By James Kay
The holiday season isn't complete without basketball returning to the hardwood at the main gyms of Lyons Township, Riverside-Brookfield and Fenwick high schools.
After all three programs competed with the best of the best last year, there is plenty of optimism surrounding local boys hoops in 2019-20. Here are five reasons why you need to follow LTHS, RBHS, and Fenwick basketball this year.
RBHS seniors ready to continue last year's run
The Bulldogs reeled off a successful 2018-19 campaign going 28-5 and made it to the sectional semifinals before being bounced by Curie. With an overwhelming amount of senior talent departing from last season, RBHS is going to rely on this year's seniors to step up despite not having a lot of big game experience.
"Last year, [this year's seniors] saw what a winning locker room looked like and the hurt on the seniors last year when they played their last game," said head coach Mike Reingruber. "That motivated them this offseason and our goals are the same. I would be lying that I am not worried about the lack of big game experience, but this is a talented group of kids."
The team can roll out eight players that can come in and make a difference. Dylan Meehan is a versatile 6-foot-4 wing that improved his offense over the offseason and is bringing back grittiness on the defensive end.
Guard Luke Gentile is no longer running between the tackles on Friday nights and will be a valuable piece in the backcourt (him and 6-foot-2 guard Nate Schoditsch will be the primary ball-handlers this season). Jamir Truman, a 6-5 wing player, also provides Reingruber with some length and versatility for what is a smaller Bulldogs team.
RBHS transfer opening eyes
While there are a lot of big pieces missing from last year's 28-win team, transfer Paul Zilinskas is someone that Reingruber is going to turn to this season. Zilinskas is a 6-foot-5 wing who played for Richards High School the last two years before joining RBHS' squad. Last year, he averaged 15 points per game and led Richards past RBHS when the two teams met last December.
"He was the No. 1 guy on our scouting report when we played Richards a year ago," said Reingruber. "He is such a natural scorer. Anyone who has seen us play this offseason knows that Paul is going to get his shots but he is also a very team-oriented guy."
Zilinskas has Division II schools and Northern Illinois University scouting him and, going into the season, could be RBHS' best player.
LTHS two-way talent in the backcourt
After the Lions went 23-10 last season and were considered a top-60 program in the state, LTHS graduated eight seniors, including two four-year varsity players.
"This year with our inexperience, some guys are going to be learning on the fly," said head coach Tom Sloan. "That isn't necessarily a bad thing. We just have to make some adjustments."
If the Lions are going to continue to build off their success from the year before, they are going to need to rely on senior guards Grant Niego and Michael Niedermeyer to lead the team. Niego is someone who can hit from long range but can also use his speed to get to the rim.
"We are really comfortable having the ball in [Niego's] hands," said Sloan. "We think that him and [Niedermeyer] complement one another and bring similar skill sets as ball-handlers."
According to Sloan, Niego and Niedermeyer are going to be on the floor a lot this season due to the team's lack of experience. If this team is going to make a playoff run, Niego and Niedermeyer are going to need to finish off their LTHS careers with a bang.
The Bryce Hopkins show
There aren't many things that Fenwick's Bryce Hopkins can't do on a basketball court. The 6-foot-6 junior, who verbally committed to Louisville two weeks ago, possesses the ability to score in all three levels on the floor. Last season, he had six 30-point games for the Friars and averaged 23 points per game.
However, what makes Hopkins a dynamic offensive player outside of his obvious scoring prowess is his natural feel as a facilitator. His height allows him to see over defenders and he can pick apart defenses from the post and perimeter.
Fenwick head coach Staunton Peck has already seen his star take it up a notch.
"I think he's gotten more athletic but more than anything else he has made the guys around him better," said Peck. "He's more confident and has matured in the sense that he knows he doesn't always need to drive and beat guys one on five."
No matter who the Friars play this season, Hopkins is going to stuff the stat sheet and be opposing defenses' main priority. The Bryce Hopkins show is must-see entertainment in 2019-20.