What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. It’s a familiar tagline for fun-seeking visitors of Las Vegas. For Riverside-Brookfield High School basketball players Miki Ljuboja, Damonta Henry, Liam Lesniak and Eric Loury, however, they hope any news of their upcoming trip to Sin City extends well beyond the borders of the Bellagio and MGM Grand.
This week, the quartet of Bulldogs will compete at the Las Vegas Summer Classic – from July 26 through July 29 – as key members of Illinois Old School, an AAU basketball club run by former Ridgewood coach Pat Woods and Scott Lidskin. It’s essentially a working vacation for the RB players designed to catch the attention of college basketball coaches and recruiters from around the country.
The trip to Las Vegas also marks the end of an exhaustive July evaluation period at NCAA certified tournaments for Illinois Old School, which also competed at events in Waukegan and Milwaukee this month.
“We’re in this to help kids,” said Woods, a former Metro Suburban Conference coaching rival of RB coach Tom McCloskey. “We want to put them in situations to be successful and improve as players. Some AAU programs can be a bit sketchy. That’s why we call our program ‘Old School’ because we do things the right way.
“We help with the recruiting process talking with college coaches about our players. There could be as many as 40 college coaches watching the games in Las Vegas.”
Ljuboja and Henry already have drawn interest from Division I and II college basketball programs, while Loury is a talented combo guard and Lesniak a tenacious defender. The latter two players emerged as rotation players/spot starters for the Bulldogs last season.
In addition to Illinois Old School, the Bulldogs’ big four participated in the RB Summer Shootout and have logged extensive court time and weightlifting sessions on their own. Certainly, that’s music to McCloskey’s ears who loves a team comprised of gym rats. Last season, McCloskey guided the Bulldogs to a 23-5 record and their 11th straight conference title.
The hard work is paying off for the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Ljuboja, who has dropped 20 pounds since last season. The skilled center with a soft touch around the basket (he averaged 14 points, eight rebounds per game last season) is generating recruiting interest from Brown, Colgate, UC-Davis and other schools.
“Liam and I go get some shots up at RB in the mornings and then go to L.A. Fitness to lift weights,” Ljuboja said. “My first priority has been getting in better shape to play better and help injury prevention.”
Henry, an explosive guard that Woods describes as “instant offense,” recently received his first scholarship offer from Division II University of Mary located in Bismarck, N.D. He led the Bulldogs in scoring last season at a 17.8 points per game clip.
Lesniak and Loury have also enjoyed successful summers on the hardwood that likely will register at least a starting spot at RB next season, and perhaps more regarding their college hoops aspirations.
Last weekend at the NY2LA Live Tournament in Milwaukee, Lesniak limited Iowa State recruit Matt Thomas to just six points. After losing a couple of games, Loury and Fenwick guard Luke Lattner rallied their 17U Elite squad to a consolation bracket championship. Lesniak played on the other IOS U17 team while Ljuboja and Henry sat out due to minor injuries. Both are probable for the Las Vegas tournament.
“Liam is a great defender who does all the little things necessary to win games,” raved Woods, who has coached other RB alums like Dan Oswald and Andrew Hanley through IOS. “He’s not a primary scorer, but he can finish at the basket. Obviously, I know the RB coaches well and I love having their players in our program.”
Of the four RB players, Loury arguably has the most untapped potential. He is a quick guard who can penetrate, score and pass. Teaming up with Henry, the Bulldogs boast the best backcourt in the Metro Suburban Conference.
“I think we can be very good next season,” Loury said about the Bulldogs’ 2012-13 campaign. “We won a lot of games last year, but [now] we know each better. We hang out together off the court and have good chemistry.”
And when Loury is not playing ball with his RB teammates, the rangy guard enlists an additional even more indispensable practice partner in the summertime.
“I shoot baskets with my brother in the driveway,” he admitted.