By Joe Henricksen
There would be plenty of reasons for any coach at Riverside-Brookfield to accept mediocrity.
R-B is nestled in the middle of a basketball hotbed in the near-western suburbs, just west of the city of Chicago and a quick car ride from the likes of St. Joseph, Proviso East, Morton and Lyons Twp. Yes, it's pretty easy to get lost in the basketball discussion there.
The conference the Bulldogs play in, the Metro Suburban, has improved recently, but it's like the Ohio Valley Conference in the NCAA -- the league doesn't generate much basketball conversation and receives very little fanfare or respect. Fortunately, R-B has evolved into the Murray State of the Metro Suburban and flourished by winning 10 consecutive league titles.
Even with the obstacles (thank goodness, too, for the four-class system for a landlocked community and school district that is R-B), coach Tom McCloskey and his staff have done a marvelous job of promoting the program within the school and community. The basketball program has generated interest and excitement.
Riverside-Brookfield is home to arguably the best high school basketball summer shootout in the state in early June. The schedule is upgraded each year, with the Bulldogs willing to play just about anyone, anywhere while providing new and different experiences for the kids in the program, both in-season and out-of-season. The Bulldogs play a fun style for players in the program. All of that creates relevance, gets the R-B basketball name out there and helps in building success.
R-B has been very competitive since McCloskey returned as head coach in 2001 (he was also the head coach at R-B from 1989-1994). The Bulldogs have averaged 19 wins a season since his return, including a 23-win, regional championship season in 2002. But the success has come at a higher level the past few years. R-B has won 24, 22 and 23 games the past three seasons with back-to-back regional titles.
Now McCloskey's Bulldogs are off to a 17-4 start, riding a 10-game win streak and well on their way to a fourth consecutive 20-plus win season. And with a recent road win over Ridgewood last week, R-B is in position to capture its 11th straight league title.
McCloskey is doing it a little differently this year. He had to replace the entire starting five from a year ago, including star Ryan Jackson. The wins, however, keep on coming. Steady, do-it-all senior Luke Nortier is averaging 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists a game, while a pair of juniors, guard Damonta Henry and 6-7 Miki Ljuboja, average 18 and 15 points a game, respectively.
While the Bulldogs have had some quality individual players over the years, including Jackson and Sean McGonagill, who is starring in the Ivy League for Brown, arguably the best prospect to come through R-B in a long time is Ljuboja. The junior big man is among the Hoops Report's top 30 prospects in the Class of 2013 and has blossomed. Ljuboja is big, skilled with a soft touch, a great nose for the ball and is still just 15 years old. He has a surprising tough, relentless style that puts him in position to make plays.
When you add another impressive junior like Henry, along with a sophomore team that is currently 17-2 on the year, the fortunes for next season remain extremely bright. That talent pool will keep R-B basketball humming along while it gains more and more respect.
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