By Marty Farmer
None of the high school boys basketball teams covered by the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark advanced past regional play. Talent certainly wasn't an issue regarding the squads' brief stay in the postseason. In fact, Riverside-Brookfield, Fenwick and Lyons Township all had their share of top-flight hoopsters.
In recognition of so many outstanding players, the Landmark first- and second-team picks have been chosen.
A pair of RBHS guards leads an excellent first-team group. Junior Zach Vaia and senior Ryan Cicenas provided the Bulldogs plenty of talent and leadership in the backcourt all season.
In addition to being an excellent floor general, Vaia (13.5 ppg, 5.3 apg) showed a flair for the dramatic with game-winning shots at the buzzer against Immaculate Conception and Fenwick.
Cicenas (14.3 ppg), a three-year varsity player, is an excellent shooter who also developed as a defensive stopper this year. He will play college basketball at St. Xavier University next season.
"Zach is a heady, battle-tested point guard. He values each possession and is a good shooter as well," RBHS coach Mike Reingruber said. "Ryan is a tremendous shooter who has added other pieces to his game."
Fenwick sophomore DJ Steward easily made the cut as well. The 6-foot-2 swingman, ranked by ESPN as one of the top 25 players nationally in the Class of 2020, averaged 19.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals this season. The Chicago Catholic League Player of the Year also shot 52 percent from the field and 41 percent from the 3-point arc.
Steward has scholarship offers from Illinois, DePaul and Georgia Tech among other interested Division I schools.
"This summer will be another big one for me," Steward said. "I'll be playing with MeanStreets for AAU and grinding all summer with them. I've got to work out, get stronger and continue to develop an aggressive mentality. The key is staying in the gym and being a gym rat."
Fenwick senior Michael O'Laughlin, a West Virginia football recruit, provided the Friars' scoring and leadership, not to mention invaluable toughness and defense in the paint.
"Whenever we're slumping on offense, we can always rely on the defense to give us a boost," O'Laughlin said. "Coach [Rick] Malnati stresses that if we don't play good defense, it's going to be tough, if not impossible, for us to win."
LTHS senior guard Tyrese Shines (16.5 ppg), a versatile scorer and playmaker, rounds off the list of first-teamers. One of his best games occurred against Glenbard West on Jan. 19 when the lefty scored 29 points on 11-for-18 shooting.
The second team also includes two Bulldogs and Friars apiece. RBHS forwards Andrew Veon and Jason Bageanis contributed at both ends of the floor with steady scoring, rebounding and defense. Both averaged about seven points and five boards this season. The Bulldogs' best two "bigs" also helped turn around the season after a 1-5 start.
"It took us a little bit of time to learn how to play together," Veon said. "Once we did, winning became easier. Winning conference is always our main goal and we accomplished it. Coach Reingruber had a successful first year and helped us improve as a team."
Fenwick guards Damari Nixon and Billy Bruce also made the team. LTHS guard Nolan Niego, the latest in a long line of Niego's to play for the Lions, complemented Shines well in the backcourt.