are the names high school coaches remember and wish they had more of no matter what year or season it is.

We're talking the glue guys, the unheralded players who just make teams better and often have a unique ability to provide various ingredients a team needs to succeed. Despite not being the star, these players are important "spokes in the wheel." And several top teams with heavy expectations this winter must find ways to replace these exact type of players.

The expectations at Benet Academy are sky high. A year after reinvigorating the basketball program with a run to the Class 4A supersectional, coach Gene Heidkamp welcomes back the three best players from that team, including Division I recruits David Sobolewski and 6-10 Frank Kaminsky. However, the aforementioned key parts to the success of Benet Academy -- and several other top teams in the Chicago area -- will be missed and have to be replaced in order to maintain the level of success each of these teams enjoyed a year ago. The search for those replacements begins Monday when the high school basketball season officially starts with the opening of practice.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at several teams in the precarious position of having to fill valuable minutes that were not always recognized by the average fan. These are teams fresh off big seasons and who return big-named talent, yet those close to and within the programs know themselves what important elements were lost.

The Hype: The Redwings snapped St. Joseph's string of consecutive titles in the East Suburban Catholic Conference last year while rolling through league play with an unbeaten record. Now Benet, with the return of the trio of future Northwestern point guard David Sobolewski, shooter/defender Matt Parisi and Wisconsin-bound big man Frank Kaminsky, will be in everyone's preseason top 10 rankings and favored to repeat in the ESCC.
The Absence: Aside from the emergence of Sobolewski as a star last season, no other key ingredient was as important as Benet's halfcourt defense. Benet was better than their look test due to that stingy defense. That physical style of defense was often overlooked by fans and opponents and it's what allowed the Redwings to surpass everyone's expectations. While Parisi will be back as Benet's top on-the-ball defender, no one realizes how important the senior tandem of 6-3 Dylan Flood and 6-3 Mike Runger were to Heidkamp's team. No, they didn't put up big numbers, but they were so instrumental in providing defense, toughness and some size. This Benet team will be better offensively than a year ago, but the defensive success will determine if it can match last year's success.

The Hype: First, Hillcrest reloads. Every year. Second, the team's best and most influential player, point guard Juice Brown, returns. But this is a little different. The Hawks are coming off the first-ever basketball state championship in school history. Nonetheless, coach Don Houston's club figures to be one of the top teams in the south suburbs and a threat to reach Peoria again in Class 3A.
The Absence: The loss of Kent State-bound Eric Gaines will be obvious and noticed by everyone, but the loss of some of the unheralded seniors from a year ago should not go unnoticed. The trio of 6-4 Darren Tillman, versatile Nick Oden and do-what-it-takes Herbert Offord made an impact on each and every game in some way and fashion. Whether it was their defense, rebounding, second-chance scoring opportunities or simply their infectious attitude, Tillman, Oden and Offord provided a constant for the Hawks that will be awfully difficult to replace.

The Hype: Coach Scott Miller's club won a school record 27 games last season, went 14-0 in the DuPage Valley and won a regional title before falling to Benet in the sectional championship. The Rams return their top two players in four-year starter Zach Miller, a point guard headed to Northern Illinois, and 6-3 all-state candidate Johnny Hill, who will sign with Illinois State next week.
The Absence: Everything that three-year starter Jack Merrithey brought to the table last season rarely showed up in the box score, though he was capable of popping for 20-plus on a given night. Glenbard East will be hard pressed to match Merrithey's ferocious competitiveness, toughness, leadership and incessant man-to-man defense. More than anything, Merrithey provided a presence last season and found ways to make important plays in big moments.

The Hype: The De La Salle fanbase and alums have been anticipating this season -- Mike Shaw's senior year -- for quite some time. The belief is this is the season the Meteors make the next jump and bring home some state hardware. Coach Tom White's club has talented Division I veterans to go along with a bevy of promising young players, including sophomores Alex Foster and Jaylon Tate who gained valuable varsity time a year ago.
The Absence: Yes, the talent in the program is certainly abundant. However, the graduation of D.J. Bland, a football-playing tough guy with some basketball skill, and 6-3 Troy Torrence will be felt. In some of De La Salle's biggest moments last year, it was Bland and Torrence providing huge, unheralded lifts. It was Bland's 14 points that helped fuel the romp over Simeon in late February. It was Bland and Torrence combining for 30 points in the regional title victory. Bland and Torrence were underrated and productive players and will be missed.

The first issue of the season of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, now in its 16th year of publication, will be due out next week. For more information or to subscribe to the Hoops Report, call (630)-408-6709 or email

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Joe. I agree you with 100% on the Benet Academy about missing there defensive stars. Toughness and heart like those kids had can't be replaced. Have you came out with your top 25 rankings yet?

St. Patrick is going to have a say about the race. Jacob Williams had some catching up to do. Beleve me...he has caught up. This is a talented St.Pat's team. They had a lot of close games, including the ones wth Benet. I don't see the Shamrocks losing many games this year...including the opening ESCC game with Benet at St Pat's the beginning of December. Benet won't be ranked high for long.

Great article Joe! I follow Benet and I love their team. They are the team to beat in the ESCC. And your comments on Flood and Runger are right on. It'll be fun to see how they do this year. Maybe they'll have 2 new guys step up to fill their shoes. Another fun season in the ESCC and the Western Burbs in general. I'm looking forward to seeing your top 25.

PWayne...St. Pats also has a new junior from Canada that supposedly can play also...but I heard Darien Walls got expelled. And I don't think St. Pats will win it. They will contend but they won't win.

Ok joe, since u haven't heard about this yr's Hillcrest squad... Remember these names, 6'6 Kadeem Thornton, 6'5 Lebarron Hull sr g/f, Tarez Haskins 5'8 sr g, 6'5 Jalen Loving jr f, Jamell Kent 5'11 sr g... much deeper/talented squad than last yr's, soph team was 28-0! Non conference schedule includes Simeon, Delasalle, Crete, trip to dallas,tx for (battle @ the colony) 7 team best of il. vs tx. shootout, PW xmas tourney... Come march we will be battle tested & READY TO DEFEND OUR CROWN!

Saint Pat's is going nowhere. Even if they happen to get into a regional final they'll be out coached and go down again. Did you see them blow an 18 point lead to Iggy last year and Iggy wasn't even that good. With Foreman, De La Salle, Iggy and Whitney Young in their sectional, they are one and done.

How many times are we going to hear about St. Pats and Jacob Williams from fans? Come on! A lot of hype early but it didn't pan out. It's ok. Those things happen all the time with programs with young hyped up players.

Already looking forward to Glenbard East-Benet Academy rematch both in the regular season and again for a sectional title in March.

Joe how could u mention D with out saying a word about Dre Henley ? It's true we lost 2 very important glue guys but we gained 1 of the top players in the state which covers those 2 that we lost. I've been watching Dre in open gym at school and he looks better than ever. He'll be a top 5 player again by Mid season after a rough past year and a half with his transfer to prep school and back to D and a average grassroots season. He is back at D where he belongs and the Meteors and Dre will have a special season we have the best 1-2 punch in state with Dre and Mike.

St. pats was better when they played with neighborhood kids and made the most out of their talent. Now all they do is recruit kids from across the city. I guess thats fine if u win with them. But u need to recruit the right kind of kids. A handful of the kids St. Pat brings in now are punks and they do not win. None of the blue-collar, neighborhood, scrappy basketball players are going to want to come to St. Pats with this crap going on. They have many other good choices like ND and Fenwick.

Joe, can you confirm that Walls from Pats has been expelled? If that's the case St. Pats may be in for some trouble this year. He was a key piece into their success in the east suburban last year. I love the way he plays, tough and hard-nosed. As for Jacob Williams, hes a good player, but he needs to take a reality check before some games. He can't be superman out there the whole time. Getting his teammates involved will be a key thing for the Shamrocks this year. What are the games that you are looking forward to the most this year as well? don't know what you are talking about....St.Pat's has far more tradition than the Dons or Friars. St.Pat's has been around since 1861...They are drawing more qulified, male sudent's then Fenwick or Notre Dame. As far as competing with Benet, we will know the answer to that one the first week of December...when Benet comes to St. Pat's. I'll take the Shamrocks.

pwayne.....remember December in last season at Pats? for a team that lost to Benet twice last year you seem pretty sure that Pats will just a little confused at the logic here. Im a fan of both the teams and im excited to see the game. Im not gong to pick a winner because i dont think that's the best thing to do for high school students to be seeing. Whatever you think here but just take a look at the facts from last year. I just see a hole in your logic.

I never said St. Pats wasn't the better school. St. Pats is a great school, better than both ND and Fenwick. What I meant to say was if u are a 14 yr old basketball player that wants to play in H.S. where ru gunna go? St. Pats has all these talent coming in, and if u are not in wit the coaches, u ain't gettin on that hoops team. Fenwick and ND probably have less talent coming in. St. Pats usually has 1 or 2 or 3 freshman playing up on the sophs or rarely varsity. What r ur chances of starting in 4 years if 1. u don't know if ull make it fresh yr and 2. there is already freshman they recruited who will always be favored.
But if u aren't a bball player, Pats is the place to be. Great school, just making some mistakes in the basketball program in my opinion. My 2 kids went there so i know that.

With that comment may i also add Fenwick and ND aren't bad schools. St. Pats is probably best among the 3 but Fenwick and ND aren't bad.

There are fans/parents who support their teams and there are fans who are unrealstic and talk up a team to the point they cannot live up to the hype. Tarheelblue, be careful what you wish for. Hillcrest has a nice team, but they are not near elite. When they lose 6-8 games this year I look forward to the referee/tough schedule excuses. Beating up on your horrible conference means nothing.

All I know is the ESCC took a big hit and a big step backward with the loss of St. Joseph. This league is always top heavy with 2 or 3 good teams, maybe 4, then a big drop. The league couldn't afford to lose Joes. Thanks Hoops Report for the great job you do in bringing high school basketball the recognition that many of us enjoy reading.

Tarheel what happened to Hillcrest a couple of weeks ago when Brooks blew them out by 30?

I think its a good thing st. Joes left the ESCC. They won it every year. Yeah, St. Pats competed with them but Joes won it every year except last year. There is a more balanced field in the ESCC this year. With Paul Turner coming in, Joes was only going to get better. Notre Dame has Duante Stephens but other than that, I don't think there are any big name freshies in the ESCC.

Freshman to look out for in the ESCC is Sean O'Mara. Hes 6'7 and will be playing behind Kaminsky on the the varsity team as a frosh.

TOP 3 freshman at notre dame....duante stephens, jon johnson, and tristan jackson, these young guys will be on the map quickly, duante especially, jon is a tall forward, and tristan jackson is another tall forward and guard watch out for them escc

i have been watching Notre Dame's young tristan jackson and zion bentons malik yarbrough, you may think that status is everything, but there are many underated players, im comparing the two because we did a segment with malik, and hes pretty known around the chicagoland area, Tristan Jackson, who is from Arizona or California i believe, is not ranked or known that well, but his ability and skill level is very high, watching him play at a collegiate level helped me to believe that, at Notre dame, there are many promising players, Duante stephens, Eddie serrano, Matt mooney, Ross langlois, but at Zion benton, they seem to focus on one player, keep an eye out for young freshmen and sophmores in the chicago area, they will attract many colleges, divison one and two

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on November 8, 2010 11:12 AM.

Bobo Drummond commits to SIU was the previous entry in this blog.

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