By Joe Henricksen
If there was ever a week during the regular season that a coach shouldn’t have any problem keeping his team’s complete focus, this is it for Downers Grove South coach Jay Baum.
First, the talented Mustangs, led by the senior guard duo of Jerron Wilbut and Jamall Millison, will host unbeaten and West Suburban Gold rival Proviso East Thursday night. Then Baum’s boys will travel to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates for a showdown with Warren.
“It’s a huge week for Downers South,” admits Baum. “It’s a playoff-type atmosphere that should be fun and exciting. No matter what happens, it’s going to be good for us.”
While Proviso East and Warren are both among the state’s elite teams — both are ranked among the top five teams in this week’s Hoops Report rankings — Downers Grove South isn’t too shabby. DGS is the only legitimate contender to Proviso East in the West Suburban Gold. The Mustangs are 13-2 on the season, losing to two teams, Plainfield East and St. Ignatius, with a combined record of 26-2. And they’re getting better.
Downers Grove South came in with high expectations, both internally and externally, following a season in which the Mustangs won 25 games, a West Suburban Gold championship (beating Proviso East twice) and a regional title. However, the fact there were just three players returning with any varsity experience — Wilbut, Millison and 6-5 Kevin Honn — meant this team might not be at its best until the second half of the season.
While Wilbut and Millison have carried the Mustangs, sophomore guard Danny Spinuzza and 6-6 senior Greg Garro have become more acclimated to the pressures of varsity basketball and provided lifts here and there. Now Baum and the Mustangs will see how far they’ve come since falling to Plainfield East at Thanksgiving and dropping a heartbreaker to St. Ignatius in the semifinals at the York Holiday Tournament.
You want a measuring stick for Downers South? This week will provide it for Baum’s Mustangs. Downers South, which will certainly be a top four seed in the East Aurora Sectional this March, will go from the speed and relentless pressure Proviso East comes at teams with to the size and length Warren possesses.
“We know it’s going to take a monumental effort,” says Baum of the two matchups. “This is the best Proviso East team in a long, long time. And Warren is coached by a hall of fame coach and is one of the top teams in the state.”
When all is said and done, if the Mustangs value the ball and don’t let Proviso East’s pressure get to them, there will be scoring opportunities available –maybe even some easy scoring opportunities. And DGS has a star in Wilbut who has the ability to not only take over a game, but make those around him better when he’s in control. And when that one is all over, state runner-up Warren will be waiting in the wings.
No, it’s not an ordinary week for Downers Grove South.