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Oak Lawn, Oak Forest and others ready to rise to new heights in 2019-2020

Oak Lawn's Sami Osmani (14) drives to the basket against Lindblom in Oak Lawn Friday, February 1, 2019. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Everyone will be aware of and ready to watch Simeon, Young, Morgan Park and Bloom next season. They’ll be fixtures in preseason top 10 rankings.

There will be plenty of eyes on the likes of Stevenson, Notre Dame, St. Laurence and Evanston who return notable talent or made deep runs in March.

But there are several nondescript teams who are primed for the 2019-2020 season after getting a taste of either success or showed major improvement this past season. Here are five teams with some unrealized potential going forward.

Oak Forest

The Bengals surprised everyone with its win total and returns its top three players.

“I think anyone would be lying if they told you they thought we would win 23 games when the season began,” says Oak Forest coach Matt Manzke.

Although the Bengals lose a pair of senior starters, Manzke will have three promising, double-digit scorers back in 6-4 junior Jayson Kent (15.5 ppg), 6-6 freshman Robbie Avila (14.5 ppg) and 6-4 junior Juan Avila (10.5 ppg).

“But the bottom line is we had a first-round exit,” Manzke says of his team’s last-second, one-point regional loss to Providence. “I think that will be used as motivation. There is no question with the way the season ended it left us disappointed.”

Manzke says he and his team are also well aware of the fact there wasn’t a lot of celebration throughout the season.There were no Thanksgiving or holiday tournament titles and conference and regional championships were missing.

“As well as the season went with 23 wins, we didn’t win any championships,” Manzke says.

There is nothing standing in the way of claiming a championship or two next season, including the first regional title since the great 1986-87 team reached the state’s Elite Eight in Champaign.

Oak Lawn

With five returning starters for coach Jason Rhodes, including high-scoring veteran guard Sami Osmani (22 ppg), there are tantalizing hints of far surpassing this past season’s 16-16 record –– and winning 20 games for the first time in 40 years.

In addition to Osmani, there will be four other returning senior starters in 5-10 point guard Trey Ward (12.5 ppg), David Reyes, Kevin Swatek and Scott Maloney. Sophomores Ben Cash and Ryan Kennelly were sophomores off the bench who are also back.

“We are all excited about next year,” says Rhodes, who will begin his eighth season as head coach at Oak Lawn next year. “It was strange after losing the last game, because all the players were returning. The mood was different. Everyone was excited about getting back at it for next year.”

So excited the team decided to come back the next day, after the final loss of the season, and have one more practice.

“There was a real good vibe at the end of the year,” Rhodes points out. “And it’s a group that has played together for awhile.”

The first goal for this group, Rhodes says, is focusing on winning a conference championship. It’s been decades since Oak Lawn has won a conference championship.

“They see that 1983 championship up there [in the gym] and know,” says of his team’s awareness of what’s out there for next season.

Westinghouse

Rafie Fields, who finished his second season as coach at Westinghouse, has a group that could sneak up on some people next season and potentially push its way into the rankings at some point.

After winning the Public League’s White-West this past season, Westinghouse makes the move up to the city’s rough-and-tumble Red Division after compiling 18 wins this past season.

Maybe this isn’t a legitimate city title contender, but it’s a team that can make some noise with the return of four starters, including high-scoring guard Devin Davis (24.4 ppg). Sophomore Jordan Kier and juniors Ryan Brown (12.3 ppg) and Tyrinn Kidd. Plus, Dwayne Walton and 6-6 freshman Martell Webb are back.

Cary-Grove

With last season’s 21-win campaign as a building block, Cary-Grove looks to take the next step with the return of guard Beau Frericks and 6-8 Frank Jakubicek. That impressive 1-2 punch is quite a starting foundation for coach Adam McCloud.

After putting together the fourth highest win total in program history this past season, the Trojans have their sights set on capturing a Fox Valley Conference championship and winning only the second regional title in program history.

Mundelein

There was a recent stretch at Mundelein where the basketball program churned out a combined 11-106 record over a four-year period. Then it won 14 games two years ago and went 20-12 this past season.

With three returning starters who were the top three scorers, Mundelein is set to turn the corner in 2019-2020. Scoring guard Connor Enright, 6-8 athletic force Scottie Ebube and 6-3 Jack Bikus are all back after combining to score 44 points a game as sophomores.