By Marty Farmer
The Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball team went 19-11 last season, highlighted by winning the Metro Suburban Conference championship under first-year head coach Mike Reingruber.
"We started out slow (1-5) but we stuck to the plan," Reingruber said. "I couldn't have asked for a better group of kids. The seniors and juniors made the transition smooth. I learned some things on the coaching end. As far as the players buying into the culture though, that was pretty easy."
While evaluation of players trumps team results during the offseason, the Bulldogs maintained their winnings ways with a 27-16 record this summer.
In Reingruber's estimation, both quantity and quality of games paid off for the Bulldogs.
"We played a bunch this summer," he said. "We played in our own shootout, plus shootouts at Addison Trail, Maine East, Batavia and Morris, and team camps at Marquette and Bradley.
"We had at least 20 guys playing basketball this summer. We played a few more games to give more guys opportunities. We don't bring every player to every game. It's an opportunity to give our seniors and juniors some time to mesh together and also an overall period of evaluation."
While some new players have emerged this summer, the Bulldogs' three returning starters Zach Vaia, Andrew Veon and Patrick Hanley led the team.
Vaia, the reigning Metro Suburban Player of the Year, is an excellent point guard who can score, pass and defend. He also has a knack for making game-winning shots, which he did against Immaculate Conception and Fenwick last season.
"With all of his accolades and experience, Zach solidifies the point guard position for us," Reingruber said. "He had a great summer, shooting the ball well and leading our team. Obviously, we're looking for him to build off the success he had his junior year."
Veon's progress over the summer has been substantial. Already picked as an all-conference player last season, the 6-foot-5 forward appears poised for a stellar senior campaign.
"Andrew really came on in the second half of last season," Reigruber said. "This summer he has been outstanding from game to game. His confidence level is high and he's a more consistent player. Our expectations are high for him. He still has a lot of room to improve which is a good thing."
Vaia and Veon play on the same AAU team, Breakaway Basketball.
Hanley is known for his shooting, ball handling and high basketball IQ. He displayed all three of those attributes and more this summer.
Reggie Loury, Charles Terry and Ryan Cermak are reserves from last season that should see increased roles this winter.
"They played a lot coming off the bench for us last year," Reingruber said. "Reggie has really established himself this summer. He shoots the ball well and has good defensive ability. Charles is a versatile guy who fills up the stat sheet. He can guard all five positions at the high school level. Ryan divided his time this summer between basketball and baseball. He has a great competitive fire and we're looking for big things from Ryan."
Senior Sam Grivetti, a 6-6 post player, could provide RBHS with an interior presence. Juniors Daniel Sessler and Dylan Meehan, who had productive summers, lengthen the Bulldogs' lineup.
"We had a good summer," Reingruber said. "We battled a lot of good teams. I think we're still learning as a team how to do certain things. I understand summer basketball is obviously different from the regular season."
In addition to facing other teams, the Bulldogs have their own camp which emphasizes each player's development.
"We work on individual skills development like shooting technique and other fundamentals," Reingruber said. "There's not a lot of team stuff implemented during the summer."
Reingruber also believes a balance between team games and tournaments and AAU basketball can be beneficial for players.
"I support both," he said. "It really isn't a battle between our kids and AAU. AAU does a pretty nice job of sticking to July and schools compete in June. We have a good relationship with a lot of AAU programs. I think it offers a good balance. Our players get out of their RB comfort zone a little bit and get to play with other kids in different roles and situations."