6-8 senior Connor Niego can play multiple positions for LTHS. He's a leader for the Lions and one of the best all-around players in the West Suburban Conference. (File photo)

For the Riverside-Brookfield and Lyons Township High School boys basketball programs, it happens every summer.

Team camps and summer league play in June often set the foundation for success the following season.

Summer league host RBHS went 9-3 in the regular season and 2-2 in the playoffs.

“Summer is really important, getting guys experience and getting them ready for the season,” RBHS coach Tom McCloskey said. “We ventured into some different types of events that really helped us grow as a team.”

RBHS hopes to continue its regular-season success after finishing 22-6 – the eighth straight season with at least 20 victories – before losing to Proviso East 74-69 in their 4A regional final.

Rising seniors Jalen Clanton and Henry Trelenberg are returning starters and junior Ryan Cicenas was a part-time starter. Other key returnees include seniors Jalen Brooks and Calvell Randall.

The Bulldogs are adjusting to graduating an outstanding senior group that helped the program extend its streak of consecutive Metro Suburban Conference titles to 15 and capture a 2015 sectional championship.

“We had our ups and downs this summer as a team. We played a lot of quality teams as we always do,” McCloskey said. “Jalen (Clanton) did a good job playing point guard. Henry had an excellent summer and shot the ball really well. Ryan Cicenas had a really good summer as well. Jalen (Brooks) was solid and contributed in many ways. Calvell was our best rebounder.”

Lions reach title game at RBHS

LTHS was eager to play well this summer, following a 9-18 regular season with a relatively young roster. They responded by reaching the championship game of the RBHS summer league.

“Every year we say you’ve got to get bigger, stronger and faster and improve your basketball skills,” LTHS coach Tom Sloan said. “The kids were really excited for the summer to start. They came in with a really positive attitude and put in a lot of hard work.”

The Lions lost to York on a last-second shot in the championship game of the RBHS summer league.

The RBHS summer league had varsity games Tuesday and Thursday nights and sophomore games Monday and Wednesday nights. Because of construction at RBHS, LTHS also played host to games at the north campus fieldhouse and upstairs gym.

“It went great for our guys because they didn’t have to travel anywhere,” Sloan said.

LTHS returns six of the nine players that appeared in at least 20 games last season – rising seniors Connor Niego, Eli Bright, Frank Cannistra and Noah Niego and sophomores Nolan Niego and Tyrese Shines. Cousins Connor Niego and Noah Niego and Shines were starters most of the season. Nolan Niego is Connor’s brother.

Last regular season, the Lions lost their playoff opener to Downers Grove North 55-46. They would have played York in the regional final.

“We had a very successful summer. I’m more concerned with how we play then whether we win or lose,” Sloan said. “You always want to win. The kids obviously were disappointed they lost in the championship game but they did a lot of good things in the league and then the playoffs.”

Sloan said his players’ collective commitment to defense played a prominent factor in several LTHS summer victories. 

“In the summer, a lot of times the defensive end can be kind of a question mark,” Sloan said. “They were just playing basically man-to-man defense, working on communicating with one another so guys weren’t running free or right through the defense. It really was just focusing on details.”

Bulldogs, Lions compete in other tourneys

Both teams also participated in the Hoop Mountain Shootout at Batavia. LTHS won its pool but lost the playoff opener to Rockford Boylan.

The Bulldogs’ summer began with their 36-team RBHS Shootout and they participated in two other shootouts, including a new one for them at Ridgewood. LTHS also held a mini shootout with Downers Grove South and Argo.

“Everybody played a lot each game. Summer is a chance for everybody to grow,” McCloskey said. “We’re playing some new guys. We had some guys in and out for different reasons so lots of guys got an opportunity to play.”

About 18 players from both teams participated in summer action before many continued independently with Amateur Athletic Union teams.