Oswego tries to make basketball history


Oswego tries to make basketball history

Oswego is 8-1, the best start in school history, and will carry a eight-game winning streak into Thursday's game against New Trier in the second round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

In fact, coach Kevin Schnable was so convinced that his team would be very good this season that he deliberately bulked up his schedule with opponents that would challenge his Panthers every step of the way.

A Thanksgiving tournament victory over highly rated Proviso East, last year's Class 4A runner-up, confirmed Schnable's preseason evaluation of his squad. At Proviso West, Oswego has a chance to change the minds of any doubters.

"I won't sandbag you. We have talent," Schnable said. "But talent isn't enough. As seniors, there is maturity and experience. And adding to the talent is playing tough and together, the right way at both ends of the court. They are unselfish and share the ball. All five guys on the floor do a job on defense and get after it."

Schnable, in his 15th year at Oswego, said he doesn't want to take anything away from his 26-7 team that finished second in the Class 3A tournament in 2009 or his 24-7 team that lost to Peoria Richwoods in the supersectional in 2010. But...

"Potentially, this team could be as good or better than those teams," he said. "I knew this could be our best team so I adjusted the schedule to test us. We passed the test by beating Proviso East in overtime. The Proviso West tournament will give us a good idea of how good we are."

Oswego opened with a 66-35 rout of Lincoln Park as Miles Simelton scored 21 points. But tougher tests lay ahead. "Proviso West is a measuring stick for us, a test to show how good we are. We get a chance to match up against some of the best teams in the state, to see what we can do against them," Simelton said.

"The coach has a lot of faith in us. He put us against a really good schedule. Four kids on our team have played travel basketball for a long time. We've been playing against kids from Simeon and Proviso East and Whitney Young since eighth grade. We aren't intimidated by them. We know how they play and what we need to do to compete against them."

Against Lincoln Park, Simelton scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half as Oswego built a 43-18 lead. But teammate Elliott McGaughy was even hotter. He converted 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, all in the first half. He also had six assists, four rebounds and three steals. Jack Kwiatkowski contributed 10 points and five rebounds.

"This is the best team as of Dec. 22 we've ever had," said Schnable, an Oswego graduate of 1992. "Time will tell if this group becomes and develops into our best ever. We won't know until March when we review our season and summarize it.

"The 2009 team was talented but also had intangibles of toughness and togetherness. They settled into their roles perfectly, played the game the right way and didn't care about credit, just winning. All five starters went on to play eight college basketball or football.

"Our current team is a bit more talented but what I really like is that we're senior dominated and battle tested. We're still working on the development of what it takes to win basketball games and championships that will take our program to the next level. If we get this group to where the 2009 group was in terms of believing, competing and playing for the right reasons, then we could have something special."

Winning hasn't come easy at Oswego. The Panthers made their first appearance in the state finals in 1974 under coach Steve Goers, who went on to become one of the winningest coaches in state history at Rockford Boylan. After Goers left, however, Oswego won only one regional title before Schnable's 2009 squad became the school's first team in over 30 years to win more than 20 games in a season.

But the Panthers have something going. They won 101 games in the last five years. And they played in the regional championship in four of the last five years, winning two of them. Last year's team finished 18-11, losing in the regional final.

This year's club is led by Simelton (21.4 ppg, 5 assists), a 6-foot senior point guard who is one of the best uncommitted prospects in the state, and McGaughy (16.4 PPG, 5 RPG, 5 assists), a 6-foot-2 senior. Both have played on the varsity for four years and have scored more than 1,000 points in their careers.

Simelton has scholarship offers from Chicago State, Brown, Princeton, Miami (Ohio) and California-Davis. He has a 3.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and scored 24 on his ACT. He is eager to play basketball in college.

Other starters are Kwiatkowski (6 OOG, 6 RPG, 4 assists), a 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior who uses his football physicality to punish opponents on the basketball court, and 6-foot-2 senior Jamaal Richardson (2 PPG).

The fifth spot rotates between 5-foot-10 senior Danny Mangers (6.7 PPG), 6-foot-2 senior Darrion Reddick (8.4 PPG, 4 RPG) and 6-foot-4 senior Josh Oros (3.3 PPG).

"We have athletes and football players and we let them fly around and make things happen," Schnable said.

"What is the key to our success? We lack size so we try to guard inside by pressuring the outside. We play a fast pace. We force a lot more turnovers than we have committed. And we hold our own on the boards. We have held our opponents to under 60 points in the first eight games. And we're averaging 70 points per game. That's a good recipe for success."

Simelton points out that his team has made big strides since last season. He credits Richardson with being the catalyst. Richardson, another football player, didn't play basketball last year. "He is one of our best defensive players, the glue on our team," Simelton said.

But Simelton, who averaged 16 points per game last season, is the leader. He runs the team, controls the tempo, tries to get his teammates involved but never passes up a shot. In tight situations, he wants the ball in his hands. So does Schnable.

"The coach wants me to score more this year. He is expecting more scoring from me," Simelton said. "A few years ago, I was an off guard. But my production was better as a point guard. I evaluate the game as it is happening. I take what the defense gives me.

"As a potential Division I player, the coach wants me to have the same role as last year -- score and get the other players involved. But he also wants me to be the leader, the go-to player."

Simelton grew up watching the program, He got a chance to play with the 2009 team in the summer and played on the varsity as a freshman. Like Schnable, he draws similar comparisons between the 2009 and 2013 teams.

"We aren't nearly as big as the 2009 team," Simelton said. "But I do think some of the roles that they played, we have guys who fill those roles very well. I also feel we have something they didn't -- athleticism and quickness. We can go as far as we want to."

Kwiatkowski agrees. The third member of his family to play at Oswego, he describes his role as "energy, physicality, make small plays, play defense, fill up the statistics sheet with things that don't make the newspaper, doing the dirty work."

"This is our year," he said. "We want to live up to the expectations we made for ourselves. We want to exceed our goals. My brother told me: 'Keep the team close like a family. If you keep them close, no one can get through you.' This is a very close team. We have a lot of chemistry that we didn't have last year."

Kwiatkowski's brother Joe was a junior on the 2009 team. "They had a lot of senior leadership. That is everywhere on this team. There are no distractions. We have a fire underneath us and it is growing every game. Last year, we went to the regional final but we didn't live up to what we were supposed to be. This year is different," he said.

"We take every game with pride. We have pride in our defense. Sixty is our golden number this year. We know if we hold opponents to under 60 points, we will be successful. We know our fast-paced offense can score more points to win the game. The coach says we have a senior swagger to us. We have a lot of confidence. This is our time."

Why to watch: Naperville North vs. Lyons Township Tale of the Tape

Why to watch: Naperville North vs. Lyons Township Tale of the Tape

Matchup: No. 19 Lyons Township (7-2) at No. 14 Naperville North (8-1)

Where to watch: Live broadcast on CSN at 7 p.m., plus a live stream available on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports app.

Overview: This Class 8A showdown features teams from two of the top largest public school conferences in Illinois. Lyons Township and head coach Kurt Weinberg fired off six straight wins to start the 2016 season (including an impressive, 28-14, road win over Glenbard West) before dropping two straight games in Weeks 7 and 8 to Hinsdale Central (28-21) and Oak Park-River Forest (27-3). Naperville North and head coach Sean Drendel posted a 2-7 record last season. However, the Huskies welcomed back 18 returning starters this fall. The Huskies only loss this season was to Neuqua Valley (35-20) back in Week 6.

When Lyons Township has the football: The Lions will look to expand the field with both the pass and run, via its no-huddle shotgun spread offense. Junior quarterback Ben Bryant is already drawing FBS scholarship offers and has several weapons including senior wide receiver Hasahn Austin, junior wide receiver Nate Rusk and junior running back Reggie Terrell Jr. Lyons Township also features a big offensive line. 

[MORE PREPS: IHSA Football Playoffs First-Round Matchups]

When Naperville North has the football: The Huskies will look to establish thunder and lightning in the backfield with senior running backs Cross Robinson and Eric Wright. Then, mix in Naperville North's play-action passing game, led by senior quarterback Luke Cegles, junior wide receiver Nick Calcagno and senior wide receiver Mitch Lewis (6-foot-6, 220 pounds). North also has a good size and experience on the offensive line.

Key matchups to watch: The Naperville North offensive line vs. the Lyons Township defensive line. Naperville North wants to run the ball and also control the clock. The Lions defensive line is very good. Keep an eye on senior Andrew Ezell and junior Mickey Brown. Also, how well can the Naperville North secondary handle the spread passing attack from Lyons? Naperville North has an experienced secondary, led by seniors Cam Hardy and Grant Ericksen. This group will be tested by a speedy group of Lyons receivers and backs..

Impact player for Lyons Township: Bryant. He is an experienced signal-caller who can take over a game when he's on.

Impact players for Naperville North: Robinson and Wright. The Huskies backfield has been special. according to those in and around the Huskies program.

Prediction: Naperville North 28, Lyons Township 21. The keys here will be (1) time of possession for Naperville North and (2) which team wins the turnover battle. I fully expect this to be a close game from start to finish, but I'll give the nod to the home team here. 

Class 8A-4A Under the radar games to watch

Class 8A-4A Under the radar games to watch

The opening round of the IHSA football playoffs is loaded with great opening week games. Here are some Chicagoland matchups, from 8A through 4A, that have the potential to be very good “under-the-radar” type of games to watch this weekend. 

Class 8A

No. 26 seed Maine South (6-3) at No. 7 seed West Aurora (9-0), Friday 7:00 p.m.

Many will look at this matchup and assume that perennial 8A power Maine South will just overpower West Aurora. But not so fast, my friends. The Blackhawks and head coach Nate Eimers feature a team loaded with talent and speed, including the Cross twins: senior RB/DB DaQuan Cross and senior RB/DB DaVion Cross. This game has the potential to be a high-scoring affair.

Class 7A

No. 25 St. Rita (5-4) at No. 8 Rockford Auburn (8-1) Friday 7:30 p.m.

This is easily one of the most intriguing matchups in the opening round of 7A. Why? Auburn and head coach Dan Appino’s Knights feature a huge offensive line and a strong running game. Also, the Knights never play outside of the NIC-10 conference until state playoff time. St. Rita had an up-and-down season, yet no one will ever accuse the Mustangs of not being battle-tested. They have Chicago Catholic Blue credentials and have non-conference wins over Rich Central and Marmion — two playoff teams.

[MORE PREPS: IHSA Football Playoffs First-Round Matchups]

Class 6A

No. 11 Lakes (6-3) at No. 6 Grayslake North (7-2) Friday 7:00 p.m.

Both hail from the Northern Lake County conference and despite Lakes’ 31-14 win over Grayslake North on Sept. 9, the Eagles are the lower seed/road team this week. Look for another terrific game here. It's always very difficult to beat the same team twice in the same season. 

Class 5A

No. 9 Rich Central (6-3) at No. 8 Woodstock North (6-3), Friday 7:00 p.m.

Rich Central might have one of the state's biggest offensive lines, which includes senior OL/DL Caylon May (6-foot-3, 290 pounds). Woodstock North looks to run the football behind senior RB Casey Dycus. Everybody in the Thunder program continues to be excited, stemming from last week's 23-22 win over Rock Falls. Woodstock North blocked a potential game-winning field goal attempt in overtime to secure the win and a state playoff bid.

Class 4A

No. 12 Wheaton Academy (6-3) at No. 5 Aurora Central Catholic (8-1), Friday 7:00 p.m.

Wheaton Academy hit a rough patch in its Metro Suburban Blue slate and lost three straight games to playoff teams (IC Catholic Prep, Riverside-Brookfield and Glenbard South). The Warriors are undoubtedly battle tested. However, Aurora Central Catholic's only loss came to Ridgewood (7-2) who won the Metro Suburban Red. Expect a packed house in Aurora on Friday night for, likely, a back-and-forth game.