The accomplishments for the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team have flowed as freely this season as a Daniko Jackson-led fast break. Jackson, a dynamic junior point guard, and the rest of the Bulldogs finished 24-3 this season (including 12-0 in the Metro Suburban Conference) en route to the program’s 14th straight conference title. RBHS also won its annual Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament and finished second at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic.
The team’s latest honor is landing the No. 1 seed in the Morton Sectional of the Class 4A playoffs.It’s the first time in program history that the Bulldogs have earned a top seed in sectionals. While that designation doesn’t guarantee any wins in the postseason, it’s impressive nonetheless considering Class 4A defending champion Whitney Young, Curie, Kenwood and several area rivals like Fenwick, OPRF and Morton reside in the same sectional as the Bulldogs. St. Ignatius, De La Salle, Proviso East and Leyden are also in the mix as dangerous floaters.
“I’m happy that we put ourselves in a position to be the No. 1 seed. Once the games starts it’s all about taking it one game at a time, survive and advance,” RBHS coach Tom McCloskey said. “We had a great regular season and faced some really tough competition. I think everybody is excited to get the playoffs started. We’re focused on our first game and we’ll go from there.”
Whitney Young (17-9), Kenwood (18-6), Fenwick (21-7) and Curie (17-6) are seeded second through fifth, respectively, behind RBHS.
The Bulldogs (24-3) won their 14th straight conference title this season and notched nonconference wins over OPRF, Lyons Township, DePaul Prep and St. Ignatius (twice). RBHS is loaded with talent, size, speed and experience. 6-7 senior forward Sam Johnson can score and rebound with the best of them, while fellow bigs, 6-7 Mark Smith and 6-5 Paul Sitkiewicz, provide reinforcements in the paint. Guards Daniko Jackson, Jalen Clanton and Henry Trelenberg comprise a backcourt full of playmakers.
“We’re very proud of winning conference again and having another good season,” Jackson said. “It’s a very tough sectional, but we are going to compete and give it our best effort. There are a lot of good teams we could face so it’s going to make us better moving forward. Hopefully, we can win the sectional.”
If RBHS and OPRF win their opening games, they will meet in the Leyden Regional final on Friday at 7 p.m.
“Our sectional is the deepest in the state,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “The top 14 teams in our sectional have records well above .500. Of course, to advance in any regional and sectional you have to beat quality teams.”
OPRF (15-9), the No. 8 seed, rolls into the playoffs playing its best basketball of the season with seven wins in eight games. The Huskies employ an up-tempo style of play with four starting guards.
Dallis Flowers, Breshawn Wilkerson, Connor Fuller and Elliot Greffin are all experienced players who can score, pass and defend. The emergence of underclassmen like freshman Alan Griffin (the son of Chicago Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin) and sophomores Cameron Gross and Jared Scott has provided the Huskies with depth.
Fenwick is led by the talented tandem of juniors Mike Smith and Mike Ballard, who both earned Chicago Catholic League all-conference honors. Coached by Rick Malnati, the battle-tested Friars have one of the toughest schedules in the state. Fenwick has notched notable victories against OPRF, Morton, Homewood-Flossmoor, DePaul Prep and Mount Carmel and won its own John Malone Memorial Tournament to open the season.
Fenwick and Curie will likely collide in a riveting regional final as well on Friday (7 p.m.) in Oak Park.
“We’re focused on taking it one game, one opponent at a time,” Ballard said. “It’s really fun hosting a regional, because we’ll play in front of our fans and student section. It’s cool we moved up a class [from 3A to 4A], because there’s a chance we can play area rivals. We’re not looking ahead but it would be fun to play a big rival [like OPRF] that’s close to us.”