After consecutive seasons with Class 4A regional titles led by veteran lineups, the Lyons Township High School boys basketball team is adjusting to being the underdog.
Seniors Brady Chambers, Caleb Greer, Liam Taylor and Michael Reilly are the lone returnees who saw varsity action last season.
“If everybody works really well together, then I think we’ll be very good and we’ll be a lot better than people think,” Taylor said.
“Just playing as a team [is the key] because we’ve got a lot of guys all throughout the bench, even some guys on the practice squad, who can do a lot of good things for us.”
The Lions are coming off a season in which they finished 26-6 (8-4 in West Suburban Conference Silver Division) and had an electrifying 49-46 home victory over Curie for the regional title before losing to Hinsdale Central 46-40 on the sold-out Red Devils’ home court in the sectional semifinals. The 2021-22 team also was 26-6 and reached the sectional final.
Varsity newcomers this season are senior guards Max Hoffmann, Cam Hyde, Jimmy Pajauskas and Will Sullivan; senior forwards Tyler Kuta and Quinn Mulcrone; junior forwards Gavin Carolan, Ian Polonowski, Marshaun Russell and Bobby Vespa; junior guards Jaden Gonzalez, Josh Gutierrez, Dylan Hall and Danny Janiszewski; and junior center Luca Bade.
“We’re going to have as much success as the team will allow,” LTHS coach Tom Sloan said.
“To people who aren’t with us every day, there are a lot of unknowns. Our kids, I’m sure, will probably use that as a rallying cry — that nobody knows who they are but hopefully they’ll know after we play them.”
Although the standout group of Nik Polonowski (Penn), Jackson Niego (Illinois Wesleyan), Graham Smith (Yale football), Carter Reid, Connor Carroll and Matt DeSimone graduated, their blueprint for team basketball hasn’t.
The 6-foot-6 Chambers, a Michigan State baseball pitching recruit, averaged 5.5 points and 3.2 rebounds as last season’s first front-line player off the bench.
“Even though we have a lot of new faces overall, our team bonding has still been going really well. I think that’s definitely going to help the team,” Chambers said.
“I think everyone can score. Everyone can contribute. There’s going to be one game where someone scores a bunch and other games where someone [else does]. Everyone’s going to be scoring and contributing.”
Greer, this year’s point guard, often was the third guard last season, averaging 2.6 points. On Thursday, he was cleared to return full-time to practice from a broken right thumb that prematurely ended his football season. Taylor played in 14 games before being injured the second half of the season. Reilly played in nine games.
“Watching Jackson Niego play a lot [last season], he taught me how to control the pace, slow down if I need to, and get everything organized,” Greer said.
“We have a strong bond, which allows us to play better as a team. We’re also really moving without the ball, so that opens up other things like dump-off passes for open threes.”
Sloan said all four returnees will play prominent roles for “as many minutes as their bodies can handle.”
Hoffmann, Pajauskas, Kuta, Mulcrone and Polonowski are encouraging in practice.
“We have an unselfish group. They really enjoy being around each other,” Sloan said. “We try to emphasize that but really that’s as much on the kids and how they connect with each other [offseason]. I feel they’ve done a good job with that.”
The Lions start with their annual home four-team Thanksgiving Tournament, which concludes Wednesday against Lincoln-Way East. They opened Monday by beating Fenger 73-28 behind Taylor (14 points), Greer and Hoffmann (9 points each), Pajauskas (7 points, 4 assists) and Chambers (6 rebounds).
The Lions were third in the Silver last season behind champion Hinsdale Central, which beat LTHS in all three meetings last season, and Downers North, which finished fourth in 4A. Add Glenbard West and upstart York to the mix.
“I think we can compete with everybody, but whoever wins the league this year is really going to earn it because it’s going to be a meat grinder,” Sloan said.