The Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball program has won 13 consecutive conference championships, including eight straight Metro Suburban Conference titles. Prior to their run of dominance in the Metro Suburban, the Bulldogs bagged five consecutive titles in the Suburban Prairie Conference.
Even with expansion and some realignment of the Metro Suburban this season, RBHS is a preseason favorite to extend its streak to 14 conference crowns. Wheaton Academy, Aurora Central Catholic, Immaculate Conception, St. Edward, Glenbard South and Fenton comprise the rest of the teams in the conference.
“Winning 13 conference titles in a row is a tremendous source of pride for our program,” RBHS coach Tom McCloskey said. “We have some new schools in conference so we’ll see what happens. Everybody marks their game against us on their calendar so our guys need to understand that and be ready to play. I think we’ve been successful because our players are very committed to the program.”
The Bulldogs, who finished 21-7 including a 12-0 record in conference last season, return five players who played significant roles last season for Closkey.
Senior forward Sam Johnson, junior center Mark Smith and senior center/forward Paul Sitkiewicz are back, providing RBHS plenty of size and skill along the frontline. The 6-7 Johnson, an all-conference selection last season, is a stretch four who can score in a variety of ways, along with playing good defense and rebounding. He averaged 12 points and eight rebounds last season.
Smith, also 6-7, can also defend and rebound and is a viable low post scoring option for the Bulldogs. He shot 56 percent from the field last season.
“I’ve been trying to extend my range a bit, but I’ll always fundamentally be a post player,” Smith said. “I’m really excited about the season. I think we can be even better than last year.”
Whether it’s setting screens, taking charges or diving for loose balls, the 6-5 Sitkiewicz is a selfless player who does whatever is required to help the Bulldogs wins. He’s also an underrated scorer.
In the backcourt, dynamic point guard Daniko Jackson runs the RBHS offense. Jackson is a very quick guard with excellent court vision. He’s a true dual threat with the ability to score and pass equally well.
“I’m focused on becoming a better leader,” Jackson said. “I’m also trying to improve my assists-to-turnovers ratio and continue to make my teammates better.”
Senior guard Kevin Fitzgerald complements Jackson well as the Bulldogs’ two guard. In a 71-53 win over Timothy Christian last season, Fitzgerald made 8 of 11 three-pointers to finish with a career-high 24 points and second most made threes in school history. He shot 45 percent from beyond the arc for the season. Fitzgerald is also a terrific defender.
Clanton and Trelenberg provide infusion of young talent to varsity
Sophomores Jalen Clanton and Henry Trelenberg are expected to provide major minutes as well. They both flourished on the lower levels last year, with Clanton averaging 16.1 points on the sophomore team while Trelenberg netted 24 points on the freshmen squad.
“Both guys have really opened some eyes with their play,” McCloskey said. “We expect them to contribute this season.”
James Kaczmarczyk is another player who will likely see playing time.
Offensively, the Bulldogs play an exciting brand of up-tempo basketball. They look run whenever possible but are also effective in their halfcourt sets due to their ability to pass and shoot the ball well.
The team typically employs man-to-man defense but will mix in some zone and press looks as needed. The interior length with Smith, Johnson and Sitkiewicz should enable the Bullldogs to apply pressure on the perimeter.
Amid all their talent on the roster, the primary reason for the Bulldogs’ sustained success is McCloskey and his excellent staff of assistant coaches headed up by Mike Reingruber and Dan Herbeck. McCloskey, named the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association District Coach of the year eight times, has guided the Bulldogs to a 127-12 record (91.3 percent) conference record since 2001.
RBHS opened the season on Monday, Nov. 24 at its own Bill VandeMertkt Thanksgiving Classic with a 77-33 victory over TEAM Englewood. Trelenberg led the Bulldogs in scoring with 13 points, while Johnson (12 points, 12 rebounds), Smith (nine points, five rebounds) and Jackson (eight points, six rebounds) also contributed. All 13 players for RBHS scored in the game.