Mooney takes long trip to success

966125.png

Mooney takes long trip to success

Every week day, Matt Mooney makes a two-hour commute, back and forth from his home in Wauconda to Notre Dame High School in Niles. He has no regrets. "Your job is to get a college scholarship," his father told him. He did it. So his father pays for the gas.

"It's a good deal," said Mooney, who has signed with Air Force Academy. "Notre Dame is the best fit for me. It gives me the best chance to play college basketball and get a good education and get recognition, to play in the state tournament and against the best teams in the state."

Mooney, a 6-foot-3 senior, is the leader of a Notre Dame squad that will carry a 9-1 record and the top seed into the Wheeling Hardwood Classic on Dec. 26-29. The Dons will meet Chicago Alcott in the first round. He is averaging 16 points, four rebounds and three assists per game.

Last Saturday, Notre Dame defeated Leo 54-37 in the Chicago Catholic LeagueEast Suburban Catholic Challenge at Loyola. Mooney scored 11 points while Jake Maestranzi, a transfer from South Elgin, had 12 points, four assists and three steals.

He is one of six starters on coach Tom Les' squad. That's right, six starters. Les has a unique rotation. Before each game, he and assistants Shay Boyle and Kevin Clancy gather to determine the starting lineup. Which five will start and who will be the first player off the bench?

"We have six kids who are very good. All six deserve to be a starter," Les said. "We talked about it with the six guys. Depending on how things go in practice or the match-ups, we could start any five of those six. I could pull five names out of a hat and be comfortable.

"But the kids all want to start. We have had multiple different starting lineups. Our criteria includes a multiple of factors--who has been the best team leader that week, who has worked the hardest, who has been best in school, the best defender, who matches up the best.

"Playing time usually is even among the six players. In high school, it isn't like the NBA. There is no sixth man award, no John Havlicek. They all want to start. For teenagers to understand why they work so hard and don't start isn't an easy concept to grasp. But these kids do understand."

Three of the six have started every game to date--Mooney, 6-foot-3 senior Eddie Serrano (7 ppg, 9 rpg) and 5-foot-7 senior point guard Jake Maestranzi (9 ppg, 5 assists, 2 steals), whose brother Anthony played at Northern Illinois.

The other three are 5-foot-7 senior point guard Donte "Scooter" Stephenson (6 ppg, 4 assists, 3 steals), 6-foot-6 senior Justin Halloran (8 ppg) and 6-foot-4 junior Duante Stephens (9 ppg).

"Parents are spending a lot of money to send their kids to Notre Dame," Les said. "Based on that, I don't mind talking to them. I sat down with them before the season and talked about our unique situation.

"I explained the criteria and what we are doing. There is no preferential treatment. We are doing what is best for the boys and what is best for the team. We laid the groundwork and the parents agreed with everything. We're all on the same page."

Mooney, who has a 4.2 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, scored 27 on his ACT and ranks in the top 5 percentile of his class, leads by example. Last year, he failed to make the all-conference team. Twelve players were selected. He was 13th in the voting.

"I felt I deserved to be on the team," he said. "It was motivation for me. I worked hard over the summer and got a scholarship. Last year, we lost to Benet, St. Viator and St. Patrick and finished third in the conference.
Winning the league is a big thing this year.

"We have a chip on our shoulders. We have stuff to prove. We didn't achieve what we wanted to last year. We're starting to get noticed now. We were picked to finish second to Marist in the conference this season and we beat them by 15 last Friday."

Mooney said who starts and who doesn't isn't an issue anymore. Each player knows he needed to contribute when he gets on the floor. "Motivation for me is to never take a play off, to show up for practice and not to slack off on my grades. Everyone knows they will get their chance, even if they are coming off the bench," he said.

With four returning starters from a 20-9 team that lost to Evanston in the regional final a year ago, Notre Dame figured to contend with Benet, St. Viator, Marist, Marian Catholic, Nazareth and St. Patrick in the very competitive East Suburban Catholic. All of them have lost only once to date.

"This could be the best team I've had in six years," Les said. "As juniors, this nucleus got a significant amount of playing time against a high-quality schedule. We have great senior leadership and chemistry. The kids have put their egos and personal agenda on the side and made it a team agenda.

"We got here because we worked hard and were unselfish. If we keep doing those things, it will be a very successful season. Our one weakness is rebounding. We must rebound by committee. We are a nightmare for other teams to match up with because we have a 6-foot-6 kid (Halloran) on the perimeter. But we have to play against bigger guys under the boards. Great chemistry overcomes a lot of deficiencies. Our players cover each other's backs."

Mooney, described by Les as one of the five best players in the conference, believes there are three reasons for the Dons' success--chemistry, everybody knows their roles and the six-man rotation is multi-dimensional.

"We have six guys who contribute in different ways," he said. "We practice hard, we trust each other and we have a lot of confidence in each other. We don't have any big-time Division I players like some schools but we can play with all of them because we will out-hustle and out-work them and play as a team."

Mooney chose Air Force because it was his only Division I offer going into the season and Michigan, his dream school, didn't offer. He visited the Colorado Springs school and liked what he saw. Air Force saw him play in some summer tournaments, offered and gave him a month to think about it. In early November, he accepted. On Nov. 15, he signed. He has no regrets.

"It's a good education and good basketball. I'll be playing in a big-time conference, the Mountain West," he said.

His decision to enroll at Notre Dame was more complicated. As a resident of Wauconda, his close-to-home choices were Wauconda and Carmel in Mundelein. Neither basketball program appealed to him. His father, who attended Notre Dame, knew Les, who was coaching at Marian Central in Woodstock at the time.

"I was playing with the Carmel varsity in a summer league. We weren't winning. I asked my father: 'Do you think I'll ever play in the state tournament or against the top teams in the state?' He said: 'Not if you go to Carmel.' My older brother agreed. Then Coach Les, who had become the head coach at Notre Dame, asked me to come to an open gym. It worked out well."

Mooney used to take a train to get to school. Now he drives. To avoid the tiresome commute on a daily basis, he often stays with his grandmother, who lives in Morton Grove, or his grandfather, who lives in Skokie.

"I stay at my grandparents as much as I can to save on gas," he said. His father appreciates the sentiment.

Recruiting News and Notes: Ben Bryant commits to Cincinnati

Recruiting News and Notes: Ben Bryant commits to Cincinnati

Ben Bryant (QB), Lyons Township

Lyons Township senior three-star quarterback Ben Bryant (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), who originally gave Wisconsin his verbal commitment only to have the Badgers rescind his verbal scholarship offer, has given Cincinnati his verbal commitment.

"It was a much harder decision this time around compared to the first time I committed," Bryant said. "When I committed the first time (to Wisconsin) I had two offers. This time around I had a lot of options and some great offers, but Cincinnati is the best place for me."

Bryant is thrilled to have ended his recruiting process again and can now focus on his upcoming senior season while also putting to rest the entire ordeal with Wisconsin.

"I've put the whole Wisconsin deal behind me and I stand my statement that I sent out on my Twitter account and that's all I have to say. I had some great offers and options and it was a great problem to have. I can just focus now on my team this summer and having a great senior season."

Bryant joins Simeon wide receiver Jayshon Jackson and Mount Carmel senior offensive linemen Jeremy Cooper as part of the Bearcats Class of 2018. 

Jeff Griffin (DL), Homewood-Flossmoor

Northern Illinois continues to do well with filling out its Class of 2018. The Huskies added another Chicagoland piece when Homewood-Flossmoor senior defensive linemen Jeff Griffin (6-foot-2, 260 pounds) became the team's ninth in-state commitment and 14th overall pledge.

"I visited NIU (last Saturday) and that visit really sold me on NIU," Griffin said. "I always wanted to stay closer to home for school and once NIU stepped up and offered me it was a hard offer to turn down. After the visit on Saturday I was sold on NIU so I called up the coaches and committed."

Griffin is also hoping to help NIU add a few more pieces from Homewood-Flossmoor's talented senior class.

"I'm definitely already talking to Justin (Hall) and Mario (Wright II) about joining me at NIU."

Seniors' athlete Justin Hall and linebacker Mario Wright II have both listed Northern Illinois as one of their favorite schools this summer. 

[RELATED: Recruiting News and Notes - Jyran Mitchell commits to NIU]

Indiana State recruiting

Indiana State head coach Curt Mallory has been on fire when it comes to the Sycamores recruiting this summer. Mallory, who was a long-time assistant coach at various stops in Illinois, now has an amazing 24 verbal commitments — including two recent additions in Bishop McNamara safety Giavion Mason (6-foot-0, 190 pounds) and Lindblom wide receiver CJ Rutherford (6-foot-0. 170 pounds).

So why the Sycamores?

Rutherford pointed towards the strength of the coaching staff as a big factor in his decision.

"I really love the coaching staff at Indiana State," Rutherford said. "Coach Mallory brought in a staff that has a lot of experience and several of his coaches worked with him when he was at Michigan. The coaches made us feel comfortable and at home at Indiana State and I'm just excited to be a part of helping the football program win."

Recruiting News

Who are the Top 5 uncommitted players remaining in the Class of 2018?

Carterville tight end Luke Ford (6-foot-7, 245 pounds) has offers from literally every Power 5 school in the nation. Ford originally committed to Arkansas.

Oswego DT Noah Shannon (6-foot-2, 290 pounds) was committed to Minnesota but reopened his recruiting process. Shannon has shown heavy interest in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana and Arkansas.

Bolingbrook DT Dashaun Mallory (6-foot-2, 265 pounds) added a camp offer from Michigan State, and has a Top 3 list of the Spartans, along with Iowa State and Toledo. 

Waubonsie Valley tight end Charles Robinson (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) listed Iowa State, Minnesota and Mississippi State as his Top 3 favorite schools.

Bolingbrook wide receiver I'Shawn Stewart (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) camped earlier this summer with Wisconsin and also made a recent visit to Syracuse. 

58 Days to Kickoff: St. Viator

st._viator_-_30.png

58 Days to Kickoff: St. Viator

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: St. Viator

Head coach: Dave Archibald

Assistant coaches: Chase Murdock (DC/LB), Kyle Jenkins (DL), Gregg Kirkwood (DB), Frank Laterza (Asst. DB/ST), Bob Lamick (OL), Casey Lynde (WR), Al Panzeca (RB), Dan Hall (K), Mike Tubridy (Football Operations)

How they fared in 2016: 6-5 (4-3 East Suburban Catholic Conference), made the Class 6A state playoff field, defeated Rockford Boylan then lost to Lake Forest.

[MORE: 59 Days to Kickoff - McHenry]

2017 regular season schedule:

Aug. 25 – @ Rolling Meadows

Sept. 1 – Lake Forest

Sept. 8 – @ Marian Catholic

Sept. 15 - Benet Academy

Sept. 22 - Carmel

Sept. 29 – @ Marian Central Catholic

Oct. 6 - St. Patrick

Oct. 13 - @ Nazareth Academy

Oct. 20- @ Notre Dame

Biggest storyline: Can the Lions make a deeper run this fall?

Names to watch this season: senior QB/K Bryce Hellgeth, senior DL/OLB Michael Wittich 

Biggest holes to fill: The Lions will need to find a go-to receiver with the graduation of standout tight end Cole Kmet (Notre Dame). St. Viator will also be inexperienced on the defensive line.

EDGY's early take: The Lions had a nice season in 2016 and return 12 starters back (seven offense, five defense). If St. Viator can fill in a handful of key spots, they have a great shot of getting back into the playoffs.