At 6-foot-9, Burlington Central senior Duncan Ozburn is hard to miss on the basketball floor.
This year, Ozburn is being noticed more and more for the right reasons.
Ozburn is among the area's most improved players, as Kaneland found out first-hand Saturday in the Rockets' 67-43 win.
Ozburn had 10 points and eight rebounds against the Knights, converting 5 of his 6 field goal attempts.
"He's gotten so much better from this time last year," Kaneland coach Brian Johnson said of Ozburn. "He has improved immensely. I haven't seen improvement out of a kid like that at the schools I've been. In that year span, he's gotten a lot better. He's hard to guard."
The Rockets have plenty of scoring options, meaning they don't have to force-feed it into Ozburn possession after possession. Four Central players scored in double figures in the Kaneland win.
Still, Rockets coach Brett Porto said the team intends to consistently keep the 210-pound Ozburn included in the offense.
"We like getting him touches because it just dictates problems," Porto said. "You've got to double team, you've got to front him or play behind. He does a great job of reading defenses, finding cutters, finding the open shots. And then he's done a really nice job this year to get his post game up, where he's got some nice moves. He puts a lot of pressure on defenses."
Miller back in mix
St. Charles North becomes all the more dangerous with one of its top athletes back in the lineup.
After missing about a month with a shoulder injury, senior forward Erik Miller returned Friday at Geneva and also played Saturday at East Aurora, both wins for the North Stars.
North withstood Miller's absence well, even taking Simeon to triple overtime at Pontiac, but North coach Tom Poulin was nonetheless eager to insert the 6-foot-3 Miller back into the starting lineup. A three-sport athlete, Miller also was the starting quarterback on North's football team and is a standout jumper in track and field.
"His athleticism, his length, his ability to get on the boards and run the floor really makes us better," Poulin said.
The development of players such as Tyler DeMoss and John Davern in Miller's absence should bolster the North Stars' depth for the stretch run.
"We'll be better as [Miller] shakes some of the rust off and gets comfortable out there," Poulin said.
The Essig Report, which ranks the 339 teams that play in 3A and 4A conferences in Illinois, has four UEC River teams ranked among the top 45: Larkin (11), St. Charles North (40), St. Charles East (42) and Geneva (45).
North's strength of schedule – buoyed by its participation in the Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament and the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, in addition to the UEC River's strong rankings – is ranked 12th in the state.
IN THE GROOVE
Dom Adduci, St. Charles East, Sr., G
What he did: Adduci blistered Elgin for a career-high 40 points on Friday, scoring 32 of those in the first half, as East walloped Elgin, 83-50.
Sean Harreld, Aurora Central Catholic, Sr., G
What he did: Harreld scored 31 points – including eight 3-pointers – as ACC collected its second win of the season Saturday, knocking off Northtown Academy, 74-52.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM LAST WEEK
St. Charles North has the inside track among the Tri-Cities teams in contending for the UEC River championship.
While Larkin is the lone unbeaten team in conference play, North is alone in second place midway through the conference season with just one UEC River loss. St. Charles East has two conference defeats and Geneva has three.
WHAT WE'LL LEARN IN THE WEEK AHEAD
How Round 2 of East-North compares to the St. Charles schools' first meeting.
The Saints and North Stars are due to square off for the second time Saturday at East. In the first meeting at North in early December, the North Stars prevailed, 68-58, behind 21 points from senior guard Alec Goetz.
COACH SLY SAYS
Marmion's Jake Esp is quietly emerging as one of the best players in the area.
The junior forward has consistently been putting up strong numbers in recent weeks, and his performances are starting to turn into victories for the slow-starting Cadets. It doesn't take ESP for other teams to realize beating the Cadets starts with finding a way to slow down Esp, but that's proving easier said than done.