When thinking of a revered hoops locale considered as the Mecca of area high school basketball, four-time defending state champion Simeon is the obvious choice, or perhaps some hoops junkies might pick Proviso East due to their recent and historical success.
How about Riverside-Brookfield High School? The Mecca of high school basketball, at least during the offseason, arguably belongs to the Bulldogs in the humble estimation of sophomore head coach Mike Reingruber and varsity head coach Tom McCloskey. Reingruber is the mastermind/architect behind designing RBHS as the place to be seen regarding summer basketball.
“While all of our staff works very hard, I think Mike Reingruber is the person that deserves credit for a lot of it,” McCloskey said. “Mike is highly respected all over the state of Illinois. He has been contacted many times about becoming a head coach at other schools, but he has chosen to stay at RB because he loves this place. He has an amazing work ethic and a true passion for basketball.”
Around 12 years ago, Reingruber started the Junior Bulldog basketball program which has benefitted many players through the years. Before the youth camps started, prospective high school players often chose private schools over RBHS.
In recent years, that trend has changed dramatically in favor of the Bulldogs. RBHS now gets almost all of their players in district to be a part of the Bulldogs’ well regarded program.
The Junior Bulldog program served as just the promising start for RBHS summer basketball. Reingruber and McCloskey run an extensive array of camps and leagues every summer. Offensive skills camp, fundamentals camp, freshmen and sophomore camps along with a varsity camp provide just a glimpse of some of the eclectic hoops offerings available to area ballers.
“All of our camps had a record number of participants this year,” Reingruber said. “It’s a lot of fun to have so many kids involved and interested in getting better at basketball. At Riverside-Brookfield, we want to use camps to get to know all of our players in our district. We want to start players start in fourth grade and attend everything we offer for the next five years. It helps players get to know the coaches in our basketball program.”
McCloskey added: “The IHSA gives coaches 25 days over the summer to work with their athletes, and [at Riverside Brookfield] we take full advantage of it. We use those days to work with our high school kids on shooting, ball handling, and weight training.”
With so many leagues and tournaments in the fold, RBHS has seen its share of scintillating team and individual stars walk through the gym doors, along with more than a few top college coaches salivating at the dazzling talent on display.
Proviso East, Whitney Young, and Simeon (which has won six of eight state titles since 2005), annually competes at RBHS. During the past two summers, the No. 1 preps player in the country Jabari Parker (class of 2013) and Jahlil Okafor (class of 2014) have put on a show at RBHS.
Adding even more glitter to an already impressive summer resume of hoops, RBHS has hosted a major AAU tournament during the NCAA live period for college coaches in July. The tournament attracts top AAU programs from throughout the Midwest and also elite college coaches like Indiana’s Tom Crean, Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Michigan’s John Beilein (Michigan) among many others.
The games provide athletes exposure to coaches who run programs at the Division I, II and III levels along with junior college and NAIA programs.
The constant basketball buzz, of course, also benefits the Bulldogs.
“We play a super tough summer schedule on both the sophomore and varsity levels in order to prepare our kids for the regular season.” Reingruber said, “I feel it also benefits RB because it gives us some great exposure. Media, college coaches, parents, players, high school coaches, and just random high school basketball fans are always excited to come to RB for the various events that we run. They love the building and the facilities.”
With so much summer action, Reingruber definitely has his hands full.
“It can be very hectic at times,” he said. “Summer planning starts in February while our season is still going on. It continues all spring and into the summer. June is as busy as it gets for me. Each week will include directing the camps in the day and directing the league at night. On weekends, we are usually in shootouts that take up a lot of time.”
When asked how the school cooperates with the extensive basketball schedule, Reingruber offered the following: “Our athletic director Artie Ostrow and the administration have been great about letting us host these events. We pay rent for all the activities and the school makes money on all the events we host.”
Next season, the Bulldogs are loaded with young albeit unproven talent on the varsity squad. Despite losing many key players to graduation, the Bulldogs made major strides over the summer. Varsity returner forward/center Jack VandeMerkt really came on last season and appears poised for a superb senior campaign. The 6-foot-6 VandeMerkt, also the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback, is a rangy and athletic post player who can also shoot from distance.
Sam Johnson, Mark Smith, Ryan Hanley, Daniko Jackson, and Paul Sitkiewicz bring an infusion of new talent and a ton of size to the frontline.
“Daniko led the RB freshman team to a 24-0 record last year,” Reingruber said. “He will be skipping the sophomore level and going right to varsity. There are many other talented juniors that will also compete for time next year. We feel that even though we are young and inexperienced, we have talent. And we a play a very tough summer schedule.”