St. Charles North re-setting culture, outlasts West Chicago in fourth quarter
St. Charles North wasn't at all satisfied with how last season transpired.
A program that won back-to-back regional titles in 2018 and 2019, it's one that has come to expect high-level team-oriented basketball. Last season's 6-24 record didn't meet internal expectations.
Beginning back in June workouts and summer league, the North Stars have made an assertive effort to reset the culture. It starts with what is draped across their warmup shirts: 'Be Inspired'.
"The culture completely changed," North Stars senior forward Parker Reinke said following their 42-32 victory over West Chicago on Tuesday. "Last year, it was kind of individuals playing for themselves. This year, we're all playing for each other now. We're all working really hard because we know for sure we do not want a season like last year. We're making sure that doesn't happen."
Sitting at 4-1 on the young season, it appears the North Stars are on track to playing winning basketball again.
"We got everyone [in] the gym [in June]," Reinke said following his 14-point, five-rebound performance. "It was everyone getting to know each other; getting to know each other's strengths and how to play as a team. June really helped a lot because it got us all together closer."
The mantra 'Be inspired' is at the forefront of everything moving forward.
"It's just [about] being inspired by the guy next to you," Jake Furtney said following his own 11-point, nine-rebound and four-block effort. "Playing harder. Last year, we maybe didn't play the hardest. We didn't play together and this year, it's more: play harder, be more aggressive, play faster and play more with each other."
St. Charles North took a 24-13 lead at the half and led by nine entering the fourth quarter. West Chicago (0-4) pulled within five on a pair of layups by senior forward Mason Williams, but SCN followed with a five-point run of its own on a layup by Colin Hopp, 1 of 2 free throws from Reinke and a pair of free throws by TJ Gleason.
Wildcats senior guard Caleb Giannokis stopped the bleeding with a tough jumper, but a nifty assist by Reinke up to Luke Holtz in transition was the quick answer to maintain the 39-29 lead with 1:33 remaining.
West Chicago's Jack Walsh followed with a 3-pointer, but Hopp finished 1 of 2 at the free-throw line and Reinke finished it off with a layup for the 42-32 SCN victory.
Even with the win, the North Stars still feel it has a couple more notches to turn up, particularly come DuKane Conference play.
"It's going to start tomorrow in practice," said Furtney, who had 34 points against Freeport on Nov. 24. "We've just got to push everybody. It's what we've been doing, but we got to kick it up a notch."
The North Stars will prepare for Wheaton North on Dec. 1.
"Practice [on Wednesday] for sure is going to be one of the hardest we've ever had," Reinke said.
Despite the winless record thus far, West Chicago is playing largely competitive basketball defensively. It just needs to get the offense in gear.
"I think right now, offensively, where we are struggling: half of our rotation doesn't have any varsity experience," West Chicago coach Roy Ramos said. "So, right now, we're still trying to figure out how to score the basketball and I think how to play together. There were a couple moments in [tonight's] game, where Williams scores five points in a row [in the third quarter] and then we don't look for him or the mismatch for two minutes straight. Joe Trigueros hits a 3, and we don't find him again.
"So, I think we're still kind of, one, learning the new offense this being my first year. And, two, we're still blending and getting those in-game possessions."
Trigueros had eight points, while Williams had seven points to lead the Wildcats.
"Mason is a great leader. He's a great energy guy. He's a great person," Ramos said. "He's actually been sick all week, so his energy is a little low right now, but I think offensively, yeah, we got to use him. We have to use him. ... He just has to keep building his confidence and figuring out his strengths in the half court, especially. I've got to give him more confidence with the ball."