Joe Gilhooley is guarded by Oak Park-River Forest’s Christian Marshall during the Bulldogs’ win Nov. 26 in Riverside at the Bill VandeMerkt Tournament. Gilhooley led RBHS with 26 points in the victory. (Shanel Romain/Contributor)

During the offseason, senior Joe Gilhooley began establishing himself as another major scoring option for the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team.

“He had a phenomenal summer,” coach Mike Reingruber said.

“We have a lot of guys that can play. We have a lot of weapons. Joe is playing with a lot of confidence right now.”  

Perhaps unheralded before their annual home Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament, Gilhooley and the unranked Bulldogs showcased their significant progress – and nearly won their eight–team tournament for the first time since 2018.

Curie edged RBHS 65-63 in the Nov. 27 championship game with a staunch last-second defensive stand after taking the lead with 43.5 seconds remaining. 

Gilhooley and RBHS senior J.P. Hanley were named to the 10-player all-tournament team. 

Hanley (88 points, 26 rebounds) and Gilhooley (76 points, 24 rebounds) were the Bulldogs’ leaders over the four games. Will Gonzalez had a team-best 17 assists.

Riverside-Brookfield High School’s J.P. Hanley drives to the hoop during the Bulldogs’ VandeMerkt Tournament win against Oak Park-River Forest on Nov. 26 in Riverside. Hanley scored 24 points in the game. (Shanel Romain/Contributor)

The Bulldogs also won their three pool games without senior and returning starter Joevonn McCottry, who averaged 13 points last season. Gilhooley averaged eight.

“I really liked how we played together. It’s nice to all finally be on the court together. I thought we made a really good run this tournament,” Gilhooley said.

“[McCottry] was out, [so] we had to step up a little bit more. Being able to put up numbers like that when he’s out helps my confidence as well.” 

Hanley (17 points), Gilhooley (16 points) and McCottry (15 points), who played in the final, led the attack against Curie. McCottry’s conventional three-point play put RBHS ahead 63-61 but the Condors responded with free throws and all-tournament Jerry Harrington’s basket to go ahead 65-63.

RBHS used its final four timeouts in developing an inbounds play with 2.8 seconds left. Senior Brady Vaia’s three-point attempt under pressure was unsuccessful.

“This game is going to make us better in the long run. There are no moral victories here, but I’m happy with how we competed,” Reingruber said.

“Unfortunately we ran out of time there. We had a couple of different [inbounds] options and give Curie credit. They did a great job of taking it away, and I didn’t do a good enough job of getting guys an open look.” 

Hanley, last year’s leading scorer at 16 points per game, also has elevated his offense by attacking more inside and contributing more off the ball. Hanley still had three threes in the final and two in the fourth quarter – the second from the corner while hounded to put RBHS ahead 60-57 with 3:44 left.

“I’ve actually had a few bigger ones when I was a sophomore, but that was a huge one. It’s tough that we couldn’t get this game,” Hanley said. 

“We knew that we’d be a top team coming into this. We were disappointed not being ranked before but we know we’re a great team and we’ll be there with other teams up there.”    

Even minus McCottry, the Bulldogs won their pool by edging Oak Park-River Forest 73-66 on Nov. 26, beating University High 80-61 on Nov. 23 and Thornwood 63-56 on Nov. 22.

Gilhooley (26 points) and Hanley (24 points) fueled the OPRF victory. RBHS led 13-5 and 50-39 with 2:30 left in the third quarter and responded when OPRF closed to 53-49 and 66-61 with 1:56 left. 

Gilhooley scored just 10 seconds later off a passing combination with Vaia and Gonzalez and added a layup for a 70-61 lead with 40 seconds left. Gonzalez and Hanley clinched the victory with free throws.

Hanley had 22 points against U-High and a double-double against Thornwood (22 points, 10 rebounds).