Top new players: Jamarcho Holman, jr. (G, 5-10); Zion Kostyra, jr. (G, 6-2); Isaiah Molette, jr. (F, 6-3); Jaylin Murphy, jr. (G, 6-0); Danny Thompson, so. (G, 6-0).
Worth noting: The Steelmen had some difficulties last season, but did so with largely and underclassman lineup and have four returning starters who hopefully gained from the experience. Turner-Jackson and Demerie appear to be the players who will set the pace, and Thompson said he hopes his team’s persistent effort will translate to more victories.
Coach: Jeremy Kreiger
Last season’s record: 18-12
Top returning players: Jeremiah Fears, so. (G, 6-2); Justus McNair, jr. (G-F, 6-3); Jayden Martin, sr. (G-F, 6-2).
Top new players: Jeremy Fears Jr., sr. (G, 6-3); Matthew Moore, sr. (F, 6-9).
Worth noting: The stakes were raised for the Tigers when Michigan State recruit Jeremy Fears Jr. elected to return to the school from LaLumiere Prep Academy. Fears played his freshman season with Joliet West. He’ll lead a dynamic roster and form an explosive backcourt with his brother Jeremiah Fears, who has grown his game considerably as well as grown physically after his freshman campaign with Joliet West. He is also garnering interest from many major Division I programs. McNair and Martin both averaged in double figures and bring all the elements Kreiger expects from his players. Transfer Matthew Moore brings the one thing this roster has lacked a bit in previous seasons, significant height. The Tigers don’t have a lot of established depth, but they always seem to find players willing to rise to the challenge if need be.
Coach: Kevin Cain
Last season’s record: 20-11
Top returning players: Preston Van Pelt, sr. (G, 6-0); Nick Andreano, sr. (G/F, 6-4).
Top new players: Isaiah DuPree, sr. (G, 6-2); Micah Hamilton (F, 6-4), Jahmai McCoy, jr. (G, 6-0).
Worth noting: The biggest question Minooka will have to find a solution for is replacing a ton of scoring firepower lost to graduation. Ricky Hill Jr. and Trevor Hudak have departed the program, and with that about 40 points per game lost. Minooka will need players who previously were complementary players to step up into significantly larger roles. The wildcard could be Romeoville transfer Hamilton, who adds some interior size and athleticsm to its ranks.
Coach: Anton Wilkins
Last season’s record: 16-15
Top returning players: Colin Bailye, sr. (F, 6-5); Caleb Coberley, sr. (G, 5-11); DJ Pearson, sr. (G, 5-11).
Worth noting: Wilkins, who previously coached in Texas, takes over for Gregg Bayer in leading the Wildcats. Wilkins will get a chance to put his own imprint on the program, as there aren’t a lot of players with returning experience. In addition, former point guard Bryce Shoto transferred to Oswego East.
Coach: Kanwerdeep Sarkaria
Last season’s record: 10-19
Top returning players: Andrew Soenksen, sr. (F-C, 6-8); Jurrien Davis, sr. (F, 6-3); Caleb Jackson, sr. (G, 5-10); Jet Jones, jr. (G, 6-0); Ehi Ogbomo, jr. (G, 6-0).
Worth noting: Sarkaria takes over for Mike Fowler at the reins of the program. He does, however, have plenty of experience in the program, serving as an assistant with the Bengals for the past eight years. There’s not a lot of varsity experience for Sarkaria’s first run at the helm, as there are 13 juniors on the Plainfield East roster with very few having varsity experience. Soenksen could be a major impact player for the Bengals having improved by leaps and bounds as a junior, while the backcourt should be anchored by Ogbomo and Jones.
Coach: Robert Krahulik
Last season’s record: 13-17
Top returning players: Demir Ashiru, sr. (G, 6-2); Jeffrey Fleming, jr. (G, 6-3); Drew Czarnik, sr. (G, 6-3); Sean Schlanser, sr. (G, 6-2); Shaibu Mohammed, sr. (F, 6-5), Gerald Floyd, sr. (F, 6-3).
Top new players: Donovan Collins, sr. (G, 6-1); Evan Czarnik, jr. (G, 6-5); Josh Holmes, jr. (G, 6-0).
Worth noting: There’s plenty of experience on the Tigers’ roster, and that’s the prime reason Plainfield North could be poised for a bit of a turnaround. The strength will come from its backcourt, particularly with Ashiru and Drew Czarnik, a pair of players who have been staples in the Tigers’ lineups for several seasons. The backcourt got a further boost with the transfer of Bolingbrook’s Donovan Collins. The frontcourt should be lead by Mohammed, who showed flashes of being a breakout performer as a junior.
Coach: Jeffrey Howard
Last season’s record: 5-24
Top returning players: Nolan Gerdich, sr.
Top new players: Amarri Ford, sr.; Jermaine Theodore, sr.; Michael Smith; Devin Tyda, jr.; Jeremiah LeSure, soph.; Jordan West, jr.; Jay Pena, jr.
Worth noting: Howard comes to Plainfield South after spending almost two decades coaching in Indiana and said feels the key to turning things around for the Cougars will come in the form of defensive intensity. Offensively, Gerdich looks to be the key — especially early — after averaging 13 points a game as a junior.
Top new players: Kosi Okeke, sr. (F, 6-4), Kendrick Howard, sr. (F, 6-3), TJ Lee, jr. (G, 6-0), Mickels Johnson, fr. (G)
Worth noting: The Spartans have the ability to be a fairly dynamic team and have two top-notch offensive performers in Cicero, a Loyola (Ill.) recruit, and Swansey. There are a number of other players who are capable of making a big impact. Brown transferred from Joliet West, and Cunningham and Loggins both could thrive alongside the other prominent Romeoville standouts.
Top new players: Aries Hull, sr. (F, 6-8); DJ Strong, jr. (G, 5-10); KJ Cathey, jr. (G, 5-11); Jason Lawani, jr. (F, 6-3).
Worth noting: Bolingbrook caught fire at the end of last season and rode that wave all the way to the Class 4A State Finals, where it finished fourth. There’s a lot of returners from that group, the most prominent is Cooper, a Miami (Ohio) signee. With the addition of Hull, a transfer from a Tennessee prep school, the Raiders have the makings of one of the tallest front-line units in the state. Aniceto is a wonderful glue piece in the Raiders lineup and provides a key backcourt piece.
Coach: Evan Wyllie
Last season’s record: 14-13
Top returning players: Jack Barrett, sr. (G, 6-1); Jack Novak, sr. (G, 6-1); Ethan Vrabec, sr. (F, 6-3).
Top new players: Will Gehrke, jr. (G, 6-1); Ben McLaughlin, jr. (G, 6-1).
Worth noting: Wyllie takes over for Bob Curran leading the Knights program and is taking some time to get to know his player ranks as well as educating himself to the competition his team will regularly face. Lincoln-Way Central lost a lot of offensive firepower to graduation, and that will require Barrett, Novak and Vrabec to step up their productivity with increased expectations of what they will be expected to do.
Coach: Rich Kolimas
Last season’s record: 11-17
Top returning players: George Bellevue, sr. (F, 6-8); Kyle Olagbegi, sr. (F, 6-6); Kaiden Ross, sr. (G, 5-10); Ty Toliver, sr. (G, 6-2); Mac Hagemaster (C, 6-8); Matt Hudik, jr. (G, 5-10); Brayden Lovell, sr. (F, 6-6).
Top new players: BJ Powell (G, 5-10); Brenden Sanders (F, 6-4).
Worth noting: The buzz is significant around the Lincoln-Way East program, and it would be pretty surprising if the Griffins don’t finish with a significantly better record than a year ago. They return five players who logged major minutes, and there’s no shortage of players with size. The guard play might be the only slight question mark right now. There are capable players in the mix, just not any who have been asked to fully run the show before.
Coach: Tanner Mitchell
Last season’s record: 12-19
Top returning players: Tyler Gabriel, sr. (G, 6-0); Eli Bach, jr. (F, 6-2); Nathan Passas, sr. (F, 6-4); Will Wiechers, sr. (F, 6-3); Zach Jesernik, sr. (G, 6-0).
Top new players: Jacob Bereza, jr. (F, 6-2); Danny Reniguntala, jr. (F, 6-2).
Worth noting: Lincoln-Way West will look to push the envelope against opponents and paced by Gabriel, who is a proven perimeter shooter, the Warriors feel will give teams trouble with their overall shooting ability. The Warriors will need to use the collective to match up in the front court, but they haven’t let a size deficiency lead them to backing down in the past.
Coach: Brett Hespell
Last season’s record: 17-14
Top returning players: Adam Labuda, sr. (G, 6-3); Quinton Hunter, sr. (G, 6-1); Jalen Falcon, jr. (G, 6-2).
Top new players: Evan Dziadkowiec, jr. (G, 6-1); Carter Peetz, sr. (F-C, 6-5).
Worth noting: Lockport has no returning starters, but the Porters typically cultivate a lot of minutes for numerous players, so the cupboard isn’t totally bereft of players with varsity experience. Hespell expects a dramatic uptick in productivity from Labuda, and the Porters have the makings of a dangerous backcourt with Falcon and Hunter. The front court is a bit of a mystery at this point, but whoever gets that nod won’t lack for effort.
East Suburban Catholic Conference
Coach: Adam DeGroot
Last season’s record: 14-14
Top returning players: Tyler Surin, sr. (G, 6-2); Anthony Birsa, sr. (C, 6-5).
Top new players: James Pilapil, jr. (G, 5-10); Drew Wills, jr. (F, 6-1); Christian Holman, jr. (G, 6-0).
Worth noting: DeGroot takes over for veteran coach Joe Gura and feels this group has plenty of depth it should be able to call upon over the course of his team’s rigorous regular-season schedule in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Surin was a steady performer last season, and Birsa – provided a football injury heals well enough to allow him to go full strength – should anchor a Joliet Catholic squad that could be an extremely difficult out once it drops to the Class 2A ranks for the postseason.
Top new players: Seth Cheney, so. (G, 6-2); Danilo Vasilic, jr. (G, 5-11), Bobby Jenner, jr. (F, 6-3); Kyle Lipke, jr. (F, 6-8).
Worth noting: Providence doesn’t return a lot of experienced players to the fold to take on the rigorous Chicago Catholic League slate, but there are some intriguing players in the junior class who might give the Celtics more depth than most think.
South Suburban Conference
Coach: Rick Runaas
Last season’s record: 27-8
Top returning players: Matas Castillo, sr. (G, 6-1); Rokas Castillo, sr. (G, 6-1).
Top new players: David Bilvicius, sr. (C, 6-6); Miles Beachum, sr. (F, 6-2), Ryan Runaas, jr. (G, 5-11).
Worth noting: Lemont made a surprise run to the supersectional last season before falling to Simeon, and did it largely with contributions from underclassmen. While the Castillo brothers return to the fold and should do a nice job of anchoring the roster, Lemont lost its top threat to transfer, as Nojus Indrusaitis went to St. Rita. However, it would not be at all surprising to see Lemont jostling for position at or near the top of the South Suburban Conference.
Top new players: Bennett Ammer, jr. (F, 6-6); Carter Lauderman, jr. (F, 6-5); Caston Norris, jr. (G, 5-10); Joey Vinachi, jr. (G, 5-10); Charlie Wright, jr. (G, 5-10); Brett Bounds, so. (G, 6-0).
Worth noting: Morris might take a while to show what it is really about with a number of key performers still in the football mix. Transitioning them from the gridiron could take a minimum of a few weeks, so Morris likely won’t show its mettle until the middle of the season. When it does, the team likely will look to the backcourt combo of Phillips and Zweeres to do damage. Phillips knocked down almost 100 3-pointers last season, while Zweeres is a top-notch floor general. Morris has only four seniors. With that, coupled with a late start to the season for many rostered players, some growing pains might be in the offing.
Top new players: Jim Feeney, jr. (F, 6-1); Zander Meents, so. (G, 5-10); Owen Hren, jr. (G, 5-10); Garrett Keeley, sr. (F, 6-2).
Worth noting: The Coalers will look to turn things around with a good blend of experienced returners mixed with some promising varsity newcomers. Coal City has some post presence and could get a boost from Keeley, who missed all of last season with an injury.
Coach: Ron Oloffson
Last season’s record: 12-17
Top returning players: Miles Heflin, sr. (F, 6-4); Lucas Gesswein, sr. (F, 6-7); Will Graffeo, sr. (G, 5-10), Marquis Walton, sr. (F, 6-1); Hunter Becker, jr. (F, 6-4).
Top new players: James Kuypers, sr. (G, 5-11); Colin Emsweller, jr. (G, 5-11); Landen Hamm, jr. (C, 6-4); Van Wehrman, jr. (G, 5-10); Michael Bettenhausen, jr. (F, 6-1); Brandon Weiss, so. (G, 5-10); Chase Rivera, so. (F, 5-11); Ruben Velasco, so. (G-F, 6-0).
Worth noting: Peotone struggled down the stretch last season after losing its leading scorer to injury, but the remaining players gained valuable experience and look poised to lead the Blue Devils to better things this year. Helfin averaged almost 15 points a game last season, and the Blue Devils have more size on the front line than most 2A teams, led by Gesswein and a number of other potential breakout performers. Graffeo and Kuypers have the makings of a fairly solid backcourt, provided Kuypers is ready to return from a football injury.
Top new players: Drew Anderson, sr. (G-F, 6-0); Peyton Bradley, jr. (G, 5-11); Cooper Smith, jr. (F, 6-3); Collin Monroe, so. (G, 6-0).
Worth noting: The Comets look like they have the potential to be an explosive basketball team. Foote has been a constant force for Reed-Custer, garnering all-conference honors in 2021, while Shats did the same while averaging a double-double. The return of Jake McPherson from injury gives Reed-Custer another viable offensive threat. The Reed-Custer squad seen early on might be significantly different than the one that hits the floor down the stretch, as the Comets made a deep run in the football playoffs and nearly all of the basketball roster contributed to that effort.
Coach: Doug Krop
Last season’s record: 10-16
Top returning players: Ryder Meents, sr. (G, 5-11); Reid Juster, jr. (G-F, 6-2); Cade McCubbin, jr. (G, 5-11)
Top new players: Kyle Farrell, so. (G, 5-10); Lucas Rink, so. (G-F, 6-0); Ryan Nelson, so. (F, 6-1)
Worth noting: It’s a relatively young roster for Wilmington this season, with just one senior. But Krop likes the potential of his younger players and thinks Meents, the lone senior, should be able to shoulder some of the early offensive load while the rest of the Wildcats grow into larger roles. Meents (12.8 ppg) and Juster (11.7 ppg) both averaged in double figures last season and should anchor a squad that aims to get at the very least back to the .500 mark after some scuffles last year.
River Valley Conference
Coach: Allan Wills
Last season’s record: 8-22
Top returning players: Bennett Grant, jr. (F, 6-1); Cale Halpin, jr. (G, 6-0); Gabe McHugh, so. (G/F, 5-11)
Top new players: n/a
Worth noting: The Panthers went through an uncharacteristically rough season last year, but the experience gained during the struggles should help them get back in the mix in the River Valley. Halpin is a consistent scorer, routinely posting more than 20 points a game (18.1). Although a freshman last season, McHugh more than held his own on the boards (7.8 rpg), and the Panthers will look to him to do so again.