A sizzling start for Tri-Cities boys basketball teams has swiftly raised expectations around the area, putting the onus on coaches to keep their players hungry after cleaning up on Thanksgiving tournament competition.
That holds especially true at Geneva and St. Charles East, which both won tournament titles last week as part of a slick, 14-2 opening week for Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North.
East won its own Thanksgiving tournament for the first time in more than 30 years, taking down East Aurora, Schaumburg and St. Joe in pool play before ripping the rival North Stars, 61-42, for the championship Saturday night. The Saints rocketed up to No. 5 in the Chicago Sun-Times basketball rankings, rarefied air for a team from the Tri-Cities area.
East coach Pat Woods is glad that Larkin is East’s next opponent Thursday in the Saints’ conference opener. When Larkin visited East a year ago, the Royals embarrassed the Saints, 62-43, a low point in East’s season.
“If you think for a second we’re going to get high on ourselves, that’s not going to happen,” Woods said. “We will not let that happen.”
Vikings coach Phil Ralston is adopting a similar mindset after Geneva posted five consecutive wins in last week’s West Chicago Tournament.
“The kids feel good about that, now they’ve put a trophy in the trophy case, but we told the kids, this can’t be the highlight of our season,” Ralston said. “This just has to be a springboard into it. We just have to make sure we continue to try and get better and make next week an even better week than this week was.”
Like East, which benefited from a monster week from senior Kendall Stephens, Geneva produced a tournament MVP. Sophomore Nate Navigato introduced himself to varsity play in style, sandwiching solid performances between a game-winning shot against Marmion in the season opener and a 25-point, eight rebound effort in Saturday’s win against Addison Trail.
After the Addison Trail win, Geneva had almost a week to refocus for Friday’s conference opener against rival Batavia.
“We could use that time to kind of recuperate, and right now we have to refine and polish our product, and fortunately we have a few days to prepare for Batavia, which will be nice,” Ralston said.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were relatively satisfied with their start at the Windmill City Classic. Batavia beat Kaneland and Crystal Lake South while falling to St. Francis, the lone unbeaten team in the round robin event.
Bulldogs coach Jim Nazos likes his team’s upside, especially once they become more comfortable with his schemes. Nazos took over for longtime former coach Jim Roberts.
“We have very coachable players here, and I think we’re a team that’s just going to get better as the year goes on,” Nazos said.
While St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin thought his team regressed in Saturday’s final against the Saints, North stands by its opening week body of work. North’s 3-1 tournament included a quality victory against Downers Grove South, and junior guard Alec Goetz made an early case to be considered among the area’s most improved players.
The North Stars and Saints originally were scheduled to meet in an Upstate Eight Conference River game this Saturday but the teams moved that game to Feb. 2 for what will be their second conference meeting so there wouldn’t be such a quick turnaround after the unscheduled meeting in the tournament championship game.
By Feb. 2, the Saints hope to be in the UEC River driver’s seat, but opening week results around the Tri-Cities suggest there will be many challenging nights ahead.
“As long as we stay focused, I think we can do some good things,” Woods said.