Henricksen: Forecasting most improved teams in the 2016-2017 season

SHARE Henricksen: Forecasting most improved teams in the 2016-2017 season

While there will be a team or two that pops out of nowhere to win a conference championship or surpass 20 wins this winter, there is a pretty clear picture, even at this early juncture, of which teams will be the most improved from a year ago.

Returning talent, senior veterans, new arrivals and impressive play this past June leads us to this list of eight vastly improved teams in 2016-2017:

• DePaul (last season’s record: 15-15)

There is veteran senior experience, along with young, dynamic talent, that received a boost of confidence last March with a Class 2A regional championship run.

With the bulk of that young team returning –– 6-4 Perry Cowan is one of the top prospects in the Class of 2019 and 6-6 sophomore Pavle Pantovic is emerging –– coach Tom Kleinschmidt’s team could push toward 20 wins this season.

• Waukegan (13-18)

This team is brimming with young potential –– a host of exciting freshmen played and impressed last season, led by all-conference player Bryant Brown, one of the top prospects in the sophomore class ––while also possessing a pair of standout seniors.

Carson Newsome, a 6-4 wing and four-year varsity performer headed to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, averaged 12 points a game last season. Another senior, Deshaun Davidson (10 ppg), is back after putting together a terrific summer.

• West Aurora (8-18)

An uncharacteristic single-digit win total for this program last year should be a distant memory this season. This group of seniors were unbeaten two years ago as sophomores, while junior Camron Donatlan is an athletic, stat-sheet stuffing guard. He led the Blackhawks in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals.

In addition to Donatlan, the return of guards DaVion Cross, DaQuan Cross, 6-3 Caleb Siler, 6-4 junior Ben Young and Damian Virgen should push West Aurora towards the top of the Upstate Eight Valley.

• Lyons (9-18)

Saying “Lyons will improve” after going 9-18 and finishing last in conference play isn’t exactly going out on a limb. But this is a team that could reverse last year’s record and even entertain a worst-to-first scenario in the West Suburban Silver.

Holy Cross commit Connor Niego (16 ppg, 9 rpg), a 6-8 senior forward and top 25 prospect in the Class of 2017, 6-4 senior Nolan Niego (10 ppg) and promising sophomore guard Tyrese Shines all return. A 20-win season after just nine wins a year ago is possible.

• Lincoln-Way East (7-19)

This could be the most improved team in the always competitive Southwest Suburban Blue.

Sam Shafer, an up-and-coming 6-5 junior who can space the floor with his shooting and possesses Division I potential, returns after averaging 10 points a game as a sophomore.

The junior class gained a ton of experience a year ago at the varsity level, beginning with starting point guard Zach Parduhn. Juniors Joey Buggemi, a 6-2 guard, and junior Mike Herlihy, an athletic 6-5 post, are also both back.

Plus, there is the addition of Lincoln-Way North transfer Dorian Aluyi. The athletic and talented 6-5 forward will be a major factor this season.

• Romeoville (10-17)

This was a talented but inexperienced team last year capable of putting a scare into a favored opponent. This year it will be a team capable of beating those teams it put a scare into.

Junior guard DeAndre Heckard is fresh off an eye-opening offseason, emerging as a Division I prospect and shooting up recruiting lists. A couple of other talented juniors, 6-6 Dontia Johnson and guard London Stamps, also return, along with sophomore guard Michael Salter.

• Downers Grove North (14-14)

There is no question the loss of graduated Devin Blake will be felt, but the Trojans should still be a better, more improved from last year’s .500 team.

Coach Jim Thomas welcomes back three starters and four players who played extensive minutes, including 6-5 athletic wing Bryan Jakobsze (12 ppg, 4.6 rpg), versatile 6-5 Anthony Castelvecchi (7 ppg), 6-4 junior Keenan Davis (7 ppg, 6 rpg) and 6-5 shooter Ryan Pustelnik.

When you add in the arrival of sophomore point guard Sema’j Henderson, who opened eyes all summer with his play, DGN figures to be a player in the West Suburban Silver after finishing just 4-8 in league play a year ago.

• Carmel (13-18)

After going winless in the East Suburban Catholic Conference last year, Carmel is poised to be one of the most improved teams in the league –– and one with a bright future, thanks to a super sophomore class.

There were a host of young players who gained varsity experience last year, starting with Johnny Roeser, a versatile 6-5 perimeter threat who is one of the better sophomore prospects in the Chicago area. Roeser averaged 8 points a game as a freshman and is only getting better.

In addition, 6-3 Jalen Snell and 6-4 Lukas Galdoni are a pair of sophomores who saw varsity time last year as freshmen, 6-4 John Barr is a returning senior, and 5-10 junior guard Zion Kilpatrick started several games before going down with an injury in February.

Plus, coach Zack Ryan welcomes Damone Williams-Grey, a 6-5 sophomore who transferred in after starting at Niles North last season, and 5-10 sophomore Evan Myers, who transferred in from Glenbrook North.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

The Latest
Our quizmaster has found a way to combine our love of baseball and our love of music in one place
In two of the last three seasons, Matt Eberfus’ Colts boasted the least-penalized defense in the NFL.
I came to the U.S. at the age of 2, and became the first generation in the family to earn a college degree, DACA has been like a lifeline. But a pathway to citizenship is the only permanent solution for all immigrants.
I am torn as I embrace my return to paved roads, an abundance of modern infrastructure and the trappings of the Western world, to friends and family. Torn by the simplicity of life in Ghana, despite its hardship for so many amid glaring abject poverty, which exists side by side with opulence.
The girl was inside a car when another car approached and someone inside that second car opened fire, striking the girl in the head, police said.