A great source of pride among the coaches and players of the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball program is the Bulldogs’ run of 15 straight conference championships.
“Every conference game we play is like the other team’s Super Bowl,” RBHS coach Tom McCloskey said. “We’re very proud that we’ve been able to stay on top of the conference for so long.”
With all due respect, however, to the dynasty RBHS has built in the Metro Suburban Conference, McCloskey and the Bulldogs have their sights set even higher as the Class 4A playoffs kick off this week.
“The regular season was a lot of fun,” RBHS center Mark Smith said, “but I think everybody on the team wants to see if we can bring home a state title this year.”
Coming off the best season in program history last year, RBHS (21-5) has the talent, experience and confidence to go further than last season’s supersectional squad.
The Bulldogs are led by a combination of highly skilled upperclassmen in seniors Daniko Jackson and Smith plus Skyler Nash and juniors Jalen Clanton and Henry Trelenberg. At 6-foot-7, Smith anchors the paint for RBHS while the rest comprise a dynamic perimeter attack. There’s ample talent and experience in the coaching ranks with McCloskey and assistants Mike Reingruber, Dan Herbeck and Kevin Baldus.
“Our coaches are great and everyone really buys into what this program is about,” Smith said. “Our coaches spend a ton of time with basketball and we are really grateful for all of them.”
The toughest nonconference schedule in program history has RBHS well prepared for the postseason.
Four of the Bulldogs’ losses this season came against nationally-ranked Gonzaga Prep from Washington, D.C., and in-state powers Fenwick, St. Joseph and Morgan Park.
“It’s been a learning process,” Clanton said. “We have the state tournament coming up and that’s all we’re really worried about.”
RBHS is seeded third in its own sectional. Curie and Kenwood are the No.1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, with Whitney Young, De La Salle, Proviso East and OPRF lurking as dangerous four through seven seeds.
The Bulldogs’ postseason opener against the winner of Mather vs. Steinmetz occurred on Tuesday, March 1 (past deadline). With a victory, RBHS will face either Proviso East or regional host St. Ignatius in a potentially tricky regional final on Friday, May 4 at 7 p.m.
“The regular season was fun and we learned a lot,” Trelenberg said. “We competed against some of the best teams to get ready for the playoffs. We will need to focus and execute to make a big run. Our mindset will be survive and advance.”
Battle-tested Friars look formidable
One of the Fenwick High School boys basketball team’s primary goals this season has been to play in the final of every tournament it has played in.
So far the Friars are 3-for-3 in that regard, with finals victories in the John Malone Thanksgiving Tournament and Chicago Catholic League Tournament and a loss in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament championship game.
If the Friars advance to a fourth and final title game, they will be vying for a Class 3A state championship.
Entering the postseason with a 25-2 record, including impressive wins over Whitney Young, Bogan, Simeon, Riverside-Brookfield and St. Joseph (twice), Fenwick appears poised for a deep run in the playoffs.
“Our team’s mindset going into the playoffs is to take it one game at a time,” Fenwick forward Jamal Nixon said. “Our goal is to win a state championship, but we know that it’s still five games to get there and it won’t be easy.
Fenwick coach Rick Malnati, The CCL North Division Coach of the Year, has done a masterful job this season maximizing the Friars’ ability.
Senior point guard Mike Smith, the CCL North Division Player of the Year has been nothing short of spectacular this season. He’s averaging 19 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals while also shooting 43 percent on 3-pointers.
Senior forward Mike Ballard, who made the CCL North First Team with Smith, is averaging 11 points, 4.5 rebounds and shooting 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
Keller (10 points, 4 rebounds per game), Nixon (8 ppg, 6 rpg) and senior guard Quinn Fisher (6 ppg, 40 percent on 3-pointers) round out the starting lineup. Every starter has point guard skills.
“The biggest keys for us will be rebounding and defending the paint, “Fisher said. “If we can do those things, we know we can beat any team in the state.”
Fenwick is the No. 1 seed in the Westinghouse Sectional. The regional host Friars opened the playoffs on Tuesday, March 1 (past deadline) against the winner between a pair of Chicago’s Noble Network of Charter Schools Golder vs. DRW. With a win, Fenwick advances to the regional final on Friday, March 4 at 7 p.m.
State contenders North Lawndale and St. Joseph landed in the same sectional as Fenwick. Morgan Park, Bogan, Vocational and Hillcrest are other top teams in 3A.