Opportunity Knocks

By Joe Henricksen

There are several programs that are in position to do some things this March no basketball team in their school’s history have ever done — or at least haven’t in a long time. Whether it’s taking the first step and winning the school’s first regional title in decades or reaching Peoria and bringing home the school’s first basketball state trophy, the City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at a few of those programs where opportunity is knocking.


The history of Neuqua Valley is all of 11 years old and it’s fair to say the program has climbed quickly in its short existence. Last year the Wildcats reached the supersectional, losing to eventual 4A state champ Richards. This year coach Todd Sutton, who has won five regional championships and 20-plus games eight times, has his team 27-1, a sectional favorite and poised to reach the state finals for the first time.


There have been a few regional titles of late but not a whole lot else in terms of success in the history of Hyde Park basketball. Coach Donnie Kirksey, fresh off reaching the Chicago Public League championship game, has a team that can get to Peoria and bring home the school’s first-ever basketball trophy.


The old Rich High School reached the Sweet 16 in 1955 and won regional titles in 1959 and 1965. Since that time the Rockets haven’t won a single postseason plaque. With a regional-opening win coach George Leonard will have guided the Rockets to just their third 20-win season in 50 years. The No. 2 seed in the Richards Sectional, Rich East has an opportunity to win its first regional championship in over 40 years.


The De La Salle program has had its share of success over the decades, including the glory years under Jerry Tokars in the late 1970s and early 1980s when regional and sectional titles were the norm. The Meteors brought home a third-place trophy in 1977 behind the play of Darryl Allen and Ray Rhone. This year, however, De La Salle has a chance to win its first sectional championship in over 25 years.


There has been a lot more bad than good in the history of Lake Forest basketball. There have been a few sectional appearances the last couple of decades but this year’s team, led by Player of the Year candidate Matt Vogrich, has a chance to win the school’s first sectional title. The good news is the Scouts are the No. 1 seed in their sectional. The bad news is the sectional is arguably the strongest in the state and features talented Waukegan and Zion-Benton.


Former coach Bob Sterr guided Central to its first regional title in 25 years back in 1988 and then followed up with five more regional championships and a sectional title in 1993 before retiring after the 2002-2003 season. Current coach Pete Kramer led the Redhawks to a supersectional in 2005. With a 24-2 record, a No. 2 seed and one of the premier players in the state in Drew Crawford, the opportunity is there to take that next step and reach the state finals for the first time in school history.


This program went from 1946 to 2002 — nearly 60 years — without even winning a regional championship. Current coach Tim Bankston has rebuilt the program and led T.F. North to a supersectional berth last March, which was the school’s first sectional title in 62 years. This year’s team has surprised, winning 18 games and staying in the polls all year long. However, top-ranked Thornton stands in its way of another sectional title and a potential trip to the state finals.


This program is one that has enjoyed plenty of success. The Bulldogs finished fourth in the state in 1959, reached the Elite Eight in 1969 and 1975, while winning back-to-back sectional titles as recently as 2004 and 2005. However, the program hasn’t been to the state finals in over 30 years and has never played for a state championship. The potential is there for this team to do both this March.


And then there is Morton. There was plenty of success — in the 1930s and 1940s. There was the sectional championship in 1961 and current coach Tony Martinucci won a regional in 2004. But this program has had very little if any postseason success over the past four decades. Although the road is tough, Morton will host the sectional and has a senior group that goes out and plays with no fear.

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