As the lone returning starter from an outstanding Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team, junior guard Will Gonzalez has seen the formula for success.
“[One key is] getting it done on the defensive end,” Gonzalez said. “We have to all lock in together, rebound, play hard and then just play confident and have fun, and we’ll definitely win a lot more games than people think we will.”
The Bulldogs are determined to continue the winning tradition exemplified by last year’s senior-dominated lineup. The 23-6 season included winning the Metro Suburban Conference Blue and a third straight regional title before losing 64-54 in the IHSA Class 4A sectional semifinals to eventual state runner-up Whitney Young.
“I think just the culture of our program in the last two decades, we’ve won a lot of games and guys expect to win, guys know what it takes to win and we as a coaching staff are hoping to put them in the position to be successful,” coach Mike Reingruber said.
Last season, the 6-foot-5 Gonzalez averaged 6.5 points per game and was third on the team with 4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Senior guard Arius Alijosius (6 ppg) saw significant minutes off the bench and often provided a spark with stellar outside shooting, finishing third on the team with 1.6 threes per game behind a team-high .489 shooting percentage.
“They’re the two with the most experience,” Reingruber said. “We’re looking at them to lead us not only in the statistical kind of stuff but also the leadership role because they’ve been there.”
The 6-3 Alijosius, who recently signed with NCAA Division II Winona State, wants to expand his contributions.
“Just being more than a shooter, just making sure I’m scoring at a high, consistent rate and then getting it done on the defensive end,” Alijosius said. “We’ve all got different roles this year. We’re learning how to play together.”
The key may be the development of 6-11 junior Stefan Cicic, a transfer from Niles-Notre Dame.
Injured most of the offseason, Cicic began working consistently with his new teammates in the fall. It should create a nice inside-outside combination, especially for another guard-heavy roster.
“Obviously Stef is our big man. We can go into the post. Not a lot of teams can guard that,” Gonzalez said. “And being able to push the pace on offense is definitely going to help.”
Seniors Marques Turner averaged 1.3 points in 12 games last season and seniors Hunter Ferguson, Rex Dockendorf, Moses Soto and Aidan Hernandez played between 10 and six varsity games. Junior newcomers are Max Almeida, Steven Brown, James Espino, Joe Garvey, Ivan Ramos-Olvera, Landon Rivers, Sam Shelven and John Super.
“Arius is one of the best shooters in the state. Will is as skilled of a guard that you’ll find so it’s a nice 1-2 punch in the backcourt,” Reingruber said. “Add a big [presence] like Stef and other complementary pieces and I’m real excited about what this season has in store.”
The season begins with the Bulldogs’ annual Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic, which concludes Nov. 26 after three pool games.
This story has been changed to correct Stefan Cicic’s grade in school.