Riverside-Brookfield senior forward Joe Gilhooley picked up the ideal motivating chip for his offseason in late March.
After winning 11 of their first 12 games in the shortened 2020-21 season, the Bulldogs had one final game to close out a memorable run. The Bulldogs, though, dropped a 62-56 decision to Timothy Christian on March 13.
The overtime defeat had an immediate and long-term lasting effect. Not only did the Bulldogs fall short of winning the Metro Suburban Blue Conference, they had to head into the offseason feeling the pain of missing out on one of their main goals in the non-playoff season.
“Losing in the conference championship game last spring really left a bad taste in our mouth,” Gilhooley said. “It was a tough loss, and they were a great team, but now we’re focused on winning conference this year and going as far as we can in the state tournament.”
Gilhooley was among several Bulldogs who utilized that pain to help push himself in the offseason. The 6-foot-4 Gilhooley’s big improvement is one of the factors behind the Bulldogs winning three of their first four games, including a runner-up finish in the competitive and diverse Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic. In the title game loss to Curie, John Paul Hanley had 17 points, and Joevonn McCottry Gilhooley each finished with 16.
“I think our team this season has a very high ceiling,” Gilhooley said. “I hope we opened some eyes with how we played last week. We have the potential to win a conference, regional and a sectional championship.”
Riverside-Brookfield coach Mike Reingruber said Gilhooley’s development is essential toward his team’s progress early in the season.
“Joe is a tough match for a lot of teams,” Reingruber said. “We don’t have a traditional big, so he can play inside or outside. He has a quick first step getting to the rim. He really worked hard and put a ton of time in and out of the gym. He loves being in the gym, and he’s a great leader and he definitely a took step forward this summer. We saw some really positive progress.”
Gilhooley said he gained some confidence from starting in the 12-game spring season that carried over to his offseason workouts. Gilhooley said he’s been in contact with several colleges and received a “few offers” from Division III schools. He showed off his skill set with a 26-point explosion against Oak Park-River Forest.
“I needed that varsity experience for this season,” he said. “It helped me transition to the different speed and strength required to be successful at this level. Last year allowed me to grow comfortable within the offense and become more confident as a scorer.”
Nazareth’s strong start
Nazareth coach Sean Pearson has experienced the highs and lows of a long basketball career. The former Kansas standout is in the midst of his best season leading the Nazareth program to a 5-0 start.
“It’s a good start to the season,” Pearson said. “I’m excited for the guys. They’ve been working hard, moving the ball and playing as a team. Everyone has been there for everyone, which is exciting. We’re just starting to understand how to play as a team, and they have a belief in each other, playing for the guy next to each other. That’s something we’ve talked about. You have a job to do, guy next to you has a job to do.”
Pearson said his team’s win over Stagg was impressive because star player, Dom Trelenberg, struggled scoring.
“Our third win was exciting because one of our better players had an off night offensively,” Pearson said. “Dominic continued to stay in the game, picked up the little things and they figured it out.”
Pearson, in his sixth year, said it’s been a long uphill climb building the Nazareth program. Before his arrival, the Roadrunners had not won more than 15 games — 18 wins in 2010-11 — since posting a 19-9 record in 1997-98. Nazareth finished 4-9 in the shortened 2021 season and 9-22 in 2019-2020.
“We were young last year,” Pearson said. “We were switching our starting lineup each game, but we brought back six guys that had started at some point last year. It takes time building a program. You can’t waver from what your plans are or your expectations. Rome isn’t built in a day. I kept telling the guys that we’re getting closer and closer and they have to believe in the process. So far, we’re off to a good start.”
Tidbits: Glenbard West hooks up for a big early season matchup against Glenbrook South at Sunday’s Hoop Classic Shootout at Ridgewood High School. Glenbrook South, led by Elon recruit Nick Martinelli and Cornell signee Cooper Noard, posted a 79-42 win over Stevenson on Saturday…Wheaton Warrenville South defeated Rolling Meadows in the title game of the Chuck Mitchell Fenton Tournament, with Rolling Meadows junior star guard Cameron Christie, who was named the tourney MVP, scoring just 15 points.