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Wheaton Academy

Prep boys basketball insider: That’s more like it

Batavia's Luke Horton takes a shot during a game against Centennial, NV on Dec. 29, 2012 at the 38th annual Elgin Holiday Basketball Tournament.
Batavia's Luke Horton takes a shot during a game against Centennial, NV on Dec. 29, 2012 at the 38th annual Elgin Holiday Basketball Tournament.

Some tepid crowds early in the season prompted rumblings in Batavia that the Bulldogs’ well-respected homecourt advantage was in decline.

Nothing like a home game with Geneva on a Friday night to reverse the trend.

A packed house on Friday – albeit one including a fair amount of visiting Geneva fans – supplied an excellent atmosphere for the game, and the Bulldogs responded with arguably their best performance of the season, a 22-point win against a Geneva team that came into play with a 13-3 record.

“That right there’s the atmosphere you dream of when you’re a kid growing up in Batavia,” Batavia senior forward Luke Horton said after the game. “Nick Fruendt out there, the court just packed. That’s what we had tonight, and it was really just exciting. The leaders of the student section did a really good job getting the word out on social networking. It was just a great contribution from the community, and that’s why Batavia’s so special.”

The Bulldogs hope to keep the homecourt edge rolling. They continue their four-game homestand tonight against Elgin and will play another Upstate Eight Conference River home game next week against conference-leading Larkin.

Bulldogs senior Jake Pollack also saluted the turnout on Friday.

“That Batavia tradition … that’s where our energy comes from,” Pollack said.

Don’t forget about ‘D’

Losing leading scorer Kendall Stephens to a season-ending shoulder injury has been predictably challenging for St. Charles East, and not just on the offensive end.

While Stephens’ high-end scoring ability is hard to replace, so, too, is his defense. The long-armed, 6-foot-5 wing proved especially effective this season playing at the point of East’s 1-3-1 defense.

Stephens led the Saints with about three steals a game, and notched five steals against Stevenson on Dec. 27 before re-aggravating the shoulder injury in what turned out to be his final action with the Saints.

“That’s potentially six points right there that we’re losing, and that’s just in steals,” East coach Pat Woods said. “And it’s a [defensive] presence, too. I think we have players who can bring a presence collectively like Kendall did – maybe not one as an individual, but collectively we can bring a presence. We’re just not there right now.”

The Saints, who were 8-3 with Stephens in the lineup, are 2-4 so far without him, including dropping three straight road games last week against Glenbard West, Larkin and Naperville North. East surrendered more than 60 points to all three foes.

Tough to top

Wheaton Academy has taken several out-of-state trips in recent years during the school’s winter break, but the one the Warriors completed last week to North Carolina is setting the bar awfully high.

Not only did the Warriors win both of their games on the trip, but they also conducted practices at the University of North Carolina, Davidson College and attended a home Duke game against Wake Forest.

“Every year, you try to out-do the previous year,” said Wheaton Academy coach Paul Ferguson, whose program has trekked in recent years to California, Virginia, Florida and Texas. “This one’s going to be pretty tough to beat.”

The Duke tickets came about because the father of Warriors sophomore Evan Williams, Weldon, played for the Blue Devils early in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure. The practice in Chapel Hill, meanwhile, was enabled by Ferguson’s relationship with Tar Heels assistant coach Steve Robinson. Ferguson said he and Robinson got to know each other when Ferguson coached at Wheaton College.

Back on the homefront, the Warriors are gearing up for a key clash on Friday at St. Francis, the Warriors’ chief competition in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division.

“They’re a very good team,” Ferguson said of the 11-2 Spartans. “They’re well-coached, play a very disciplined game. It’s going to be a tough game for us, but one that we’re looking forward to.”

Cole Gentry, St. Charles East, So., G
What he did: We’ve called him “King Cole” on Twitter, but “Mr. Saturday Night” might be a better nickname. Exactly one week after scoring 30 points, including a buzzer-beating winner, against Evanston, Gentry set another career high with 31 points in Saturday’s 63-59 loss to Naperville North.

Jake Pollack, Batavia, Sr., G
What he did: Pollack set the tone for Batavia with a hot start in the Bulldogs’ 59-37 win against rival Geneva on Friday night. The hot-shooting Pollack notched 13 of his game-high 23 points in the first half.

The Aurora Central Catholic-Marmion rivalry continues to have plenty of sizzle.

In front of a sold-out crowd at ACC, Marmion stormed back from a 19-point deficit Friday to take a late lead before falling to the Chargers, 63-60.

Which Suburban Christian Conference Blue power is going to take charge of the conference race.

Conference front-runners St. Francis and Wheaton Academy meet for the first time this season on Friday at St. Francis. The successful programs have squared off in plenty of big games the past few seasons, especially in the postseason, where St. Francis has had the last laugh.

Props to the Kaneland Knights for knowing who they are.

The Knights beat Rochelle last week despite being outscored 42-3 from the 3-point line. Under past Kaneland regimes, the Knights might have tried to match the Hubs 3 for 3, chucking up ill-advised shots against the percentages.

But coach Johnson’s squad seems to have a realistic handle on what it’s good at and what it’s not good at, and plays to its strengths.

There’s more than one way to win a basketball game, and the Knights know getting suckered into a long-range shootout is a losing proposition.

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