Bartlett won its second Class 4A boys basketball regional title in three seasons Friday night in a distinctively different manner than it won its last.
Some key holdovers from the 2007-08 team played key roles in the 66-61 victory over rival South Elgin in Bartlett - senior guards Luke Labedzki and Frankie Cleope and senior forward Mike Banks - but the 2009-10 Hawks had to work harder than their predecessors to achieve the same result.
Two years ago Bartlett expected to win a regional. Loaded with 6-foot-10 center Kamil Janton (Eastern Michigan), athletic, 6-6 wingman Cory Hyrnyk (St. Joseph, Ind.) and pinballing point guard Marc Little (New Mexico Junior College), the 07-08 Hawks were the regional favorite on their home floor.
That team went on to defeat John Shurna-led Glenbard West in a sectional semifinal before it succumbed to Upstate Eight Conference rival Neuqua Valley in the sectional title game.
Winning a regional title was far from a given for Bartlett (16-11) in 2009-10, home-court advantage or not. They were rightly seeded second behind South Elgin (18-10) after an up-and-down regular season.
"We had a lot of talent (two years ago), and we felt all along that our obstacle wasn't going to be the regional against Batavia but the sectional against Neuqua (Valley)," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said.
"Two years ago I felt all along we were in a position to get to a sectional if we played real well. But this game and even on Wednesday (against St. Charles North) I felt that if we played well we still might not come out on top because the other teams are that good.
"So, I really, really think that these guys are special because of the work that we put in and the fact that we're undersized and have to hustle to win. We went up against another team that has to hustle to win, and we came out on top."
Though these Hawks may not be as talented at the top of the rotation as the previous regional title team, they have more depth. Nine players saw significant playing time Friday, and Matt Chaltin came off the bench to play hero.
The junior shooting guard's 3-pointer from the corner tied the game at 45 with 6:54 left in the fourth quarter, ending a 9-0 run by the Storm. With 2:08 remaining he drained another 3-pointer to push Bartlett's lead to 7 points, the largest advantage of the game by either team to that point. His points were huge in light of the attention South Elgin paid to stopping Labedzki, who managed 10 points to go with 3 steals.
"Coach always tells us that they're going to take away our best player, so we have to have somebody step up," Chaltin said. "We have those guys. We have guys that don't even play and they could score 20 a game."
One such player is Lithuanian transfer student Justas Vikonis. He rarely sees the floor on gamedays, but the senior drilled nine 3-pointers before the game to advance to the sectional 3-point shooting contest.
Banks (game-high 20 points) and senior forward Larry Whitaker (6-5) provided the backbone for the Hawks. Whitaker finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks, but supporting pieces like Chaltin, freshman Lance Whitaker (6 points) and junior Femi Oyewole (6 points) demonstrated why Bartlett runs deeper in '10 than it did in '08.
"We're all capable of being good players and we all can do our jobs," Banks said. "We all came through tonight. I can't even explain how good this feels."
Labedzki said he's indifferent about scoring considering the support he gets from his many teammates, as long as the team wins.
"I don't care at all," he said. "Everyone else played well. If they try to shut me down, other people are going to score, as you could see tonight. Mike and Larry, they killed. Chaltin hit some humongous shots for us, and Frankie played great D.
"It was a team win all around."