Nix sets hot pace for Niles North

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Nix sets hot pace for Niles North

Malachi Nix is 5-foot-6 going on 7 feet tall, at least if you measure leadership and determination and guts by the size of your Michael Jordans. Hey, he remembers when he was 5-foot-3, 125-pound running back on the freshman football team. By those standards, today he looks like Paul Bunyan.

Nix grew up playing baseball and football. He gave up baseball in seventh grade and stopped playing football after his freshman year. While working out with the varsity basketball team, however, he was inspired by coach Glenn Olson, who also was struggling to make a name for himself.

"He is a great motivator," Nix said. "He said to me: 'I know you are undersized but what I look foris how you lead on the basketball court.' That inspired me. It showed he had genuine care for me. I bought into his philosophy. He was all about winning and getting better every day. I wanted to be part of something special."

In their fourth year together, Olson and Nix are on track to accomplish something that the Skokie school has never experienced--qualify for the Sweet Sixteen. Since its first varsity season in 1964-65, Niles North has won only three regional championships and one sectional title. And three of the four were claimed by Olson in the last two years.

"There is no reason why this team can't be the best I have coached," Olson said. "Our slogan is: 'Put we before the me.' We have the ability to play good pressure defense. And we go nine or 10 deep with not much drop-off. We also have some very skilled guards who are good with the ball in their hands. They make you look good as a coach."

Niles North is 13-3 going into Friday night's game against Glenbrook North. The Vikings lost to highly rated Notre Dame by two points in the final of the Wheeling Hardwood Classic, snapping a seven-game winning streak.

In last Friday's 67-55 victory over Deerfield, Nix scored 18 points while B.J. Beckford and J.J. Myles each tallied 14, Lorenzo Dillard 10. The Vikings converted 12 three-point shots along the way.

On Tuesday, in a match-up of conference leaders, Niles North of the Central Suburban North smashed Prospect of the Mid-Suburban East 82-57 as Dillard scored 22 points, Beckford 21 and Billy Voitik 15. The Vikings show 11-of-13, scored 27 points in the first quarter and built a 41-25 halftime lead. Nix left with a knee injury in the first half but is expected to return on Friday night.

"It was a blessing in disguise," said Olson, explaining why and how depth is the strength of his team. "Two of our four returning starters (from a 21-9 sectional finalist) missed the first seven games and another missed the first four games for disciplinary reasons. The other guys got opportunities to step up and get more experience.

"It gave us some depth and an ability to play good pressure defense. Lack of size is a problem so we must rely on pressure defense and speed and quickness and play with pace. We force 20 turnovers a game. We get into trouble when we allow teams to run their offense and dictate pace. The key to success is to maintain tempo and keep opponents off the boards."

The lineup features Nix (19 ppg, 4.5 assists), a four-year starter; Dillard (12 ppg, 5.5 assists), a 6-foot-1 senior who missed the first 22 games last season because he was academically ineligible; Myles (5 ppg), a 5-foot-8 junior; Beckford (13 ppg), a 6-foot-3 senior; and 6-foot-4 senior Billy Voitik (8 ppg, 7 rpg). The team's tallest player, 6-foot-5 sophomore Danilo Ranger, comes off the bench.

Each player has a role. Nix defends the opponent's best scoring guard. Dillard, a pure passer and outstanding defender, shares the point guard duties with Nix. Olson said Myles is the best on-ball defender he has coached. "He sets the tone for what we do defensively," Olson said.

Olson has made great strides in a short time. A Rolling Meadows graduate of 1994, he studied at Western Illinois and Northeastern Illinois, then coached at Maine East before being hired at Niles North.

"I loved Maine East," he said. "But it was time for a change, another challenge. It was the right time to make a move. It was a huge push athletically."

His first team was 12-15 but progress was swift and rewarding. His second team was 24-7 and lost to Warren in the supersectional. Last year's 21-9 squad lost to Evanston in the sectional final.

"I felt we advanced farther than we should have last year," Olson said. "The good news is we have winning expectations now."

Beating Notre Dame would have been a signature victory. Nix and his teammates will remember that disappointing experience as they brace for the remainder of the season, as they seek to make history.

"We were really stoked to play Notre Dame but we came up short," Nix said. "We didn't rebound well enough. They got too many offensive rebounds. I fumbled the ball with four seconds left when I tried to call a timeout. I don't know if the referee saw me. Dillard had to take a half-court shot at the buzzer but it hit the rim and bounced off.

"What did it show us? We have to be a better rebounding team. We can't take any plays off or take anything for granted. We could have won if we executed throughout the game. But we made too many mental mistakes. It showed we can be a really good team.

"Notre Dame is a top 10 team and we didn't play our best basketball but we still were there with them. We have a lot of potential and we can go pretty far this year. This team is really talented. I look at it as this is my last year. It is time to do it, time to make history."

Nix describes last year's sectional loss to Evanston as "our worst night of the year...attitude, shooting, defense, every aspect of the game. The seniors have to lead, starting with me. We've all been there. The juniors and sophomores have to buy into it and be ready to play every night. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody has the same goal, the same dream. We want to be the first team in school history to get to the state finals," he said.

Meanwhile, Nix has a personal goal. He wants to play in Division I. He has no scholarship offers. But he has attracted interest from Northern Illinois, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Chicago State from Division I, Wayne State from Division II and Augustana and North Central from Division III.

Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye describe Nix as "one of the ore unheralded guards in the class of 2013."

"Above everything else, we label him as a scoring point guard. He has strong leadership qualities, plays hard and can be a possible low Division I prospect. It is important for him to find the right fit. A lot of people overlook him because of his size and because he doesn't play at a high profile basketball school," the Schmidt brothers said.

"Every night, I feel I have to prove something to some people. Some don't think I can play at the Division I level," Nix said. "I want them to know I can play with Division I players. I want to play in Division I. But I will play at the best situation I can.

"I want to show college coaches that I can lead a team, play defense, shoot well and pass, that I'm a good playmaker. I am a point guard. I know coaches are asking: 'Can a 5-foot-6 kid play at our level?' So I play with a chip on my shoulder. People don't think I can play so I have to show them.

"I wanted to be part of something special. We talk about it every day in practice. Not many kids are winning like we are now."

High School Lites Week 6 capsules and picks

High School Lites Week 6 capsules and picks

CSN Chicago will have cameras covering the biggest high school football games across Chicagoland on the Week 6 edition of High School Lites, Friday at 11:00 p.m. Can Oswego East finally beat crosstown rival Oswego? Can Naperville North's magical season continue as they host division power Neuqua Valley? Can Stevenson avoid Libertyville's upset bid and win on the road? And can Mount Carmel bounce back this week and beat Brother Rice?

Oswego at No. 24 Oswego East, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Oswego (5-0/5-0) has beaten Oswego East (5-0/5-0) 11 straight times. But is this the night that the Wolves break that winning streak? Oswego East has put up points in bunches this season behind Iowa-bound RB Ivory Kelly-Martin, senior QB Jaylon Banks and a host of talented players in the skills department. Oswego, coached by Brian Cooney, has started to get its offense in gear. As for the defense, they’ve allowed just 48 points all season. Keep an eye on junior DT Noah Shannon along with senior WR Ray Chmielinski. Last possession wins?

EDGY's Pick: Oswego East 27, Oswego 26 

Highland Park at Deerfield, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Highland Park (3-2/0-1) is looking to bounce back this week after losing to Glenbrook North 42-28 last Friday. The Giants have one of the top running backs in the conference in senior DJ Penick. Deerfield (3-2/0-1) and head coach Steve Winiecki are also looking to rebound. They lost 10-7 last Friday to Vernon Hills. The Warriors also have a do-it-all standout in senior WR/DB Charlie Jones and three star-ranked senior ILB/DE Joshua Maize. Can the Giants get the running game going against the Warriors defense?

EDGY's Pick: Highland Park 31, Deerfield 24

Woodstock North at Johnsburg, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Johnsburg (5-0/2-0) and head coach Dan DeBoeuf will make sure to get the football into the hands of standout senior RB Alex Peete early and often. But the Skyhawks can (and will) throw the ball with QB Riley Buchanan. Woodstock North and head coach Jeff Schroeder will also run the ball with the likes of RBs Casey Dycus and Collin Mergi. Which defense will rise to the occasion?

EDGY's Pick: Johnsburg 36, Woodstock North 30

Wilmington at Lisle, 7:00 p.m. at Benedictine Univ.

EDGY's Take: Wilmington (5-0/3-0) was able to get head coach Jeff Reents his 200th win last Friday with a 43-6 win over Seneca. Senior RB Owen Weaver has been a load to stop this season. Lisle (3-2/2-1) is led by former Addison Trail Hall of Fame coach Paul Parpet. Parpet will look to get senior do-it-all QB Mark McGrath involved as much as possible. Can the Lisle defense slow down the Wilmington running attack?

EDGY's Pick: Wilmington 37, Lisle 21

Lincoln-Way East at Andrew, 7:15 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Lincoln-Way East (4-1/2-1) will take the very short drive over to Andrew (0-5/0-3) in this Southwest Suburban conference game. Lincoln-Way East has gotten a big season from its two headed monster at quarterback, seniors Jake Arthur and Max Shafer. Andrew (0-5/0-3) and first year head coach Adam Lewandowski has been battling an overloaded schedule (22-8 opponents combined record) and a struggling offense so far this season.

EDGY's Pick: Lincoln-Way East 41, Andrew 12

No. 6 Neuqua Valley at No. 14 Naperville North, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Neuqua Valley (5-0/4-0) was expected to be in the DuPage Valley conference title hunt. The Wildcats have a ton of skills and talent including Notre Dame commit WR/S Isaiah Robertson. Junior QB Jake Eskoff has also been vital for the Wildcats this season. Naperville North (5-0/4-0) and head coach Sean Drendel will rely on a deep senior class, a balanced offense and a defense that has improved each week. Can the Neuqua Valley defense get the football back quickly, giving their offense more touches? Can North’s defense limit the Wildcats’ big play ability?

EDGY's Pick: Neuqua Valley 28, Naperville North 21

No. 16 Stevenson at Libertyville, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Stevenson’s (4-1/3-0) only loss came back in Week 1 to Palatine, 28-20. The Patriots’ offense has averaged over 40 points per game since that game and senior QB Aidan O'Connell has been a key. A few of his top targets include senior twins WRs, Henry and Michael Marchese. Libertyville (3-2/2-1) and head coach Mike Jones is looking top bounce back after losing last Friday to Lake Forest. On offense, the Wildcats will rely on senior QB Jack Ruskell and a big, physical offensive line led by Iowa State commit OT Tyler Jost. Can Libertyville slow down the Stevenson passing game? 

EDGY's Pick: Stevenson 28, Libertyville 21

Mt. Carmel at No. 3 Brother Rice, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Mount Carmel (3-2/0-2) is trying to shake off a loss last Friday to St. Rita as the Caravan are in serious need of a headline win. Keep an eye on junior do-it-all RB/WR/QB Alek Thomas and NIU commit RB Michael Kennedy. Brother Rice (5-0/1-0) has been on a serious roll as senior QB Dino Borrelli is having a terrific senior season. Fellow senior Ricky Smalling (Illinois) is a threat at wide receiver at all times. Can the Caravan win on the road? Can the Brother Rice defense slow down the Mount Carmel option game?

EDGY's Pick: Brother Rice 34, Mount Carmel 27

No. 19 Bradley-Bourbonnais at Lincoln-Way Central, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Bradley (5-0/3-0) found itself down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter last Friday against Bolingbrook. But they staged a stunning comeback, winning 22-21. The Boilermakers will look towards Iowa commit WR/RB Cam Harrell. Lincoln-Way Central (4-1/2-1) has been solid all season. The Knights offense is led by QB Hunter Campbell and his top target is WR Matt Pollack. Can Bradley continue to make big plays when needed? Can Lincoln-Way Central limit the big play ability of Bradley?

EDGY's Pick: Bradley 27, Lincoln-Way Central 24

Viewers’ Choice Game

St. Edward at Fenton, 7:15 p.m.

EDGY's Take: St. Edward (4-1/0-1) took its first loss last Friday, 49-3, to 3A top-ranked Immaculate Conception. The Green Wave will look to get back in the win column this week behind junior QB Kyle Mlinarich plus junior WR Saveon Smith and the Green Wave's potent passing game. Fenton (2-3/0-1) and head coach Mark Kos have been up and down all season as both schools try to get in the win column in Metro Suburban Blue play. Can the Fenton defense slow down the Green Wave passing attack?

EDGY's Pick: St. Edward 41, Fenton 14

Larkin senior Christian Negron out for season with torn ACL

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Larkin senior Christian Negron out for season with torn ACL

Larkin forward Christian Negron, a major contender for the All-Area team this season, will miss his senior season with a torn ACL.

The bouncy 6-foot-6 forward has been a major force in the area since his varsity debut as a freshman for the Royals as he averaged 16.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.2 blocks, 3 assists and 2.2 steals per game last season.

Negron is coming off of a strong summer in which he played with the Puerto Rican national team during the U18 FIBA Americas. Leading in the team in scoring and rebounding, Negron averaged 13.4 points, 13.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game including 23 points and 13 rebounds against the gold-medal winning United States.

While Negron's local high school career is likely over, he had a great three seasons at Larkin and he still has a bright basketball future if he is able to recover. Considered a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, Negron recently cut his list to five schools as he is looking at Bradley, DePaul, Loyola, Oregon State and UAB.