In recent years, thanks to the hard work and vision of head basketball coach Tom McCloskey and, in particular, varsity assistant/head sophomore basketball coach Mike Reingruber, Riverside-Brookfield High School has become a hotbed for summer hoops high school action.
“Coach McCloskey and myself have established some very good relationships with many of the premiere programs and coaches in Chicago and the suburbs, and coaches enjoy bringing their teams to RB,” Reingruber said. “We are very excited with the notoriety the summer shootout and summer league has brought to our program. We have created a culture for our basketball players at RB to want to be a part of something special and these are just a few of the venues that allow them to do that.”
The Bulldogs recently wrapped up hosting their annual summer league with a strong third-place showing. After RBHS lost 62-57 to St. Joseph in the semifinals, the Bulldogs bounced back nicely to beat Morton 66-55 in the third-place game. Bogan nipped St. Joseph 59-55 in the championship game. During the regular season summer standings, Oak Park and River Forest earned first place with an 11-1 record, followed by Hinsdale Central (10-2), then Bogan and RBHS which both recorded 9-3 showings.
Earlier this summer, the Bulldogs hosted their 12th Annual Riverside-Brookfield Summer Shootout, which always features some of the top teams, coaches and players in the Chicagoland area. Simeon cruised past Proviso East 55-35 to claim this summer’s shootout title.
Looking ahead, RBHS will host the Chicagohoops.com Summer Challenge AAU event (July 11-13), which will draw over 80 AAU teams and 200 plus college coaches from all over the country. In the past few years alone, this prestigious event has seen college coaches such as John Beilein, Thad Matta, John Groce, Matt Painter, Tom Crean, Bruce Weber, Gregg Marshall, Buzz Williams and others attend the showcase event.
Regardless of results in either their high profile home-based shootout or rigorous summer league, RBHS senior forward Sam Johnson is just happy to be back playing ball with his teammates.
“It’s very important because you get to play a lot of games in a month as a team,” Johnson said. “We really get a feel for each other before the [regular] season starts.”
In summer league competition, the RBHS typically faces an array of city and suburban teams with assorted playing styles which only benefits the battle-tested Bulldogs in the long run.
“Summer is huge,” McCloskey said. “Your team grows a lot if you play a tough summer schedule, and we’ve certainly done that. Our guys have been tested. I think it’s been a great summer for us.”
With a returning nucleus of Johnson (averaged 12.1 points, 8.4 rebounds last season), point guard Daniko Jackson (6.3 points, 4.2 assists), shooting guard Kevin Fitzgerald (7 points/45% from the arc) and frontline players like Mark Smith and Paul Sitkiewicz, lack of ability certainly won’t be a concern for the RBHS. The Bulldogs finished 21-7 last season and won its 13th straight conference title. Proviso East edged RBHS 72-65 in a hard-fought regional final to close out another stellar campaign for the Bulldogs under the veteran guidance of McCloskey and his experienced staff.
Like every offseason, the Bulldogs’ big picture priority is enabling all their returning players mesh together seamlessly, which is why summer basketball is so beneficial.
“It helps with team chemistry a lot because we’re always around each other,” Johnson said. “We’ve got practice in the morning and games at night, so we spend a lot of time together. Based on the summer, we’re going to have a really good season [in 2014-15]. We’ve been playing really well lately.”
LTHS BOYS BASKETBALL
Looking ahead to next season, the Lions will have plenty of depth featuring a senior/sophomore-laden roster. Seniors Harrison Niego (a Division I prospect/three-year starter), Jaquan Phipps, Joe Brunner, Sean Lannan and Connor Riordon offer talent and experience for the Lions, while skilled sophomores Connor Niego, Noah Niego and Montel Blackwell are expected to contribute as well.
“You can expect us to be a close-knit team that will always play hard and play together in every game,” Brunner said. “We will play with energy and heart and never give up until the end of the game.”
This summer, these eight players along with their remaining teammates have been putting in plenty of court time together.
In the estimation of LTHS head coach Tom Sloan, wins and losses during the summer pale in comparison to developing players and fostering team chemistry.
“Every coach approaches the summer league differently,” Sloan said. “My approach is a player development and player experience approach instead of worrying about wins and losses. The most important thing is for our guys to be able to get out there and play against really good competition and get better.”
FENWICK BOYS BASKETBALL
The Friars closed out their participation in the Riverside-Brookfield High School basketball summer league with a 72-64 loss to St. Laurence. Fenwick went 6-5 overall during the RBHS summer league regular season.
“It’s really good to get a taste of the teams that you’ll be playing in the regular season,” Fenwick senior guard Matt Androwich said. “Summer is also a great time to improve your skills. You get to see what you can do against these teams and work on what you to have improve on as a player.”
Whether they are practicing, playing games or even just hanging out together, the Fenwick players spend a considerable amount of time together in the summer.
Considering the Friars graduated their entire starting front line of Dan Dwyer, Tom Planek and Scott Lindsey, the team will need all the time it can get to integrate new contributors as head coach Rick Malnati’s enters his second season at the helm. With the return of guards Mike Smith, Jamal Nixon and Mike Ballard, the Friars will be solid in the backcourt next season.
Last season, the Friars (22-9, 8-3 in Chicago Catholic League North) notched several impressive victories, including wins against Morton, Benet, Proviso East, St. Joseph (twice), Hinsdale Central, St. Rita and OPRF. Fenwick advanced to the Class Westinghouse Sectional final but went cold in the second half of a 50-30 loss to Orr.
-Marty Farmer contributed to this story