Senior Jackson Niego spent last basketball season often providing energy as the first guard off the bench for an outstanding Lyons Township High School lineup.
He’s among many key players with new or expanded roles trying to follow the Lions’ march to the IHSA Class 4A sectional final.
“Last year we had a real solid team, but what a lot of people didn’t see were the bench guys were still very good,” Niego said. “This year you’ll see that, them on the floor and we’ve got great supporting underclassmen.”
Senior Nik Polonowski is the lone full-time returning starter but key reserves Niego and forward Graham Smith also were among the five players to appear in all 32 games for the Lions (26-6), who finished second in the West Suburban Conference’s Silver Division at 10-2 to state champion Glenbard West.
The Lions also captured their first regional title since 2018 before losing 67-51 in the sectional finals to eventual state runner-up Whitney Young.
The season begins with the annual LTHS Thanksgiving Tournament, a four-team, round-robin format that concludes Nov. 23. LTHS opened the tourney on Nov. 21 with an 80-25 win over Fenger.
“It seems like there’s a really positive energy within the group and also around the building and within the community,” LTHS coach Tom Sloan said. “I’m hoping that energy continues.”
Polonowski averaged 11.2 points last season, second on the team to graduated all-stater Tavari Johnson (Akron), behind a team-best 71 three-pointers. Polonowski also had a team-high 21 blocks and was third in steals (33) and fourth in rebounds (3.1 per game).
“With a couple of those big role players leaving, that’s more opportunities for more people to step up,” Polonowski said. “I think my role as a scorer will increase. I think my role as a leader will increase. But I’m ready for it.”
Niego (5.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 63 assists) and Smith (5.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) were spot starters. Seniors Carter Reid (1.9 ppg, 1.3 rpg) and Connor Carroll saw significant varsity action last year. Returning seniors Matthew DeSimone, Louis Kaminski, Patrick Kracker and Dylan Nelson will make greater contributions.
Key juniors include Brady Chambers, Liam Taylor, Michael Reilly and Caleb Greer. With Chambers verbally committed to Michigan State for baseball, the Lions have three Division I athletes for three different sports.
Other team members are senior Tim Vlahos and juniors Max Hoffmann, Cameron Hyde, Tyler Kuta, Quinn Mulcrone, Jimmy Pajauskas, Leo Perez and Will Sullivan.
“I think we have good size. We have several guys between 6-4 and 6-6 that are going to be on the floor, kind of interchangeable parts in those positions,” Sloan said. “They’re willing to put the work in on the defensive end so I think we have a good balance of being able to play on the offensive and defensive ends.”