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Prep zone: Vikes’ Navigato won’t be unknown for long

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012 5:33 a.m. CDT

Nate Navigato’s days of basketball anonymity are just about done.

The 6-foot-6 Navigato, who will be a sophomore at Geneva, turned in another commanding performance on the AAU circuit Saturday and Sunday at the Chicagoland Classic in Merrillville, Ind.

Playing for his Mercury Elite 15U AAU squad, Navigato averaged 26 points and eight rebounds in leading the team to a 5-0 record and the championship of its age division. The showing capped Navigato’s summer AAU season in emphatic fashion.

Until this month, Navigato – the leading scorer and rebounder on Geneva’s sophomore team last year as a freshman – was a relatively well-kept secret. That’s changing, according to Mercury Elite coach Dave Ruggles, who said he already is fielding inquiries from Division I programs Northern Illinois and Illinois-Chicago about Navigato.

“He’s one of the least-known, best players in the Chicagoland area,” Ruggles said. “He’s starting to get his recognition and his due now, but he’s going to be a good one.”

Navigato’s three-point marksmanship continued to make waves in Merrillville. He shot 15-for-26 from three-point land in the tournament, following up a 21-for-42 showing from long range in the Adidas Invitational from July 12 to 15 in Indianapolis, according to the Elite.

Ruggles said Navigato’s smooth outside stroke is balanced by effective finishes with either hand around the basket. He also considers Navigato a high-level ball-handler, despite his size. Ruggles jokes that the Elite’s opponents often size up “a bunch of suburban boys” and figure they can torment the team with a press. But Navigato and St. Charles East sophomore point guard Cole Gentry combine to shred teams’ pressure, Ruggles said.

“Between Nate and Cole, the press would be called off two, three possessions into the game because it was pointless,” Ruggles said. “It was a layup drill at the other end.”

The Mercury Elite fields a roster with ample Tri-Cities- area flavor. The Elite flourished despite mostly playing at the 17U age grouping this summer with a team heavy on 15-year-olds.

Ruggles has a pair of sons on the team, both of whom will play at Wheaton Academy this season – senior forward Brandon Ruggles, who sat out last season after transferring from Wheaton Warrenville South after his sophomore year, and sophomore Joshua Ruggles, whom his dad considers one of the elite outside shooters in his class statewide.

As for Navigato, Ruggles projects significant success ahead, going so far as to contend “there isn’t a small forward in the entire Chicago area who I would take over Nate.”

Boiler v. Boiler: St. Charles East senior Kendall Stephens played against a fellow Purdue recruit, Bryson Scott, at last week’s AAU tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind. Both Stephens – playing for the Illinois Wolves – and Scott scored 13 points in the matchup.

Competing in northern Indiana, Stephens was asked about his decision to play for the Boilermakers, where his father, Everette Stephens, once shined.

“To be honest with you, when I was first being recruited by Purdue, I wasn’t too high on it,” Stephens told the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. “I wanted to keep my options open. Then, the last part of my recruitment, the last couple weeks, I really started to like Purdue and I had a gut feeling that it was the right choice.”

Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or jschwab@shawmedia.com.

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