What a difference a year makes. After starting 1-5 in Mike Reingruber’s debut as the head coach of the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team last season, the Bulldogs are off to a 4-0 start this year.
Since their sluggish start in 2017, the Bulldogs have won 22 of 28 games and completed the transition from playing for previous longtime coach Tom McCloskey to Reingruber.
RBHS won its own 16th Annual Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic over the weekend with victories over Kenwood, Oak Park and River Forest, Morton and Rich East.
“I’m proud of our guys, and the great team effort we put forward,” Reingruber said.
The Bulldogs routed Kenwood 72-49 in the championship game on Saturday, Nov. 24. Four players scored in double figures for RBHS, which shot 14 of 27 from beyond the three-point arc.
Senior Patrick Hanley scored a team-high 25 points and went 7-for-11 on 3-pointers. Andrew Veon (13 points), Zach Vaia (12 points) and Charles Terry (10 points) added plenty of offensive support.
OPRF edged St. Rita 74-68 in the third-place game as senior guard Chase Robinson led the Huskies with 21 points.
RBHS notched a huge 70-50 win against area rival OPRF on Friday. Expecting a tight game, it became clear early that this game was going to be different than anybody had expected.
The Bulldogs’ aggressiveness and physicality caught the Huskies a bit off guard. RBHS, which led by eight points at both the end of the first quarter and halftime, extended its lead to 19 points after three quarters.
The Bulldogs dominated the boards (39-20 rebounding advantage) and shot 69 percent on 3-pointers. Conversely, OPRF made just 1 of 16 treys and shot 40 percent from the field. Veon recorded a double-double of 21 points and 11 reounds, while Vaia had 14 points, six assists and four steals. Charles Terry chipped in 11 points and eight rebounds.
“We have to give the credit to RB in this one,” OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. “They came out with more energy and effort that carried through four quarters of play. “
Anthony Roberts and Robinson led OPRF with 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Beating OPRF, particularly in such convincing fashion, resonated with Vaia.
“We’ve seen a lot of that team over the years,” he said. “I’m glad we finally beat them. It was even better to win at home with our fans.”
The Bulldogs’ toughest test occurred against Morton. Vaia, the reigning MVP of the Metro Suburban Conference, was on fire offensively with a game-high 31 points and seven assists. Defensively, senior Ryan Cermak fired up the Bulldogs by taking three charges.
Tied at 60-all, Vaia scored seven points in a row to secure a 69-63 win.
Last season, Vaia averaged 14 points, 5.2 assists, four rebounds and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers and 91 percent from the free throw line.
Against Morton, Veon provided a strong interior presence with 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Along with Vaia, Veon is a returning all-conference player. He averaged eight points and five rebounds while shooting 59 percent from the field and 90 percent from the charity stripe last year.
In its tourney opener, RBHS blitzed Rich East with a 25-5 lead after the first quarter. The Bulldogs coasted the rest of the way to notch a 61-32 victory. Reggie Loury (14 points), Sam Grivetti (10 points), Veon (11 rebounds) and Cermak (9 rebounds) all played well.
Vaia and Veon was named co-MVP for the VandeMerkt tourney. Other all-tournament players included Hanley (RBHS), Lamond Johnson (Kenwood), Latik Murphy (Morton), Anthony Roberts (OPRF), Robinson (OPRF), Jacob Schauer (Wheaton North) and Joel Watts (St. Rita).
The Bulldogs (4-0) host Bishop McNamara on Friday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. and Lyons Township on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m.