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This season’s most improved teams

These seven teams are going to be playing and competing at a much higher level than last season.

Westinghouse’s Martell Webb (32) shoots the ball over Lincoln Park.
Westinghouse’s Martell Webb (32) shoots the ball over Lincoln Park.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The goal of every team is to show improvement from the year before. That improvement can come in all different forms and be measured in a variety of ways.

The following seven teams are going to be playing and competing at a much higher level as the most improved teams from a year ago.

Batavia

Last season’s record: 9-8

New outlook: With a core group returning that includes four returning starters, Batavia enters the season as the favorite in the DuKane Conference after hovering around the .500 mark last season.

Trent Tousana is a compact and explosive 5-10 three-year starter and a bundle of energy with the ball in his hands. He will team up with returning guard AJ Sanders in the backcourt. Then there is the size opponents will have to deal with as 6-9 Austin Ambrose and 6-7 Ethan Ivan, who are both headed to Division II Wisconsin-Parkside, complement one another nicely.

There are a host of other seniors coach Jim Nazos can lean on as the Bulldogs look for their first 20-plus win season since 2017-18.

Bloom

Last year’s record: 5-5

New outlook: Regardless of the circumstances and how few games were played, a .500 season at Bloom is not a normal year. When you consider that in the last 25 seasons only two Bloom teams have been .500 or below, last year was an anomaly.

Bloom had to replace all five starters a year ago. But this year coach Dante Maddox welcomes back a wealth of experience, including five players who either started or played significant minutes.

There is a difference-making defender in 6-8 Emondrek Erkins, one of the better uncommitted prospects remaining in the senior class. Erkins blocked five shots a game last season and will be an improved scoring option this season.

The guard trio of 6-2 Jordan Brown, 6-4 Raeshom Harris and 6-1 Kimarion Cobb are all returning starters. Brown is a versatile scorer, Harris a mulit-dimensional talent and weapon in the open floor and Cobb is the team’s leading returning scorer.

There is size, depth and more scoring in senior Ivan Mitchell, a valuable role-playing veteran, 6-7 junior Michael Garner and up-and-coming sophomore Gianni Cobb, a talented 5-10 guard ready to emerge.

De La Salle

Last season’s record: 1-4

New outlook: If there is a team that wants to just throw away a season, it’s De La Salle. The Meteors won just a single game. But maybe worse was just the five games played. That’s a forgettable year.

Coach Gary DeCesare, who helped raise the profile of St. Rita basketball during his time there, returns to the Chicago area and takes over for longtime coach Tom White. The Meteors have a nice blend of returning backcourt talent and size on the frontline.

Look for senior guard DaJuan Bates to put up numbers and be an offensive force while senior Jalen Brown is an overlooked point guard. There is size and length in 6-7 Jamil Wilson, 6-8 Marcelius Cohen, 6-6 Caleb Jenkins, a vastly improved wing, and 6-6 junior Evan Jackson, a promising transfer from St. Rita who DeCesare feels will have a breakout season.

Marian Catholic

Last year’s record: 6-7

New outlook: Although under .500 a year ago, this year the Spartans are a legitimate contender to win the East Suburban Catholic Conference.

The defensive pressure Marian Catholic can apply with its speed and quickness must not only be disruptive, but it will need to lead to some easy offense at the other end –– at least until coach Mike Taylor can get all the pieces to fit and some perimeter shooting develops.

Senior Jeremiah Jones is the catalyst. As the leading returning scorer, the 6-3 guard is an underrated player due to the impact he makes on the defensive end. The length, quickness and instincts he plays with at the defensive end are not what you typically find in a high school player.

Then there are a surplus of perimeter players with a variety of attributes, starting with a pair of juniors: 5-9 point guard Tre Davis and 6-3 wing Quentin Jones.

Who among the group of 6-2 Eddie Barret, 6-3 Jeremiah Smith, 6-5 James Bullock, 6-1 Donavon Juzang and 6-1 Josh Lawson can step up their productivity and earn their minutes?

Oak Park

Last year’s record: 3-3

New outlook: There were just six games last season which resulted in a ho-hum 3-3 record, and there hasn’t been a 20-win season since 2017-18. But there is enough promise and optimism to think the Huskies can reach that win total.

Even in a very shortened season, it was enough time for Justin Mullins to open eyes. The 6-5 guard emerged out of nowhere, averaging 15 points and eight rebounds a game and continued to blossom in the offseason. He attracted Division I interest and ultimately signed with Denver.

Now it’s Sam Lewis, a gifted 6-5 junior, who is set to have a breakout campaign. He has a plethora of Division I interest, including from high-major programs, after averaging 11 points a game last season as a sophomore.

Together, Mullins and Lewis give coach Phil Gary quite a 1-2 punch to play with. These are multifaceted players who can play different roles and impact on both offense and defense. Plus, senior John Vincent Carter is a lively big man who brings a dimension at 6-9 that could be even more impactful this season after averaging five points and seven rebounds a game.

Tinley Park

Last year’s record: 5-8

New outlook: Current Young senior AJ Casey transferred out of Tinley Park after a monster sophomore season two years ago, dealing the program a significant blow. That team won 18 games.

Although less heralded, coach DJ Brown now welcomes a pair of transfers that should help immensely.

The addition of Brother Rice transfer Nick Harrell and Westinghouse transfer Martel Webb are a big reason why the Titans should be one of the more improved teams in the south suburbs. Harrell is an athletic talent with tremendous physical attributes as a versatile 6-5 wing, while Webb is a big 6-7 body who takes up space defensively, blocks shots with his wingspan and shows surprising skill and touch offensively.

There are a pair of stat-sheet-stuffing senior veterans set for their third varsity season: 5-10 Keon Richardson (12.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.2 steals a game) and 5-11 Malachi Haythorne (11.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2 steals a game). These two have been a mainstay for this program and offer a ton of experience.

This is a team that could threaten perennial power Hillcrest for the top spot and make the South Suburban Blue an interesting race, along with upstart Lemont and Robbie Avila-led Oak Forest.

West Aurora

Last year’s record: 1-15

New outlook: There is nowhere to go but up after an uncharacteristic West Aurora basketball season a year ago. The Blackhawks finished a tough Covid-shortened season with just one win and went winless in the Southwest Prairie West.

But with the return of three returning starters, including double-figure scorers Ty Rogers and Isaiah Siler, along with the addition of St. Rita transfer Josh Pickett, don’t be surprised if West Aurora goes from 1-15 to a winning record in 2021-22.

Rogers is a long, lanky, run-the-floor 4-man with some shooting range who averaged 12.7 points a game. Siler is a three-point shooting threat who averaged 10.6 points a game. Kenyon Weekley is a 6-5 big man and returning starter who averaged 8.3 points and five rebounds a game.

But the 6-4 Pickett, who played varsity at St. Rita as part of the heralded freshman class a year ago, is a huge addition for coach Brian Johnson. Pickett is a big guard with size and strength who will prove to another double-figure scorer.