Considering their competitive natures, it makes sense that Riverside-Brookfield High School junior guard Kevin Fitzgerald emulates Ohio State senior guard Aaron Craft.
When Craft, 23, played youth basketball he would often attend his father John Craft’s practices with the Fostoria (Ohio) Junior High basketball team and participate in a drill called Lane Slides with Bricks. During the punishing drill, Aaron would slide back and forth across a 12-foot stretch of space across the lane while holding taped-up fireplace bricks in his outstretched hands.
Craft still carries a similarly well-respected toughness within the world of college basketball.
“That’s why I look up to Aaron Craft so much,” Fitzgerald said. “I love his competitiveness and his mentality towards being a hard worker. I feel the same way about sports. It’s just a natural competitiveness that I’ve always had. I love competing and winning.”
Figuratively speaking, bricks on the basketball court have been far and few between for the sharp-shooting Fitzgerald. While the 5-foot-11-inch guard has spent the bulk of this season adjusting to the varsity level and finding his role, he recently produced a coming out party offensively of nearly historic proportions.
Fitzgerald made 8 of 11 three-point shots to carry the Bulldogs to a 71-53 win over Timothy Christian on Feb. 7. Fitzgerald’s exemplary marksmanship beyond the three-point arc resulted in the second most treys made in a game in school history.
“It was just one of those nights,” Fitzgerald said. “I could tell during warm-ups something was clicking. I have to give props to my teammates who kept feeding me the ball.”
Fitzgerald consolidated his breakout performance with a steady 12-point effort (four three-pointers) in the Bulldogs’ 74-53 victory against Glenbard South on Friday. Jack VandeMerkt (26 points, seven rebounds), Will Kincanon (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Sam Johnson (six points, 14 rebounds) led the Bulldogs’ balanced attack.
RBHS (17-5, 10-0 Metro Suburban Conference notched its 13th consecutive conference title with its win over the Raiders. The Bulldogs also routed Illiana Christian last week behind VandeMerkt’s 21 points.
Only upcoming games against Ridgewood and Elmwood Park stand in the way of a perfect record within the Metro Suburban.
“It’s a great honor to carry on the tradition of [RBHS] winning conference championships,” Fitzgerald said. “I really like the pressure of living up to that expectation.”
Fitzgerald, from Brookfield, appreciates the history of RBHS basketball, particularly the assembly line of great guards that have preceded him under head coach Tom McCloskey.
“I look up to past [RBHS] players like Sean McGonagill, Billy VandeMerkt, Ryan Jackson and Dan Oswald,” he said. “We have great coaches, too, who I really respect. You can tell they know the game of basketball.”
While Fitzgerald’s recent scoring surge is welcomed within the RBHS system, the Bulldogs’ talented frontline of VandeMerkt, Johnson, Kincanon and Mark Smith typically provides the majority of offense. Sophomore guard Daniko Jackson also chips in plenty of points, assists and steals to quarterback the Bulldogs.
Recent scoring explosion aside, Fitzgerald’s real value stems from his versatility and competitiveness.
Like Craft, Fitzgerald can play both guard positions, and he’s always up for a good challenge.
“When I came to RB, I was more of a point guard, a drive and kick guy,” Fitzgerald said. “My shot has been developing. I feel like I can play either guard spot.”
Coupled with Jackson’s impressive play in his debut varsity season as well, the Bulldogs’ backcourt is set for next season. Jackson loves having the scrappy Fitzgerald as his running mate.
“Kevin is really competitive in practice and never takes a play off,” Jackson said. “Every team needs players like that and Kevin is definitely one of them. He always had a good shot, he just needed confidence. Every shot he takes now you can tell he knows it’s going in.”
Fitzgerald is also blessed with good athletic genes as his mom, Kim, played softball and volleyball at RBHS before playing volleyball at the University of Memphis.
Regarding sports this school year, Fitzgerald is just getting started, considering baseball is his best sport. Last year, he started at shortstop as a sophomore on a senior-laden RBHS squad, which finished 32-5 and won a regional championship. Fitzgerald hit .280 with 15 RBI and stole 11 bases while also providing solid defense up the middle. This year, he’ll be called upon to provide more.
“[RBHS coach Dallas] Till has said I am going to need to have a really good offensive year,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d like to get an on-base percentage of around .450, and I want to contribute an almost perfect season.”
Till has no doubt that his burgeoning star shortstop will take on more responsibility this spring, along with returning all-state pitcher Kincanon and slugging catcher Justin Agne
“Kevin is a tremendous kid and athlete,” Till said. “He’s a tireless competitor who plays bigger than his actual stature in both basketball and baseball. He played a big role for our club last year. Kevin is a team-first kid. If anything, he’s too hard on himself at times.”
While baseball is just around the corner, Fitzgerald’s first order of business is continuing his improved play to bolster the Bulldogs’ postseason hoops hopes.
“The playoffs are going to be difficult because we’re one of the smaller schools in [Class] 4A,” Fitzgerald said. “We still need to close out the regular season well. I know we’ll work hard regardless of what happens.”
While both the RBHS basketball and baseball teams typically churn out 20-plus wins and contend/win conference championships on an annual basis, team chemistry among teammates is what Fitzgerald cherishes the most.
“The guys on both teams are great,” Fitzgerald said. “Will [Kincanon] is the probably the team clown. Daniko [Jackson], too. You just see these guys walking down the hall at school and we start laughing.”