Twelve high school basketball teams that opened eyes in June

Here are a dozen teams that should be excited for different reasons. These are teams whose trajectory is different than expected when the season ended just four months ago.

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St. Laurence’s Josh Pickett (1) drives the ball past Curie at the 2023 Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

St. Laurence’s Josh Pickett (1) drives the ball past Curie at the 2023 Riverside-Brookfield Shootout.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

The all-important month of June, which includes team camps, shootouts and summer leagues, is in the books for high school basketball coaches and programs.

Wins and losses in the summer aren’t the be-all and end-all. Summer basketball is about learning and building, taking steps towards what each team will become when it matters most next winter.

We know certain teams ended this past season with some built-in heavy expectations for 2023-24, simply due to last year’s success and what returns.

Kenwood, fresh off its first sectional title in program history, is loaded again. As it moves up to Class 3A, DePaul Prep returns the bulk of its team from a Class 2A title team. Downers Grove North won’t be sneaking up on anyone after a dream season and the return of its top player, Jack Stanton.

There are others as well that are known commodities with plenty returning from successful seasons.

But some teams took turns impressing this past summer, some from unlikely sources. As a result, the stakes have been raised for the upcoming season.

This is an eclectic group of teams. The list includes programs that are traditionally powerful but were expected to possibly be down. It includes teams that lost a star or several key players but look to have reloaded.

There are teams we just haven’t heard much from in recent years. And some teams have had obvious gains from transfers since this past season ended.

Here are a dozen teams that should be excited for different reasons. These are teams whose trajectory is different than expected when the season ended just four months ago.

New Trier

The Trevians won a school-record 34 games and finished third in the state in Class 4A. But coach Scott Fricke did so with three senior starters, including all-stater and Cornell recruit Jake Fiegen and tough, clutch point guard play from Evan Kanellos.

Despite big losses to graduation, New Trier is hardly in rebuild mode, and it’s a team that showcased length, versatility and young, high-upside talent throughout June.

This roster has a bevy of big, long perimeter players who can knock down shots and will be favored to repeat in the Central Suburban League South.

Ian Brown and the underrated Logan Feller are two key seniors returning. Will Leemaster is a 6-4 senior who will battle inside. Juniors Colby Smith, who was a starter a year ago, and versatile three-sport athlete Trey Meyers are taking big steps forward.

A talented sophomore class, led by Christopher Kirkpatrick, who is poised to take over at point guard, keeps the expectations high going forward. Shooter Danny Houlihan and an intriguing 6-8 Max Depalo are two other sophomores who will make an impact.

Conant

While the Cougars were just a .500 team a year ago, coach Matt Walsh’s team has been impressive this summer. Although virtually every player returns, Conant looks to be even better than anticipated and might be the best team in the Mid-Suburban League.

Led by productive 6-6 Camden Lathos, along with guards Yusuf Cisse, Austin Potocnic and Shreyas Talluri, there is a whole bunch of senior experience. That experience, together with the breakout this past season from 6-5 junior Bradley Biedke, raises the bar for the Cougars.

Mount Carmel

The Caravan reached a sectional championship game last season en route to winning 27 games. However, four-year star guard DeAndre Craig has moved on and is headed to Denver. That’s a significant hit for any team.

But coach Phil Segroves’ team could be just as good as a season ago, particularly due to 6-6 senior Angelo Ciaravino stepping into the role of go-to star. Simply put, Ciaravino, whose recruiting stock soared in June, is set to be one of the elite players in the state.

Lee Marks is an active 6-4 senior who has drummed up Division I interest and offers. Grant Best is an emerging junior. Transfers Cameron Thomas and 6-7 Christian Uremovich are welcomed new additions.

St. Laurence

Coming off a 23-win season a year ago, there has never been more noise surrounding St. Laurence basketball heading into the season. It’s been a wild offseason for the Vikings,

The anchor over the next two seasons, however, is point guard EJ Mosley, who heads a list of several talented players returning. Mosley is a catalyst and among the top players in the junior class, while Caleb Lindsey, Zerrick Johnson, Khalil Jones and Jacob Rice are four other quality juniors who took turns stepping up in their own way last season as sophomores.

The Vikings believed Nojus Indrusaitis, an Iowa State commit who is among the top players in the state, was heading to the Burbank school. Multiple sources have indicated the 6-5 guard will instead go the prep school route.

Josh Pickett is another high-profile transfer who will be at St. Laurence. The powerful 6-4 guard led West Aurora in scoring as a junior last season.

Lake Park

After watching the Lancers in June, coach Billy Pitcher’s team is primed and ready for a big season after finishing 22-11 and winning a regional as a No. 5 seed this past season.

First things first. Go ahead and book this: Cam Cerese will have one of the biggest senior seasons of any player this winter. He’s fresh off big numbers as a junior and shined all June as one of the more underrated players in the state.

Cerese will have plenty of support with the return of the senior tandem of guard Dennasio LaGioia and 6-5 Tommy Rochford.

Batavia

Last season was one of growth for the Bulldogs. Batavia was a modest 16-15 but will be one of the more improved teams in the Chicago area. The expectation is for the Bulldogs to make a run at DuKane Conference favorite Lake Park and perennial stronghold Wheaton South.

The senior-dominated roster has a lot of experience, but the rise of junior Jax Abalos could put this team at a different level this winter. The 6-6 wing is blossoming into one of the top players in the Class of 2025.

Metea Valley

Metea quietly won 21 games last season and will be a contender in the DuPage Valley Conference. The Mustangs not only competed at a high level but impressed at times in June.

The senior duo of point guard James Parker and the athletic and versatile 6-5 Will Ashford will be the backbone, while 6-8 Jake Nosek is a rising junior with face-up shooting ability to space the floor.

Benet

Why would perennial power Benet be included with this mix of teams? One would assume with the Redwings graduating their top five scorers from a team that finished second in the state in Class 4A, there would be a significant drop. That may be premature.

There will be a learning curve, especially early in the season, but Benet will be a ranked team once again with a boatload of impressive young talent in the pipeline. This is the best young group of players in the program since the Dave Sobolewski and Frank Kaminsky days over a decade ago.

Thornton

Last season was a rough one. The Wildcats won just 14 games and finished fourth in the Southland Conference. This proud, tradition-rich program isn’t accustomed to average seasons, so some major improvement is needed.

Well, Morez Johnson helps.

The addition of the 6-8 Johnson, the state’s No. 1 ranked senior prospect, is massive. The physically dominating big man is committed to Illinois and goes to work every time he hits the floor.

But the revamped roster doesn’t end with Johnson. The backcourt now features talented Chase Abraham, a senior guard transfer from TF North, and veteran Isaiah Green, who had a big sophomore year at Hillcrest before becoming a small role player last season at Kenwood.

York

The Dukes will be one of the most improved teams in the Chicago area. They will head up the next wave of teams just behind Downers Grove North in the West Suburban Silver.

York has had a group together in the Class of 2024 that is poised to take a big step forward following a 13-18 season a year ago. And that starts with AJ Levine, one of the underappreciated players in the state. But keep an eye on 6-4 senior wing Kyle Waltz, who is set for a breakout season, and 6-4 senior Braden Richardson.

Yorkville

There is such a nice mix of talent, experience and chemistry returning from a team that won 26 games a year ago. Yorkville should be even better and be favored in the Southwest Prairie West.

If Jason Jakstys emerges as a dominating figure on a regular basis, the jump the Foxes make could be significant. The 6-10 Jaskstys, who has a surplus of mid-major offers and one from Illinois, is extremely versatile for his size.

Jory Boley is an established scorer on the perimeter with size. Bryce Salek is another experienced veteran with athleticism. And guards Dayvion Johnson and Mike Dunn are two other key returners.

Homewood-Flossmoor

Coach Jamere Dismukes has an emerging star in Jayden Tyler, a point guard who is poised and blessed with scoring acumen. An unknown as a sophomore, Tyler has garnered mid-major offers this summer.

Carson Brownfield is another returning player as a powerful senior guard.

The addition of two transfers raises the stakes for Dismukes, who begins his second season at H-F.

Gianni Cobb is an established senior scoring guard who has transferred in from Perspectives and who began his high school career in the south suburbs at Bloom. Mac Hagemaster is a versatile 6-7 big man who has small college recruiting interest.

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