Not only has the Mooseheart boys basketball team advanced to its first IHSA sectional ever, the Red Rambers are enough of a favorite this week that coach Ron Ahrens felt compelled to prop up tonight’s opponent, Chicagoland Jewish Academy.
Such is the bizarre world that is Mooseheart basketball, circa 2012-13.
Mooseheart tonight squares off in an IHSA Class 1A Mooseheart Sectional semifinal against Chicagoland Jewish, a school that – if possible – entered the season carrying just as little basketball cachet as Mooseheart.
Ahrens, though, was quick to point out Chicagoland Jewish’s victory during the regular season against Hope Academy, another of the sectional qualifiers this week at Mooseheart.
“That just gives them some credibility right there,” Ahrens said. “They’re a well-kept secret. They’re a very good basketball team. They’re very much like [Hinckley-Big Rock] where they’re fast, they can get up and down they have a style, they have a number of shooters, four or five shooters, that can shoot the 3 very well.”
Then again, the way that Mooseheart picked apart H-BR in Friday’s regional championship game, a reasonable facsimile to H-BR might not be the scariest prospect for the Ramblers.
Although they are juniors, South Sudanese transfer students Akim Nyang, Makur Puou and Mangisto Deng are more like freshmen from a basketball experience standpoint, Ahrens said. That notion suggests they would be capable of making vast strides during the course of the season, a theory reinforced by Friday’s 55-38 thumping of an H-BR team that defeated the Ramblers in December.
The Ramblers boast enviable size, but Mooseheart guards such as Peter Kurowski, Hameed Odenewu and Deng were a question mark entering the postseason. So far, so good for the Ramblers in the ball-handling department.
“Our goal with our guards is to quit dribbling the ball so much,” Ahrens said. “We’re not just trying to break the press because I think, honestly, Mangisto can probably handle the ball well enough to dribble through it, but our goal is to score with our press break. We’re not just trying to break the press, we’re trying to score in our press break.”
The Ramblers (24-5) enter tonight’s matchup on a 15-game winning streak and have not allowed a team to score 50 or more points against them since Dec. 8.
If that’s not enough momentum, Ahrens is delighted to be returning home for the sectional. A growing contingent of Mooseheart fans turned out in force Friday and helped spark the Ramblers early in the game, according to Ahrens.
“I keep telling the guys, we shouldn’t lose at home – we have homecourt advantage,” Ahrens said. “I hope they’re on the same page with me on that. We’re lucky to have the sectional and have homecourt advantage.”
The 6-foot-10 Puou and the 6-7 Deng have led the Ramblers in scoring on the season, and both should be intriguing to college coaches. At 7-1, Nyang’s size alone figures to command some looks.
Ahrens said recruiting buzz has been relatively quiet during the high school season, though he said DePaul is among the programs that has taken an interest in Mooseheart’s talent. While recognizing that the players’ participation with the Indiana Elite AAU program figures to drive their recruitment more heavily, he hopes the Ramblers’ extended push in the state tournament also helps their cause.
“I hope high school basketball is still a venue for coaches to be able to see kids competing at a high level in important games,” Ahrens said. “I hope it’s not just all AAU basketball anymore. I hope our kids are getting more exposure because we’ve gone further than we have before. I hope high school basketball is still a venue for that.”