Teyvion Kirk of Joliet West stops to pass the ball on Monday at the first practice of the season. Worsom Robinson/ For the Sun-Times.

O’Brien: Top talent, massive expectations at Joliet West

SHARE O’Brien: Top talent, massive expectations at Joliet West
SHARE O’Brien: Top talent, massive expectations at Joliet West

It didn’t take long for Joliet West coach Nick DiForti, a Sox fan, to bring it up.

“It’s kind of like that Cubs feeling, with the expectations so high after the previous year,” DiForti said.

The last Joliet state basketball title was in 1937. The Cubs have now played in two World Series since a championship trophy was brought home to the fourth-largest city in the state.

“Everybody is excited,” Joliet West guard Teyvion Kirk said. “They know what we are capable of, we just have to finish the job and do what we are supposed to do. State. Win it. At least get there, at least. But we are winning it.”

Monday was the first day of basketball practice around the state. Title talk is the norm at the powerhouse Public League schools. You can bet that Simeon and Morgan Park were thinking about winning state hardware at their practices. It’s fresh and different to hear the Tigers express lofty goals.

Kirk, a 6-3 senior, will sign with Drake on Wednesday. Trevian Bell, a 6-6 forward, will sign with Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“We’ve been trying to tell people for the last three years that it was coming,” Bell said. “I don’t know why nobody sees it. Maybe because we live in one of the farther out areas?”

The Tigers were 21-10 last season and lost to Benet in the supersectionals. All five starters return. Six-foot-five senior Elijah Ward and 6-6 Tabyous Casterberry are long and athletic and 6-4 junior Eddie Creal is the do-it-all type. He’s a likely DI signee next year.

“The kids have very high expectations,” DiForti said. “And that has caught on. Joliet likes the positivity. When the community sees that happening they ride that wave big time. The success hasn’t really been there for either school [since Joliet West and Central split athletic programs in 2010].”

The Tigers schedule has undergone massive changes. They left the Southwest Suburban conference and have joined the Southwest Prairie, which isn’t as strong in basketball. But Joliet West’s high-profile this season has more than made up for that. They picked up invitations to two of the state’s most prestigious shootout events. Joliet West will play North Lawndale in the Chicago Elite Classic on Dec. 3 at UIC and face Young in the When Sides Collide Shootout at Glenbard East on Jan. 21.

It’s also possible that the Tigers will play Simeon and Curie at the Pontiac Shootout in December. That’s four highly-ranked Public League teams in one season, which will be a major challenge.

“We’ve played good teams and we’ve beaten good teams but we haven’t beaten the best,” DiForti said. “Those games will be a litmus test to see if we are what we say we are.”

Joliet West lost to Simeon 74-41 last year at Pontiac and were beaten badly by the Wolverines at the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout in June.

“What we went through last year in the big games and with the tough calls, all those guys are back,” DiForti said. “It won’t be like a first date for any of the kids. They’ve been dating this girl for awhile and they know what to expect.”

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