Fourth in a series
The Patch Hardwood Tour examines boys high school basketball on a weekly rotational basis, focusing on teams in a 12-town region. Its intent is to celebrate and inform about prep hoops; the best high school sport in the state. The Tour will will be stopping in your town soon.
'Twas the week before Christmas and basketball teams everywhere were looking for a little winning momentum to slingshot them into holiday tournaments across the state.
Doing so has been an uphill battle for many teams on The Patch Hardwood Tour, due in part to a common injury theme that has been prevalent nearly everywhere the ball is being bounced.
Here's the latest look at how the clubs have been handling setbacks, both physical and mental, as the boys hoops campaign completes its first month of competition.
Big gun's knee still cause for concern
You've got to feel for Jacobs High's Nick Hofman.
After coming all the way back from a left knee ligament tear that sidelined him for a majority of the campaign last year, the high-scoring Golden Eagles guard went down in a heap during Tuesday night's 61-53 home loss to the Barrington Broncos.
It was near the end of the first quarter when, according to the highly disappointed senior, "I made a sharp cut and it just popped out."
One second, the top scorer for the Eagles was upright, and the next he was flat on his belly on the ground, never to return to the game.
At the time, the 6-foot-3 guard had already racked up 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including a pair of treys.
Hofman originally injured the knee during last year's Jacobs Holiday Tournament. Surgery followed in January. Following a long rehabilitation process, he made it all the way back, with style, albeit with a brace around the hurt appendage. In the team's first four games, the sharpshooter was averaging about 14 a contest and all was looking well. In the team's two outings prior to the Barrington game, Hofman racked up 17, then 22 points. He was clearly on a roll, including the 10-point quarter to start the game against Barrington.
The knee went out on him the day before the Barrington game at practice. But it felt fine during the early part of the game, he said, until it gave out completely.
Let's hope that the kid's final year of prep roundball does not mirror the time he lost as a junior.
Whatever the status, Hofman's knee will be a cause for concern for Jacobs all year long.
The Golden Eagles are obviously a better team with him in the lineup, although they are not bereft of talent. The team finished the first quarter with a 16-15 lead. But without the team's high scorer on the floor, lost ground to Barrington every quarter thereafter on the way to their second loss against three victories.
Alex Glover, a 6-4 junior off the bench, rose to the occasion in Hofman's absence, netting a team-high 13 points with perfect 6 for 6 shooting from the floor. The Golden Eagles also got a lift from sophomore starter Connor Conzelman, who began asserting himself offensively in the second half, where he scored all eight of his points.
Mike Peterson, the other 6-3 starting guard in the Jacobs lineup will have to shoulder more of the scoring load should the Eagles find themselves without Hofman's services.
The Jacobs team is looking to rebound from an unusually bad campaign last season (8-19). And, truth be told, they held their own most of the night against a very good Barrington squad despite the Hofman setback.
But although it goes without saying, I'll say it anyway. Coach Jim Hinkle and his charges would much rather be on the attack with Hofman on their side.
The Golden Eagles ran their record to 5-2 with wins over Johnsburg and Chicago Tilden, respectively, on Friday and Saturday. The best news was the 27 points Nick Hofman poured in against Tilden in the first game of the Jacobs Holiday Tournament, where the team will compete in a 16-team field.
Chemistry, depth key for Barrington team
I'm starting to grasp what makes this Barrington Bronco team successful. In a nutshell, coach Bryant Tucker, although lacking a dynamic superstar, has so many players who give positive contributions during the course of a game that he could probably put 10 names in a hat and pull out a five-man group that would be more than competitive.
In its 61-53 Tuesday road win against Jacobs, Barrington played nine men by the end of the first quarter and 10 on the night.
They triumphed even with Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament MVP Greg Gerrard missing the final quarter and a half of the contest. And their high scorer with 15 points was 6-foot-4 junior Mark Bennett, who came off the bench.
The last time I saw the Broncos play, Bennett was starting. On Tuesday, Tucker tabbed new starters, 6-7 junior center John Schneider and guard Tyler
Weathered and both performed admirably. Schneider had 10 points on 4 of 8 shooting and demonstrated some nifty pivot moves. Weathered was big in the third quarter, scoring 7 of his 9 points after Gerrard (10 points) twisted an ankle and was forced to the bench.
Also contributing big time was 6-5 Lukas Osmundsen. This guy didn't even get in the game when I saw the Broncos play in November. But here was the good-sized lefty coming off the bench and scoring eight points on perfect 4 for 4 shooting.
Not many teams can substitute so freely without losing on-court impact. When sophomore point guard Brad Zaumseil sits down, junior Taylor Ganzer takes over without missing a beat. Osmundsen spells Schneider with equal effectiveness.
The interchangeable nature of the players wears down the opposition and Barrington's effectiveness wavers not one iota. This is an extremely disciplined team that plays hard and smart. The Broncos continually pressured Jacobs defensively and filled passing lanes effectively with steals and fast-break points.
In the fourth quarter they patiently milked the lead with quick ball movement and prolonged posessions.
The depth and smarts of this team will make them a threat in any contest against any opponent. One high-flying scorer would be a nice addition, but then maybe he'd just ruin what comes off as really great chemistry.
The Broncos dropped games Friday and Saturday to a couple of tough opponents -- Conant and Crystal Lake South, respectively. The Crystal Lake South loss was Barrington's first game of the Jacobs Holiday Tournament which continues all this week. Barrington is 6-5 as of this writing, with a 1-2 Mid-Suburban West mark.
Cary-Grove stuggles to make its points
Take away the No. 2 scorer from an already offensively challenged team and you get the kind of low-points tally the Cary-Grove Trojans put up in their 57-33 road loss to the Grayslake Central Rams on Thursday.
"The last two games (6-foot-4 center Ryan) Anderson was in double figures," said Trojans coach Ralph Schuetzle following the contest. "And we came into the game shooting 34 percent."
That's not a formula for success, especially when you add Cary-Grove's 16 turnovers per game to the mix. By halftime Thursday, they had 10.
The last time I saw and wrote about the Trojans, I opined that their star player, guard Nick Richter, needed to be more selfish and take more shots. In this game, I counted at least four times when Richter, a snazzy passer, put the ball in a teammate's hands in perfect position to score. But in each instance, the potential assist was negated by a missed chip shot.
Anderson, who was sitting with a sprained ankle and the flu, may be back by Monday. when the team plays its second game in the Jacobs Holiday Tournament, according to the coach.
Through the first eight games of the year, the Trojans were averaging just about 44 points per contest. Against the Rams, not one Cary-Grove player reached double figures.
I have to agree with Coach Schuetzle's assessment that you can't expect a defense to hold the other team under 40 points every game.
How difficult is it to hold an opponent under 40 points? Well, back in 1969, the powerful defensive juggernauts from Proviso East, featuring future NBA star Jim Brewer, were treated to a spaghetti dinner at their coach's' house whenever they held an opponent under 40. They did so a number of times, but that was a special team that eventually wen on to be state champs By the way, the 3-point line was not even being discussed at the prep level.
In Cary-Grove's case, it's hard to ask Richter (who averages about 14 per contest) to do more. But I'm convinced more than ever that even with Anderson's return, the sharp guard will have to up that scoring average for Cary-Grove to net some wins.
On Friday, the Trojans got just what the doctor ordered, beating a poor St. Edward team 62-33 in their first game of the Jacobs Holiday Tournament. Cary-Grove is now 4-5 on the year with tourney games against powerful Crystal Lake Central and Bartlett looming.
Hard-luck Rams take out frustrations on Trojans
No team on the Patch Hardwood Tour has been as tantalizingly close to victory without achieving it as many times as has the Grayslake Central Rams.
The Rams notched win No. 2 of the season against five losses with Thursday's decisive 57-33 triumph at home against Cary-Grove.
Coach Brian Moe's team has already suffered a one-point loss to a tough Barrington squad, a two-point setback to the upset specialists from Bartlett and a three-point defeat at the hands of Jacobs. That's why Coach Moe expressed such relief at being on the winning side of the ledger in a relatively easy win against the Trojans.
"I'm just happy to get a win," said Moe after the contest. "In our last few games we've decided to consciously go out there and pressure the ball defensively, and it really worked tonight."
Two junior newcomers have been injected into the starting lineup since I last saw Grayslake Central take the court -- Tyler Smith and Casey Boyle.
Boyle, at 6-foot-8 impacted the game with a 9-point fourth-quarter spurt that gave him 13 on the evening and sealed the deal for the Rams. In that short stretch, the big guy registered three of the four consecutive Grayslake Central buckets, including the first slam dunk I've seen by a Patch.com team player this season.
Moe related how seniors on his team get first crack at being starters when the competition is close, but that Smith and Boyle had played their way into the first five.
The addition of Boyle to the mix gives the Rams excellent size up front. He teams with 6-6 C.J. Stempeck to provide formidable defensive obstacles for opponents. The Rams have two other 6-5 players coming off the bench to sustain the team's on-court height.
"We're just not used to dealing with that kind of length," observed coach Ralph Schuetzle of Cary-Grove, who was effusive in his praise of the Rams. "They swatted away a number of shots on us tonight.
"That team seems to have everything. They have height, speed, depth. We don't usually play teams that have that kind of height coming off the bench. And they can shoot. I mean, what else do you wand from a team?"
The road for the Rams does not get any easier as the team, now 2-5. faces unbeaten Glenbard East in the first game of the State Farm Holiday Classic in Bloomington-Normal on Monday.
Young Huntley team a pleasure to watch
The Hardwood Tour traveled to Prairie Ridge High Friday night to get its first look of the year at the hot-as-Hades Huntley Red Raiders.
They did not disappoint.
Coach Marty Manning's team of young veterans starts three juniors and a sophomore and brings a freshman, another sophomore and two more juniors off the pines. This would seem to be a club that would be more likely to gell next season, but it's 5-1 record entering the Prairie-Ridge game indicates that the Red Raiders are ready to produce right now.
This is a small-but mighty team which is not about to let it's lack of height get in the way of battling for rebounds or penetrating the middle on offense. The lone senior to see action on this night was 6-foot-3 Tyler Brunschon, who put up 15 points a game for last year's 15-13 kiddie corps, which featured virtually the same cast of youngsters a year ago.
In a short while, Brunschon will be joined by fellow 6-3 senior Dylan Neukirch, who will provide more veteran leadership, rebounding and depth. Huntley seems to fit right into the pattern of many Patch.com team's I've seen this season in that they are missing a key player. In Neukerch's case, he is recovering from a broken hand.
The Red Raiders already have a Thanksgiving tournament title and a14-point upending of a very tough Crystal Lake Central team under their belt, and it's easy to see why. They are quick, scrappy, move the ball and every one of them seems to be able to shoot. Guards Troy Miller (21 points on this night) and Bryce Only can both hit from outside, but are also fearless about driving the middle or sticking back an offensive rebound they have no real right to corral.
Every so often you come across a team that plays with the kind of joy and verve that is wonderful to behold and vaults an aggregation beyond the talent level of its individual members. The Red Raiders are this type of team. Whether its high energy and depth can overcome taller teams it meets along the way remains to be seen.
But they are definitely fun to watch.
Huntley took down Marian Central 66-44 in its Jacobs Holiday Tournament opener on Saturday. The Red Raiders are now 7-1 on the year.
Valentine, Wolves show heart in face of losses
Going from a wildly successful 11-2 football team to a basketball club that has managed just one victory to this point in the campaign, would seem to be a formula for slumped-shouldered discouragement.
Not so, or at least, not yet, in the case of junior Sean Valentine and the Prairie Ridge Wolves.
Valentine was the top receiver for the gridiron version of the Wolves and is the team's top scorer on the hardwood.
"Football teaches toughness," Valentine said following Friday's 57-36 home loss to Huntley. "Not just physical toughness but mental toughness as well. That's helped us this year in basketball."
In addition to Valentine, the Wolves hoopsters feature junior Nick Margiotta and senior Luke Lamar, who were also key members of the exciting football aggregation.
After getting pounded by 30 and 20 points during consecutive outings earlier this month, Prairie Ridge was clinging to a glimmer of hope based on a three-point loss against Dundee-Crown on Dec. 10. But the scheduling gods were not going to cooperate. The close loss was followed by a game against the superb Huntley Red Raiders on Friday and another stinging loss resulted.
Even in their sting of defeats, the Wolves continue to play hustling basketball, and if pure desire were an overriding factor, the team would eventually break out of its current losing streak. Unfortunately, the one Prairie Ridge weakness that gets underlined every time I see them play is its apparent lack of good shooters.
Valentine, who averages about 13 a game, is the team's top marksman and only consistent scorer. Against Huntley, however, he had a bad night offensively, and the Wolves, almost predictably, finished the game without a player in double figures in the scoring department. In the three games I've seen the Wolves play, only Valentine and 6-7 center James Stawarz have managed 10 or more points in any outing.
Still, if Valentine is any indication, team spirit remains buoyant and optimistic.
"We're still trying to be a team and keep improving as the season goes on," he said. "We have the potential to be good. We've just got to hang in there and keep moving forward."
The Wolves (now 1-7) lost their sixth straight game to St. Charles North by a score of 63-36 on Saturday. Valentine, with 20 points, provided half the points for his team in the loss. It was the team's first contest in the Jacobs Holiday Tournament, and the road gets no easier. Prairie Ridge has its next two pool games in the tourney against winning squads from Crystal Lake South and Barrington.
Doff of the hat to Pitcher and Bears
Good wishes are a natural this time of year, and they should certainly be extended to first-year coach Billy Pitcher and the Lake Zurich Bears for bagging a North Suburban Conference, Lake Division win on Friday.
The 53-48 win at home against the Lake Forest Scouts was special for Pitcher because it was his first Lake Division triumph.
It was exceptional for the players in that it broke through the barriers of frustrating near-victory that had plagued this year's club in early season conference play. Lake Zurich had dropped a pair of 2-point conference games to Mundelein and Libertyville before snaring this close one against the Scouts.
And finally, it was extraordinary in that it exorcised a two-year hard-luck string of Lake Division losses. That uninterrupted streak of defeats can be traced back to a pretty talented 16-13 team of two years ago, which just could not hang on to victory's elusive tail in conference play.
Congrats again, Bears.
The Bears are now 2-7 overall and 1-2 in conference play. They begin play in the Pekin Holiday Tournament on Monday.
Top Patch Teams Witnessed thus far on Hardwood Tour
1. Crystal Lake Central Tigers (7-2)
2. Buffalo Grove Bison (7-2)
3. Crystal Lake South Gators (5-3)
4. Barrington Broncos (6-5)
5. Grayslake North Knights (6-2)
6. Fremd Vikings (6-4)
7. Libertyville Wildcats (5-4)
8. Jacobs Golden Eagles (5-2)