All the action was down in Morris the past two days. Joliet Herald-News sports editor Dick Goss checked in with a number of teams...
By DICK GOSS SPORTS EDITOR
MORRIS -- Things change from one year to the next.
But reputations often carry over.
After Lockport High School reach the quarterfinals of last season's Class AA State Basketball Tournament, the Porters were on everyone's short list of teams to watch in the 22nd annual Morris Boys Shootout. And indeed, Lockport has an opportunity to shine in today's Gold Tournament, which pits the 1-2 seeds from each of the eight four-team pools.
On the other hand, when Pool C champion Pekin laid a 55-35 whuppin' on the Porters in the second of Thursday's three games, it did raise some eyebrows.
"I couldn't hit my shot at all, and we all were out there doing our own thing," Lockport senior forward Justin Jarosz said, explaining the Pekin experience.
"We shot the ball on the first good look, and Pekin took the best shot available," Porters coach Lawrence Thompson Jr. said. "If we're going to be good, we have to make our offense be what Pekin did to us. They didn't turn it over, and they were patient on offense.
"We showed some of the same good signs against Burlington Central and Minooka, but we have to do it consistently."
Lockport opened with a 71-30 spanking of Burlington Central, which in the final game gave Pekin a strong challenge, and finished with a 53-38 win over Minooka.
Jarosz will not be available today. He will be with his AAU team for a tournament in Cincinnati. Derrell Williams, Brian Bradley, Aaron Czerkies, Kevin Molloy, Ryan Callozzo, Scott Stevens and Kyle Ford will be among those Thompson has at his disposal.
"I wish I could have come back here," Jarosz said. "I want to be here. But we have good depth, and the guys can do well. I hope they win it all."
"We do have guys with individual talent," Thompson said. "But the challenge is to see how that can fit into your system. You'll only be good if you mesh together."
Thompson said, yes, the Porters will be playing tough competition all of today, beginning with their 2 p.m. matchup against the Pool F No. 1 seed. But they can compete.
"We have guys with varsity experience and some of the better sophomores from last year," Thompson said. "In the summer, you find out how guys handle pressure situations, how well they recognize what is a good shot and what isn't, things like that. You find out about kids."
The Gold Tournament winner will need to win four games without a loss today.
BOLINGBROOK MAKES WAVES
By DICK GOSS sports editor
MORRIS -- New Bolingbrook High School boys basketball coach Rob Brost will tell you his team has a long way to go before it can begin accepting kudos.
But based on Thursday's pool play in the 22nd annual Morris Shootout, the Raiders do have something cooking.
"We have a new system, a new way to do things," Brost reminded even after the Raiders swept Pool B with victories of 48-42 over Neuqua Valley, 58-51 over North Lawndale and 49-43 over Plainfield South. "We played hard all day. We played well in stretches, not as well in other stretches. We have to bring it (today), or we will be in trouble."
Today is when the Raiders will compete in the Gold Tournament, which pits the 1-2 seeds from each of the eight four-team pools. The Gold Tournament champion will need to go 4-0 today. Bolingbrook's first game will be at noon.
"I'd like to see us compete at a high level," Brost said. "To do that, we need to do the little things better than we have. We need to cut down our turnovers, and we need to cut down the number of opponent offensive rebounds. We're still making too many mistakes."
However, the Raiders are quick. Very quick. And they boast strong senior leadership in forward Julius Verdun, guard Elijah Hunt and center Fernando Troya.
"Those three have been outstanding in the leadership area all summer," Brost said. "That certainly has been a positive."
Verdun, a three-year varsity veteran, noted, "We've been playing a lot more as a team. Everyone has each other's back."
What about shooting for the championship in a summer tournament? After all, it is only summer.
"It's not the same, with hardly anyone in the gym," Verdun said. "But you just have to push yourself in the summer. Each guy has to pick up his intensity. I think we did that today."
The gym may not be loaded with fans, but the college recruiters are there. And a 6-foot-6 specimen such as Verdun attracts attention.
"Julius could have a breakout senior year," Brost said. "He has to work on his consistency on his outside jumper and ballhandling. He will have to continue working on those areas if he wants to play at the next level."
From a team perspective, Brost said, "I really don't care if we win or lose (today), but I do care that we play correctly. And if you do play correctly, good things tend to happen."
New Morris coach Joe Blumberg was so busy with organizing the shootout that it took a few minutes of Game 1 before he was able to slip into a coaching mode. The Redskins won that game over Pontiac 62-56, lost to East Aurora 67-63 and beat Leyden 45-44 to grab second place in Pool A and qualify for the Gold Tournament, where they will play a 2 p.m. game today.
"Honestly, my main concern was running the tournament, getting the workers here and making sure things were running smoothly," he said. "This was a really good shootout in the late '80s and early '90s. The AAU stuff may have taken some of the luster off team tournaments like this, but this still has the reputation of being one of the best in the state, and I want to uphold that."
Meanwhile, his team was playing.
"It took awhile in that first game before I really got into coaching," Blumberg said. "The Pontiac game probably was our best game. We lost focus mentally against East Aurora and let it affect our execution and decision making, or we might have won that game.
"Against Leyden, we squeaked one out. We didn't make free throws down the stretch, but we had some stops that we had to have."
Senior Zach Thetard demonstrated his long-range shooting, hitting five 3-pointers against Pontiac. But Blumberg noted that he also has developed the ability to penetrate and create shots off the dribble.
The coach said the combination of Ben Olson and sophomore Kevin Henry provided quality minutes in the post.
Blumberg is in his sixth year in the Morris program. He was the freshman coach two years, the sophomore assistant one year and the sophomore head coach two years.
"I had this group of seniors as freshmen and they won 23 games," he noted. "In fact, they went up with me to the sophomore level. I also had them in freshman and sophomore baseball. They may be getting sick of me, but I'm not sick of them. They're good kids to coach."
The Cougars fell 59-52 to North Lawndale, 68-40 to Neuqua Valley and 49-43 to Bolingbrook to finish 0-3 and fourth in Pool B. They will play in the Maroon Tournament for 3-4 seeds beginning at 9 a.m. today.
South may have entered the shootout at a disadvantage, but coach Ken Bublitz said his team will be catching up.
"We haven't had much organized this summer other than our own shootout," he said. "Our camp will be starting Monday, and that will be our chance to get things going."
Bublitz was not concerned with the record Thursday.
"We played three really good teams," he said. "And what summer should be about is seeing different kids in different situations. There are other objectives besides winning.
"We want to come out of summer with a group of guys who play at a higher level. For that to happen, they have to realize how fast the game is and play against that good pressure, the kind of pressure we like to put on other people. We want to come out of summer giving ourselves more versatility."
The Cougars were without returning guard Nykeese Griffin, who has a wrist in a cast after an injury suffered during the shootout at South. Bublitz said he probably will miss most of the summer.
The Indians were fourth in Pool C at 0-3 after defeats of 59-31 to Pekin, 69-46 to Burlington Central and 53-38 to Lockport. They open in the Maroon Tournament for 3-4 seeds at 9 a.m. today.
"We played good competition, and there's good and bad in that," Minooka coach Jon Monti said.
"The good is that you have to face good competition to get better. The bad is that little things go bad, your confidence gets shaken and it gets worse, especially when you have a young team."
Minooka played Thursday with only a couple of players on its bench and was operating with three sophomores, three juniors and a relatively inexperienced senior.
"As a group, we struggled in our first two games today," Monti said. "It was nice to show some aggressiveness and competitiveness against Lockport.
"We were short on bodies here, but playing this hard gives us the opportunity to compete against these teams. We get a chance to see what we can do execution wise, offensively and defensively."
Romeoville and Seneca also are representing the Joliet area in the shootout. They were in pools that played games Thursday in the late afternoon and at night.