Coming off a historic season during which the Fenwick High School boys basketball team won its first-ever state trophy (Class 3A runner-up), the Friars have high expectations for the 2017-18 season.
Head coach Rick Malnati has beefed up this year's schedule with high-level competition such as Benet, Whitney Young, Simeon, Peoria Manual, and defending 3A champion Morgan Park. The Friars will also participate in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, which is loaded with plenty of talented teams. And oh yeah, the Chicago Catholic League Blue conference will offer stiff competition, with the likes of DePaul Prep, St. Joseph and St. Rita. So while last year's 30-5 record will be difficult to repeat, the idea for the Friars is to be prepared to make a run at the state title in March.
Fenwick is off to a 3-2 start this season. The Friars went 3-1 in their John Malone Thanksgiving Tournament, the lone loss coming on Saturday to Benet 46-39. Then on Sunday, Fenwick faced defending 4A champion Whitney Young at the Like Mike Invitational hosted by Navy Pier. In a back-and-forth battle, the Dolphins were able to hold off the Friars 74-73.
Sophomore D.J. Steward had 31 points to lead Fenwick in the loss to Young. Seniors Michael O'Laughlin and Billy Bruce chipped in eight points apiece. Javon Freeman scored a game-high 35 points and Myles Baker had 13 points for the Dolphins (6-0).
Steward, one of the nation's top high school prospects, is off to a superb start to the season. He had 24 points in a 79-40 win over Westinghouse in the Malone tourney, and 20 points in a 68-53 victory over Hope in the season-opening game.
Other key returnees are also off to solid starts for the Friars. Senior forward Michael O'Laughlin - coming directly off another long run with the football team - had 17 points in the Hope win and junior Damari Nixon added 11. Senior reserve Sam Daniels scored 14 points in a 94-40 win over Manley. Seniors Billy Bruce and A.J. Nixon have also had good moments this season.
This year's team seems deeper than last year's, as several newcomers have made a positive impact already. In the Friars' win over Manley, highly touted 6-foot-4 freshman Bryce Hopkins led the way with 16 points, and junior Ryan Jackson added 12. In the win over Westinghouse, junior Solomon Oraegbu contributed 10 points.
Junior Lucas Kolovitz, the leading scorer on last year's sophomore team, is another capable player off the bench.
The added depth on this year's team will come in handy as Fenwick embarks on one its most challenging schedules in school history. Fortunately, Malnati is one of the state's top coaches who has seen it all. His leadership, coupled with a relatively experienced squad, should ensure another successful season.
The Friars face crosstown rival Oak Park and River Forest at the Chicago Elite Classic on Friday, Dec. 1. Tip-off is 9 p.m. at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).