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Article updated: 1/23/2013 8:49 PM

Zelis mentioned in elite company

By Dave Oberhelman Kevin Schmit

Standing 6-foot-11, it's not difficult to notice Wheaton North senior center Andrew Zelis on a basketball court.

He's being noticed for more than just his size.

Last week Zelis, committed to Stetson University, was picked as one of 13 Illinois players nominated to compete in the McDonald's All-American game on April 3 at the United Center in Chicago.

"It's a great honor for him to be mentioned with all those players on that list," said Wheaton North coach Dave Brackmann.

The list includes some of the heavy hitters in the state, headed by Simeon teammates Jabari Parker, committed to Duke, and Illinois recruit Kendrick Nunn. Other nominees include the Wolverines' Russell Woods, Proviso East's Sterling Brown, Seton Academy's Alex Foster, Kamal Shasi and Mark Weems, Morgan Park's Billy Garrett, Belleville East's Malcolm Hill, Cahokia's Vincent Jackson, St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens and Bartlett's Lance Whitaker.

Among the hundreds of players nationwide nominated by coaches, athletic directors, principals and members of the McDonald's selection committee, 24 boys and 24 girls players ultimately will be chosen to compete in April's games.

The announcement of the final rosters will be made at 4 p.m. Feb. 14 during a broadcast on ESPNU.

"Hopefully, that's something that motivates him the rest of the year," Brackmann said. "We've got a lot of basketball left, and hopefully he has a great second half of the season."

Future is now:

Naperville North rarely promotes a freshman to varsity, but entering the season Huskies coach Jeff Powers had little doubt about Jelani McClain's ability to immediately contribute to the team.

McClain, a 5-foot-9 guard, has been a consistent starter for Naperville North. While he's had ups and downs like any other player, his play shows just how bright the future appears.

"He's going to be a pretty special player," Powers said.

McClain has made highlight reel plays this season and showed particular grit while scoring 15 points in the cross-town game on Jan. 15 at Naperville Central. For the season he's averaging 5.6 points, 2.4 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals a game.

With three-plus seasons still to come, opposing coaches in the DuPage Valley Conference will get their fill of McClain's talents.

"He stepped up in front of a full house like it was nothing, like he was playing in his backyard," Powers said. "He's going to be special."

Big night:

It's that time again.

Time for the 16th annual National Guard High School Hoops Showdown at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. The tripleheader begins at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and features an array of area teams.

The day kicks off with an East Suburban Catholic Conference showdown between Notre Dame and defending ESCC champion St. Viator.

Next up, at 6:30 p.m., Naperville Central faces Benet for the second time this season. The Redhawks beat Benet 57-54 in overtime at the Hoops for Healing tournament in November.

The middle game features a showdown between 6-foot-9 Benet junior center Sean O'Mara and 6-9 Redhawks junior center Nick Czarnowski.

The day wraps up with a matchup between coaching legends. St. Joseph and Gene Pingatore face West Aurora and Gordie Kerkman at 8:30 p.m. The Hall of Famers have combined for an amazing 1,600 victories.

Reserved tickets -- $12 for adults and $10 for students 18 years old and younger -- are available at the schools and at the Sears Centre box office.

Better than anticipated:

Season expectations for Lake Park were less than stellar.

"It was one of those years where a five-win season would have been a doable thing because we had eight seniors gone and only had two players (forwards Sean Moore and Jeremy Caboor) who played any competitive minutes," said Lancers coach Josh Virostko.

Instead, Lake Park was 5-1 before December. The Lancers have taken Virostko's defensive sensibilities and run with them to a 13-7 record, including wins over Prospect and Glenbard East.

"I feel like the kids have really overachieved," said Virostko, continuing to prove his chops since arriving at Lake Park in 2009 out of Plainfield Central. "We'd like to keep it going, obviously."

While playing sophomores Marcus McDaniel, Mike Karas and Connor Vance and lacking superior height or a big scorer, Lake Park has taken a team approach. Moore averages a team-high 11 points and is joined here and there offensively by Caboor, Mikey Van Aswegen, Carlos Cortez, Mel Kimbrough and 6-foot-4 center Jake Ktsanes.

"Because we don't have a guy who can go out and get 20 a night we go with whoever's hot that night," said Virostko, who graduated one of those after last season, Dominique Spencer.

Defense is Virostko's constant emphasis. Against Lake Park no team has scored more than Waubonsie Valley's 68 points and the Lancers have held five teams to 40 or fewer. Lake Park averages 46 points against.

"They've kept in games because of that," Virostko said.

Games Thursday and Saturday against Neuqua Valley and Metea Valley, respectively, end one of Lake Park's toughest stretches. Another game against Waubonsie Valley awaits, as do struggling South Elgin, comparable Glenbard North and the Upstate Eight Conference crossover game. If the Lancers can bag wins in one or two or more of those games, a 15-win season and winning record could become a reality.

"I think that'd be a real big surprise for anybody," Virostko said. " ... We're kind of playing with house money, I believe."

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