During Tom Sloan’s tenure as the Lyons Township High School boys basketball coach, the Lions have enjoyed a lot of success with typically several seniors in the starting lineup.
Last season was no exception as seniors Harrison Niego, Jaquan Phipps, Joe Brunner, Danny O’Malley and others powered the Lions to a 23-6 record, highlighted by a West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship and 10-2 mark in the highly regarded league.
“Our players had great chemistry and truly played for each other last season,” Sloan said. “Harrison and Jaquan were our official captains but really all the seniors were role models for the other kids in the program. They set the bar high not only as basketball players but as people.”
Although the LTHS starting lineup this year will likely include four juniors and a freshman, Sloan is very excited about the group’s potential. Junior cousins Connor Niego (6-8 guard/forward) and Noah Niego (6-4 forward) provide the Lions a pair of talented, experienced bookends to stabilize the new-look lineup.
“Connor is 6-8 and has put on some weight so he’s about 190 pounds now,” Sloan said. “I think as he’s filling out he’s been able to finish more around the basket. He’s just a very good all-around player who is constantly developing his game.
“Noah is another terrific player who can do many things on the floor. He got a significant amount of playing time but unfortunately was injured towards the end of the year. He’s a tough, physical player. Both guys are as good as advertised.”
The other projected starters are junior guard Montel Blackwell, junior forward Eli Bright and freshman guard Tyrese Shines.
“Montel is a good shooter, ball handler and on-ball defender,” Sloan said. “Eli is a high energy guy with good strength and size. He’s been a pleasant surprise and he doesn’t back down to anybody on the court.”
The addition of Shines plus fellow 6-1 freshman standout Nolan Niego to the varsity roster will benefit LTHS this season and beyond.
“It’s pretty rare for us to have one let alone two freshmen on the varsity,” Sloan said. “Both Tyrese and Nolan have proven they are good enough to play varsity basketball.”
Other varsity returners from last season who could play key roles include 6-6 senior forward Kyle Hornacek (NBA coach Jeff Hornacek’s nephew), 5-10 guard Nolan Delaney, 6-2 senior guard Cawone Hester and 6-5 senior forward Jack Drogosz.
“We always have goals like winning the holiday tournaments we play in, winning conference and going as far as we can in the state playoffs,” Sloan said. “I’ll need to be patient though because our primary goal is to make sure we improve every day and be the best team we can be at the end of the season.”
While the Lions have a solid shot at repeating as conference champs, the West Suburban Silver should be highly competitive this season with Oak Park and River Forest and Hinsdale Central as top contenders.