The Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball program has been so dominant (see 12 consecutive conference titles), it should come as no surprise that the Bulldogs’ best competition often stems from within.
The Bulldogs held their annual Blue-White showcase scrimmage for parents, friends and fans of RBHS basketball on Friday, with the Blue squad pulling out a hard-fought 71-70 victory over the White team. While the Bulldogs have only two seniors, Jack VandeMerkt and Will Kincanon, a bevy of promising underclassmen with considerable size and skills should galvanize the Bulldogs’ dogged pursuit of a 13th straight league title.
“We love that record [12 straight conference titles] and we don’t want to be the team that loses the streak,” VandeMerkt said. “We have a pretty young team, but guys gained experience during summer basketball. By the time March rolls around, there aren’t really any freshmen and sophomores anyway so it shouldn’t be an issue.”
While the Bulldogs incurred major losses in Miki Ljuboja, Damonta Henry, Liam Lesniak, Eric Loury and nine seniors overall to graduation, VandeMerkt and Kincanon appear well-suited to assume leadership roles. VandeMerkt is an extremely versatile and athletic 6-foot-7 forward/center who can score from multiple spots on the floor and provide a defensive presence. Kincanon is a strong 6-foot-3 perimeter player capable of manning either guard position or small forward. Both players, who are excellent triple-threat offensive players, have battled injuries at times but are a full-go for the season.
“It was tough missing so many games during the football season,” said VandeMerkt, the RBHS quarterback who missed most of the season due to a shoulder separation. “I just tried to stay positive and kept looking forward to basketball.”
The Bulldogs boast additional size with 6-foot-7 sophomore Mark Smith, 6-foot-6 junior Sam Johnson and 6-foot-5 junior Paul Sitkiewicz. Smith has a ton of upside, while Johnson is an excellent long range shooter and Sitkiewicz is a solid scorer, rebounder and defender. Like Sitkiewicz along the frontline, junior guard Kevin Fitzgerald offers a gritty all-around game in the backcourt.
“We have good size and should have balanced scoring,” RBHS head coach Tom McCloskey said. “I think the key for us will be our defense.”
The player arguably generating the most buzz around the program is electrifying point guard Daniko Jackson. The 5-foot-9 sophomore possesses superb vision and quickness with a penchant for flashy plays. And yet, Jackson’s fundamentally-sound game is all about winning.
“I just want to make my teammates better and get everybody involved,” Jackson said. “It’s been an adjustment [playing varsity basketball], but playing summer ball helped me a lot. I think we’re all getting more comfortable with the speed of the varsity game and learning the plays.”
Last season, RBHS finished 21-7 overall with an 11-1 mark in the Metro Suburban Conference. Conant edged the Bulldogs 67-61 in regional action during the postseason. While Glenbard South, Ridgewood and Illiana Christian should contend, the road to the conference title clearly runs through RBHS.
“I say it every year but when other teams in our conference play us, it’s their Super Bowl,” McCloskey said. “We’ve won the conference 12 years in a row and I’m sure they’re sick of it. I don’t know what’s around the corner for us, but I’m very optimistic about this group.”