Lake County boys basketball notes: Confident Grayslake Central heads into 2023 on a roll

The Grayslake Central boys basketball team is firing on all cylinders right now.

Coach Brian Centella's squad won the Hinkle Holiday Classic championship at Jacobs in Algonquin last week, defeating Crystal Lake South 56-51 for the title and outlasting Barrington 78-67 in 4 overtimes in the semifinals.

Dennis Estepp and Jake Gibson were named to the all-tournament team with Gibson averaging 15 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks in the tournament.

"We had a very challenging road to the championship and were able to beat some very good teams," said Centella, whose team downed Jacobs 45-35 and Bartlett 69-65 in other Hinkle games. "It was a tremendous effort by the entire team to win the tournament. The 4-overtime win against Barrington in the semifinal was a great win. Our guys really dug deep and played through fatigue to find a way to win.

"We have been playing really good basketball the last couple weeks. We have had different guys step up at different times. We have a very balanced scoring attack, which I think can be a challenge for teams to prepare for."

Case in point: Sam Cooper, who had 19 points in the title game against Crystal Lake South and 17 points in the semifinal win against Barrington.

"Great individual and team defensive effort has been the key to our team's success," Centella added. "Our team has really been growing in confidence and I believe we will continue to get better. We have tremendous leadership on the team and that has been incredibly important."

A clean sweep at Jacobs put Central at 13-1 overall. The Rams are 3-0 in Northern Lake County action to start the new year.

Libertyville update:

The Wildcats won the Wheeling Hardwood Classic and stood at 13-3 overall and 3-0 in North Suburban Conference play to start the week.

Libertyville defeated Maine West (72-44), Hampshire (39-38), Neuqua Valley (61-51) and Glenbrook North (64-59) at Wheeling.

Will Buchert was named tournament MVP after averaging 15.5 points, 10 rebounds and 2 steals per game. Aidyn Boone also made the all-tournament team. He averaged 15.5 points and 6 rebounds at Wheeling. Cole Bonder averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds in the tournament and Jack Huber averaged 8 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists per game.

"It's been another balanced attack where multiple guys have the ability to score," Libertyville coach Brian Zyrkowski said. "Jack and Will played incredible defensive on the opposing teams' best players."

Zyrkowski noted Libertyville outrebounded its four Wheeling foes by an average of 16 boards per game.

Libertyville last won the Wheeling title in 2002.

Lakes update:

The Eagles, who did not play in a holiday tournament, head into 2023 9-4 overall and 3-0 in NLCC play.

"We have been defending well," Lakes coach Chris Snyder said. "This has allowed us to stay in games when our offense hasn't been there. Our guys have bought into the team defense concept and this has allowed us to win some close games over the past few weeks."

Brock Marino, Cade Primack and Bryce Lucas continue to be key contributors.

"Brock has been consistent in leading us in scoring and rebounding," Snyder said. "He has stepped up recently with some big games. Cade has been doing a great job running the point. He has handled pressure well. Bryce has been a spark off the bench. He's a solid defender we can bring in to guard for us and also is a very strong shooter."

Lakes will host a Martin Luther King tournament later in January.

"We are looking forward to 2023," Snyder said. "It should be an exciting conference race. Our team has really bonded and we will need to continue to grow together because we have a busy slate of games ahead. We will continue to focus on defending well and trusting each other on the offensive end."

Grayslake North update:

The Knights lost to Fenton in the semifinals at Marengo and also scored a 68-45 win over Rochelle there. North was 5-9 overall and 1-2 in NLCC action to kick off 2023.

Dom Jankowski scored 25 points against Rochelle, while Jacob Donohue had 13 points. Coach Josh Feinzimer said Jayden Hunt also was a bright spot in the tournament, averaging 13 points at Marengo and scoring in double figures each game.

"We continue to buy into our defensive concepts and hold teams down on the defensive end," Feinzimer said. "Prior to the tournament, we held three of our previous four opponents to below 40 points. We're trying to improve on the offensive end and a lot of that improvement has come from Jayden playing a larger role on that side of the ball."

Feinzimer said Hunt is getting help from freshman Uros Mitrovic, who is shooting over 40% from 3-point range.

"Jacob and Dom continue to lead us on and off the court, and sophomore Cam Bates has been another positive for us, playing both ends of the floor," Feinzimer said.

Bates had a career high in rebounds in the Rochelle win.

"Even though our record doesn't show it, we continue to get better and grow with each game," Feinzimer noted. "We have lost 4 games by 5 points or less, and the players are competing hard in each game. We are stressing process over product, and want to continue to improve every time we step on the practice and game floor."

Warren update:

The Blue Devils headed to the always tough Pontiac tournament where it lost to No. 10 New Trier 63-50, beat Danville 59-66 and lost to West Aurora 65-60 after leading late. Warren was 7-7 overall and 1-2 in North Suburban action to start 2023.

Adam Panek averaged 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds at Pontiac.

"Adam is really starting to come into his own offensively," Warren coach Zack Ryan said.

Ryan said a first-half assessment would be one of an up-and-down nature.

"We are still learning how to finish games in order to beat very good teams," said Ryan, who added improved rebounding has been a bright spot of late.

Carmel update:

The Corsairs encountered a little bit of everything during the holidays at the Centralia tournament.

Carmel defeated Chatham Glenwood 46-44 in overtime and lost to Centralia 51-46 in front of a crowd Corsairs coach Dmitry Pirshin said was at 2,000 people. The Corsairs also defeated Belleville West 54-44 in a game Pirshin called the team's best of the season. Carmel wrapped up play with a 65-40 loss to Wekiva from Florida. "They were a really good team," Pirshin said.

Pirshin was impressed with the play of Luke Nichols, Noah LaMora and Jacob Chajet, in particular.

"Luke stepped up and started to be the first or second player off the bench and made a huge impact," he said. "Noah is playing better and better, and Jacob is having an impact as our sixth man."

Kalob Jackson, James Dwyer and Peter Stavros also continue to be key cogs. "Kalob is a playmaker and scorer, James is a shooter and scorer and Peter is our best defender," Pirshin said.

Carmel was 6-11 overall and 0-6 in East Suburban Catholic action to start the week. "We have work to do, but we are competing in every game and making steps in the right direction," Pirshin said.

Vernon Hills update:

The Cougars went 1-3 at Maine East over the holidays and were 7-8 overall and 2-1 in Central Suburban North play at week's start.

Vernon Hills defeated Chicago Jones College Prep 53-40 at Maine East, lost to Niles West 69-62, Chicago Westinghouse 49-45 and Addison Trail 40-38.

"Despite going 1-3 and finishing eighth, there were some good things to take away," Cougars coach Matt McCarty said. "We were in every game that we lost and had opportunities to win those games. Hopefully, the boys will learn from these close losses and know what we have to do better next time in those situations."

McCarty said he feels like the Cougars' defense has kept them in games of late with Anthony Martorano and sophomore AJ Morgan stepping up in that regard.

"Anthony continues to display excellent defensive skills," McCarty said. "He continues to guard the best player on the opposition and is our leader in dives on the floor."

Morgan had four blocks against Niles West and nine for the tournament.

Milan Raval was named to the Maine East all-tournament team. He also joined VH alums Davaris Damiels and Robby Nardini as the only 1,000-point career point scorers in program history. He hit the 1,000-point mark in the Addison Trail game.

Nolan Lazor had 15 points in each of the Niles West and Westinghouse games. "Nolan had two very good scoring games," McCarty said. "We need to continue to complement Milan in the scoring column and Nolan plays a big role in that."

Vernon Hills played Palatine earlier this week at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, home of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, and will host Niles North in a CSL North game Friday.

"We have to continue to focus on some fundamental details, starting with ball security and doing our best to eliminate live-ball turnovers," McCarty said. "If we can do that and improve our free-throw shooting, we should be able to get over the hump in close games. I have been pleased with our defensive efforts, so that is certainly a positive for us."

Wauconda update:

The Bulldogs went 2-1 in the Marengo tournament to improve to 7-6 overall (1-2 in NLCC play).

Tyler Tylka, Zach Miller and Braeden Carlsen have been playing well of late, coach Ty Weidner noted.

"Tyler continues to stuff the stat sheet and is our leader in rebounds, assists and blocks," he said. "Zach had a real nice stretch of games at Marengo and Braeden continues to find different ways to score and even more encouraging, his assists-per-game continues to climb."

Miller averaged 8 points per game at Marengo.

"We're hoping that early season struggles lead to second-half successes, such as letting a 16-point lead slip away (against Johnsburg) and understanding end-of-game situations (against Grayslake North)," Weidner pointed out. "We just need more consistent play, 1-5 on the floor at both ends."

Antioch update:

The Sequoits stood at 6-9 overall (1-3 NLCC) after a 2-2 mark at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic. Antioch lost 60-54 to Fremd and 64-36 to Niles North, and scored wins over Wheeling (60-35) and Maine West (67-65 in 3 overtimes).

"We are up and own," Antioch coach Sean Connor said.

Junior Carter Webb had 22 points in the win against Wheeling, while sophomore Teddi Wetu had 23 points and 7 rebounds in only his fifth varsity game in the 3-overtime win against Maine West. Senior Joe Neumann had 8 points and 11 rebounds against Wheeling and 12 points and 9 rebounds against Maine West.

On the bad news front, sophomore Marshall Gehrke was injured against Fremd and is out for the season with a hand injury that will require surgery, coach Sean Connor reported.

Antioch is 4-4 over its last eight games. The Sequoits had a Dec. 22 game against Chicago Legal Prep postponed due to weather.

"We continue to grow, but now we must find our identity without Marshall," Connor said. "We went 2-1 without Marshall at Wheeling. We also must overcome a 1-2 start in conference."

Connor pointed out Antioch is 5-1 on the road and 0-1 at home.

"We're looking forward to 8 home games, 2 neutral games and only 5 road games out of our 15 remaining," he said.

Lake Zurich update:

The Bears were 8-6 overall and 1-2 in North Suburban action to start the week.

Lake Zurich went 2-2 at the Pekin tournament with wins over Limestone and Lake Park.

"We continue to have different players step up depending on the situation and the opponent," Lake Zurich coach Terry Coughlin said. "One of our strengths is our ability to adapt to situations and opponents."

Anton Strelnikov and Ryan Carroll have played well of late, Coughlin noted. "Anton continues to get better and better and is carrying more of the scoring load for us," Coughlin said. "Ryan is starting to really get comfortable with the pace of play at the varsity level and shows a high basketball IQ."

Coughlin likes the overall trajectory his team is taking heading into 2023.

"We have been getting better each game and day," he said. "For us, it's about our defensive intensity and attention to detail. When we do that, we have a chance to compete with just about anybody."

Mundelein update:

The Mustangs came out of the loaded Collinsville Holiday Tournament with a 2-2 mark and finished third in the consolation bracket. Mundelein lost to O'Fallon 62-51, beat Madison by 10 points, lost to McCluer North out of Missouri by four and beat Belleville Althoff Catholic by a point. Mundelein was 6-8 overall and 1-2 in North Suburban action to kick off 2023.

Coach Matt Badgley has liked the play of senior guard Kevin Moyer, senior forward Emmanuel Willoughby and sophomore guard Derek Bishop.

"Kevin stands out with his hustle and defensive effort," he said. "Emmanuel has shown continued improvement and scoring ability. Derek continues to get more comfortable in his return from injury. His scoring ability continues to improve."

Badgley noted his team and the entire Mundelein program "has learned to be resilient through many injuries and lineup adjustments," he said. "They ae playing hard and competing, which is all a coach can ever ask for. We are still trying to figure out what our identity is and settle into improving from that perspective."

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