In previewing the upcoming season for the Fenwick High School boys basketball team, the inclination is to mention who the Friars lost last spring rather than the returners this winter.
After all, the departure of highly respected coach Rick Malnati, losses of nationally-ranked recruit DJ Steward and Damari Nixon (both transferred out of Fenwick), plus graduation of all-state football player Michael O’Laughlin, all-conference pick AJ Nixon and Billy Bruce is a lot to absorb.
With that group leading the way, Fenwick went 20-8 and won the Chicago Catholic League Blue with an 8-0 record. Steward, who transferred to Whitney Young, was the Chicago Catholic League Lawless Player of the Year, while O’Laughlin, Bruce, AJ Nixon and Damari Nixon (now at Curie) earned all-conference honors.
Fenwick has won 38 straight CCL league games.
Fortunately, the new-look Friars have cause for optimism this season. Staunton Peck, a former New Trier star who played for Malnati and then served as his top assistant coach, takes over the program. Peck, who is also the assistant athletic director at Fenwick, has paid his dues in the coaching ranks. Before coming to Fenwick with Malnati, Peck was an assistant coach at New York University, Vassar College and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
“I am extremely excited to take on the role of head basketball coach at Fenwick,” Peck said in a press release last spring. “I am grateful for all the mentoring that Rick Malnati has given me as a person and basketball coach throughout the past five years and beyond. He is an incredible coach and an even better person. I hope to carry on the great culture he has established over the past five years.”
Like his young but promising players, Peck will need to be a quick study. A very difficult schedule could contribute to some growing pains, but the Friars have enough talent to be competitive.
Bryce Hopkins looks like the rising star at Fenwick. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, Hopkins is one of the most talented players in the CCL. College recruiters certainly have taken notice as the prized sophomore already has four Division I offers (notably Nebraska).
Hopkins will be flanked by seniors Solomon Oraegbu and Lucas Kolovitz. Both averaged five points per game last season as key reserves. They will be called on to step up their games in both production and leadership.
“Along with Bryce, Solomon is our best playmaker/scorer,” Peck said. “Lucas is one of the best athletes in the area. He will be a matchup problem for other teams because of his ability to shoot from the perimeter as well as post up opponents on the interior.”
Guards Ryan Jackson, Sean Walsh and Charlie Westerman are perimeter guards who shoot well from beyond the 3-point arc. Junior forward Ryan Planek is another nice bench piece for Fenwick.
Trey Pettigrew and Kaden Cobb are promising freshmen. According to Peck, Pettigrew is a probable starter this season. The 6-3, 180-pound Cobb, who starred on the freshmen football team, is a tremendous athlete with strong leadership skills.
While inexperience, rebounding and the aforementioned schedule could be issues, Peck has confidence in his players
“I think we will compete for a CCL championship again this year. This will be a young, fun group to coach with great senior leadership,” he said. “We will play fast on offense and use our depth as our strength.”