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City/Suburban Hoops Report Three-Pointer: Mount Carmel’s unbeaten start, Joliet West’s new threat, Hoffman Estates’ emergence

Mount Carmel, fresh off winning the Pekin Holiday Tournament in late December, is 16-0 and again led by a talented young guard. 

Mount Carmel’s Elijah Jointer (23) shoots the ball over De La Salle.
Mount Carmel’s Elijah Jointer (23) shoots the ball over De La Salle.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

How about the other unbeaten team?

Glenbard West, the preseason No. 1 team, is a perfect 16-0 at the midway point of the season. But there is another ranked team cruising along with an unblemished record: Mount Carmel.

The famously powerful football school is making the most noise it’s made on the hardwood in 14 years. That’s when star freshman Tracy Abrams led the Caravan to a sectional championship in 2008.

Mount Carmel, fresh off winning the Pekin Holiday Tournament in late December, is now 16-0 and again led by a talented young guard.

Junior DeAndre Craig has carried the Caravan at times throughout his first three years in the program. But even while the difference-making point guard is averaging a team-leading 19.7 points and five assists, the supporting cast has risen to the occasion this season.

There is big-bodied big man Elijah Jointer, who is averaging 10.3 points and a whopping 15 rebounds. There are a pair of brothers in sophomore Angelo Ciravino and junior Anthony Ciravino who are three-point marksmen and space the floor, opening driving lanes for Craig. Angelo Ciravino (11.8 ppg) is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, while Anthony Ciravino has buried 43 percent from three.

Steady senior Eddy Lyons has had a knack for hitting clutch shots and sixth man Shane Curtin has been a productive player off the bench.

“DeAndre Craig is talented and controls the game, Jointer is so strong inside, and the rest of that team compliments them and play hard,” said Montini coach Adam DeMong, whose Broncos lost to the Caravan this past weekend. “They all really play their roles well.”

The Caravan have yet to play a ranked team, and there aren’t a whole lot of them on the schedule in the second half of the season. But coach Phil Segroves’ team will be tested, starting this Friday with a resurgent St. Ignatius. Dates with St. Rita, Leo, DePaul Prep and Loyola are coming. And a showdown with Brother Rice in mid-February could potentially be as big of a regular-season game Mount Carmel has played in years.

Toby Onyekonwu announces his arrival

The addition of Toby Onyekonwu at Joliet West this past week is the equivalent of a game-changing pick-up at the trade deadline.

Onyekonwu’s road to getting on the floor for Joliet West has been tough and quite a journey. But the Tigers welcomed him to the court with open arms Friday night. The electric guard responded with a resounding 33 points in a 78-73 win over Minooka.

The 6-0 senior guard is an offensive force. Onyekonwu is a shooter with a quick, easy release. With an expansive offensive package, he’s capable of putting enormous pressure on an opposing team’s defense.

Onyekonwu spent his freshman and sophomore years at Plainfield East. When Covid hit his family decided he would spend his junior year at Trinity Prep in Las Vegas in what Onyekonwu called “a learning experience.” He came back to Plainfield East, playing with the Bengals in the summer, but eventually transferred to Joliet West for his senior year.

However, due to the transfer, Onyekonwu wasn’t eligible to play until this past week, missing the first 15 games while still practicing with the team.

“It felt great to be out there again,” said Onyekonwu of his first game with Joliet West. “Since I’ve been waiting to play for so long, it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”

He admits it’s been extremely difficult waiting for his turn. The tough start to his senior year can be quickly forgotten.

“The culture at Joliet West helped me through,” said Onyekonwu. “The coaches have made me feel good in practice, kept me going. Then on Friday it was just like playing in practice with my teammates. I felt pretty comfortable out there.”

Adding a player with the scoring punch Onyekonwu possesses is a monster addition for coach Jeremy Kreiger. The addition of Onyekonwu, who joins freshman star Jeremiah Fears, junior Jayden Martin and senior Skylar Crudup in what becomes a much more potent perimeter attack, changes the forecast for Joliet West basketball.

A big test awaits Kreiger’s team this weekend with Oswego East and Curie, two teams with a combined record of 32-2. More importantly, there are now several weeks for the Tigers to blend, mold and prepare for what looks to be a wide open Oswego Sectional in March.

Hoffman Estates emerges

Hoffman Estates’ 11-3 record may not jump out at anyone at first glance. And there isn’t a win among the 11 that are going to reverberate throughout Chicago area basketball circles or push the Hawks to the brink of being a ranked team.

But when you really examine the recent history of Hoffman Estates basketball, this year’s start should resonate throughout the program.

If you take out the 19 wins the Hawks had in the 2013-14 season, which is the only winning season of the past decade, the other 10 seasons since 2010 have been –– and there is no sugarcoating this –– pretty abysmal. That includes 10 losing seasons and a combined record of 78-178.

There hasn’t been a single winning season in the Mid-Suburban League since 2008-09. In the past 11 years Hoffman has gone either 0-10 or 1-9 in the MSL West six different times.

Peter McBride was named the new head coach last spring after previously serving as the sophomore coach. He inherited a senior-dominated team, led by twin brothers Mike and Nick Vuckovic in the backcourt.

These aren’t the Hawks from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, which included a state quarterfinal appearance in 2004. But McBride’s team does have a chance to win the most games the program has won in eight years and have something for the program to build on going forward.