Riverside Brookfield High School senior center and Division I prospect Stefan Cicic will play a bigger role, literally, this boys basketball season.
“I grew like an inch, inch and a half,” Cicic said. “I was 6-10 1/2, 6-11 last year and now I’m 7-foot.”
Cicic and the Bulldogs have bigger plans this season with the returning Metro Suburban Conference Blue Division’s Player of the Year setting the tone.
“[Our key is] the whole team just building up chemistry, how we work hard, also that ability to work on the court, hustle, be active, just aggressiveness,” Cicic said. “If we keep on doing that consistently in practice, that’s going to take our game to a whole new level.”
Senior point guard Steven Brown, a part-time starter and key sixth man, also returns, as do senior guards Max Almeida and Joey Garvey, senior wings Sam Shelven and Ivan Ramos-Olivera and senior forward John Super.
Varsity newcomers are senior guard Mehki Austin; junior guards Rylan Bruno, Vincent Dockendorf, Danny Loftus, Mo Turner and Noah Wzorek; junior forward Mantas Sleinys; junior wing Brycen Grove; and sophomore guard Cameron Mercer.
“I think overall this team is very interchangeable. It’s deep. We’ve got a lot of guys who can really guard multiple positions, which is kind of a first for us,” RBHS coach Mike Reingruber said.
“Our goal is to be playing our best basketball come state tournament time, and we want to win conference, win a regional, go as deep into the state tournament as we can.”
Last season was a successful one for the Bulldogs (26-6), who lost to Hinsdale Central 52-39 in the Class 4A Lane Tech Regional final. Their fourth straight complete season with 20-plus victories also included another MSC Blue title with a perfect 12-0 record.
One initial goal is winning the RBHS 20th annual Bill VandeMerkt Invitational for the first time since 2018. The championship round is Saturday.
RBHS then plays St. Ignatius at noon, Dec. 2, in the Chicago Elite Classic at the University of Illinois Chicago Credit Union 1 Arena
“The goal for this season is to get farther than we did last year, just keep pushing,” Brown said, “the winner mentality. You have to have that mentality that you’re going to win and keep that in practice, no matter what.”
Cicic averaged team highs of 17.0 points and 9.8 rebounds last season with 41 blocked shots and 48 assists.
His continued progress will be even more important with the graduation of Arius Alijosius (Winona State), who averaged 15.3 points with a single-season, school-record 106 threes, and fellow All-MSC guard Will Gonzalez, who transferred to Curie.
“Stef had a great year. Obviously, a lot of what we do revolves around him. We’re going to kind of go how he goes throughout the season,” Reingruber said.
“The good thing is for a big man, you don’t often hear how they make other guys better. But with his unselfishness and passing ability, he really makes other guys better.”
Cicic added to the Bulldogs’ inside-outside attack by being able to shoot from the perimeter and three-point range (4 of 9) and moving well with or without the ball.
“I look to contribute even better with my playmaking ability, obviously my size. I’d also like to shoot a little bit more,” Cicic said, “also beat guys with my dribbling ability [and] create for myself and my teammates to get easy shots.”
The 6-2 Brown (3.5 ppg, 57 assists last season), generally the shooting guard, has worked hard toward a breakthrough season.
“I’ve had to take a role of being point guard, playing off the ball sometimes, maturing more because my role is different,” Brown said. “I have to step up and be a leader, take every play, lead by example.”
Other returnees like the 6-2 Shelven assume bigger roles after playing in games as a junior.
“[Shelven has] been a glue guy for us, tremendous leader,” said Reingruber, who added that the energetic 6-2 Mercer has made nice progress since playing for last year’s sophomore team. The 6-6 Sleinys can play with, or sub for, Cicic.
“I think this group will be balanced. I expect Stef to be our leading scorer, but that second guy could change every single game and we have seven, eight, nine guys who could be that guy,” Reingruber said.
With only three other teams in this year’s one-division MSC (Elmwood Park, Ridgewood and Westmont), the Bulldogs have made their nonconference schedule that much tougher, adding Proviso East, Hillcrest, Crete-Monee and Thornton Fractional North.
“We play some teams we lost to last year [St. Ignatius, Lyons Township]. We’re looking to get back at them,” Brown said.