By Joe Henricksen

The secret weapons

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By Joe Henricksen

We love to talk and write about the big-named players, especially those that play for the high-profile teams getting ready to embark on long March runs. As we celebrate the elite players who lead state-ranked teams and will go on to play Division I basketball, there are so many individuals that play pivotal roles for their teams. As they support the alpha dogs, these often forgotten players will be key figures in regional and sectional games over the next two weeks. Let's celebrate those players here today.

Matt Parisi, Benet Academy
While Parisi has been respected throughout the Benet basketball community for all he has done in support of the Big Ten-bound duo of David Sobolewski and Frank Kaminsky, others around the state will take notice this March. Parisi provides three huge ingredients to Benet's success: a top on-the-ball defender, a standout perimeter shooter and toughness. Help on Sobolewski or double-down on Kaminsky? Parisi can spread a defense and keep them honest with his three-point shooting.

David Fatoki, Homewood-Flossmoor
The talented junior class at H-F receives plenty of hype, and senior Julian Lewis has made some headlines this season, but Fatoki is the ultimate "team player" who provides leadership and an infectious "team first" attitude. The 5-8 guard will defend, is an additional ballhandler and will knock a shot down. In a key road game at Lockport in early February, with H-F's offense stuck in neutral, Fatoki came out of the half and knocked down huge back-to-back-to-back three-pointers to provide a monster lift. Fatoki has provided plenty of lifts this season, just without the fanfare.

Gabe Williams, Farragut
The All-City team includes do-it-all Farragut senior D.J. Tolliver. And when Farragut claimed the Public League Holiday Tournament title in December, it was Tolliver and junior Rashaun Stimage who shared co-MVP honors. But Williams has been one of the better successful secrets in the city. The senior guard has been so instrumental in Admirals' rise in the Red-West and up the rankings. Williams plays with a will and persistence. He has the ability to put points on the board and rise to the occasion when the game is on the line.

Dan Jurgutis, Downers Grove South
With the talent in place at Downers Grove South, it can be easy to be overshadowed. Senior Ziggy Riauka is having a terrific senior season. The junior tandem of Jerron Wilbut and Jamal Millison are a very talented pair. But the unsung player is Jurgutis, who transferred in this year from St. Joseph and has been so efficient. He has provided a little of everything for coach Jay Baum--from toughness to a presence in the backcourt.

Tino Vasquez, Proviso East
On a team loaded with young talent in the junior and sophomore class, Vazquez is clearly the unsung player for the Pirates. He plays bigger than his 6-4 size and hits the offensive glass. The lanky Vazquez can defend multiple positions and finds a way to always be around the ball. Plus, he's better offensively than people give him credit for. He's a worker who keeps his head down, keeps coming at you and finds a way.

Cassius Bell, Niles North
There is no question Abdel Nader is the face and coach Glenn Olson the director of a basketball program that is doing things it's not accustomed to, which includes beating Evanston in the Central Suburban League title game and sharing the CSL North title with Glenbrook North. And mighty-mite sophomore Malachi Nix's emergence has lifted Niles North to another level in the second half of the season. But it's Bell, who Olson refers to as his "glue guy," that is the unsung factor for this 20-win team. Since Bell was inserted into the starting lineup, Niles North has gone 12-1. A team-first guy who accepts his role, he finishes at the rim and is versatile enough defensively to guard both big and small.

Antonio Levy, Thornton
Coach Troy Jackson has now won 20-plus games in each of his eight seasons at Thornton. This year's Wildcats are getting it done with veterans and balance, including the senior duo of Brian Greene, Jr. and Jay Parker. While Greene was the McDipper Holiday Tournament MVP and Parker has been a four-year varsity mainstay, another senior--Levy--has been a pivotal piece. Late in games Levy and his 85 percent free throw shooting is a weapon. He provides Jackson with another offensive threat (10.3 ppg), a perimeter shooter and added ballhandler.

Steve Kinney, Glenbard East
The Zach Miller-Johnny Hill backcourt is what is thought of first when dissecting the success the Rams have enjoyed, which has been another 22-plus win season and 14-0 record in the DuPage Valley. Senior guard Tyree York has also stepped up and played a big role. But for a team that lacks size or a presence inside, the strong-willed Kinney has been a warrior for the Rams. He plays bigger than his listed 6-1 height, is a battler on the boards and always defends players with four or five inches on him. In addition, Kinney will hurt you on the offensive end when you least expect it.

Ryan Tompkins, Niles Notre Dame
The fuel to a 20-win season and No. 1 sectional seed has been the 1-2 punch of Quinton Chievous, one of the top unsigned Division I prospects in the senior class, and the emergence of Rodney Pryor. But senior sharpshooter Ryan Tompkins is the forgotten man. Make no mistake, Tompkins is a role player and limited, but he has the ability to space the floor with his shooting range--a big plus with talents like Chievous and Pryor around--and must be accounted for on the perimeter.

Dominique Walls, Hales Franciscan
The Armstread brothers--Aaric and Aaron--have been the key cogs for coach Gary London's Class 2A favorite Spartans. The addition of out-of-state transfer Eddie Alcantera has been a huge difference. The forgotten man, however, is 6-5 leaper Dominique Walls. He's not one of the three big scorers or at the same level of a prospect as the Armsteads or Alcantera, but Walls makes an impact with high-energy, crowd-pleasing moments. Whether it's a flying dunk, keeping the ball alive around the rim or blocking shots, Walls embraces his role and energizes teammates with momentum-changing plays.

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Joe, great column. Each of the teams you mention has their "Star's". The key is that the teams mentioned have talented players from spots 1 through 8 or 9. But the players on these teams, even the stars, value team more than they value "self". It is about forcing the other team to worry about each of those 8 or 9 player instead of just 2 or 3. Everyone understands their role and everyone does some things very well in every game; rebound, defend, grab loose balls, score if that is what is needed. The secret weapons, as you call them, force you to defend the whole floor and each player on the floor. Each player is committed to their team winning. That is the "secret" of basketball, it isn't just about basketball. Just ask Isiah Thomas as he is the one who defined the "secret" of basketball.

I have watched Steve Kinney, Glenbard East, play the last couple of years and he plays exactly as you stated. He is a solid player end line to end line. He is tough (QB in the DVC, you have to be tough), hard nosed, is quietly efficient and effective. Every team needs a player like him, not every team has one. Fortunately East has him. Good luck in the playoffs.

Spot on again Joe with this blog. These are the players that tend to get lost but always make that key play or maybe even have that one big game out of nowhere that gives their team a win in March.

Bottomline is a player that works hard on the court will get noticed!
Walls from Hales is a warrior, he didn't touch the ball enough at the McDipper Tourney, and therefore Hales didn't reach the Championship game, when he is in the offense, Hales is a true force to be reckoned with, a 2A powerhouse!

Great call on the DGS guard. He has been steady and solid for a team that has had its issues.

You should have mentioned Clark Rosenberg of Evanston. He's the key cog behind Garrett Jones and James Farr. If all three get it going they could be dangerous in the playoffs.

I'm sure there will be a million people here trying to tell you the guy from their favorite school that you missed, but honestly, there are at LEAST three guys from Benet that would make sense in this blog entry. Parisi is of course a decent choice, although "secret" might be a stretch. He was mentioned in many articles early in the season, which has led to other teams paying much more attention to him. While he is still my favorite kind of role player, a scrappy defensive menace, gone are the days where he went ignored outside the arc and led the Redwings in scoring.
Boyle is another guy. He's quiet most of the time, but that's because Coach Gene Heidkamp has instilled the concept of teamwork in these guys. Boyle's defense in the Proviso West Championship Game was our key to victory; he held a player who had been averaging (I believe) roughly 30 points a game in that tournament to 4 (if I recall correctly). He can also go off offensively against teams that have profiled him as merely a defensive weapon. It's by no means pretty, but I'd wager his three-point shot has gone in more than 75% of the time this year.
McInerny is another guy who springs to mind. After getting a lot of playing time as the 6th man his freshman year, the sophomore starter can be seen fighting over every rebound, diving (literally, two-plus times per game) after loose balls, and getting the easy points under the basket. He also has a pretty stroke from around the free-throw line, although he usually elects to hit an open teammate instead. This kid will be the standout player on next year's squad for Benet.
I also see a lot of pieces ragging on Benet's bench. While it's true only two players see significant time in close games, I'd take them over anyone else not starting in the area. Sure, Simeon has better players in their 10-deep lineup of studs, but Kevin Doyle and James Roemer surely contribute more to the TEAM that is Benet than any other pair would. While Doyle rarely shoots, he is a fantastic athlete (like a quicker, less powerful Boyle) who gets steal after steal after steal. I'm sure anyone in attendance at the Benet-Simeon game (I saw quite a few...) noticed that kid that came in for two possessions in the first half, and got two steals. In a four point game, that just might have been the difference. When he came in for a few minutes late in the game, he played lockdown D again, and forced another turnover.
James Roemer got a little attention when Sobo missed a few games. On a squad without Frank Kaminsky, Roemer would surely be considered amongst the top three players at Benet. However, he accepts his role, knows his place, and provides a valuable fill-in for Frank when he needs a rest. Roemer's mostly praised for his offensive game, but at 6'7, it shouldn't come as a surprise that he cleans up the boards at both ends.
In our quest for our first state championship this year, don't underestimate the roleplayers'... ahem, ROLE, in our success.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on March 1, 2011 8:36 AM.

The best of the seeds was the previous entry in this blog.

Survival for a few; others not so lucky is the next entry in this blog.

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