Geneva guard Justin Durante is happy he's playing well this season, but even moreso, he's happy to be playing, period.
Durante, a senior guard, missed most of his sophomore and junior seasons after undergoing concussions. Quirkily enough, both concussions took place on Nov. 30 – during a practice sophomore year and during a home game against Batavia as a junior. Last year's concussion against Batavia ended his first season on varsity.
Durante considered making it through Friday's home game against the rival Bulldogs healthy a landmark.
"This game is kind of like a steppingstone for me to get over, to get past this game without any injuries," Durante said.
The Vikings consider Durante a hard-nosed, utility-style player who gives the team a little bit of everything, and plenty of grit. His willingness to play with what coach Phil Ralston termed "reckless abandon" heightens Durante's risk of injury, but so far this season, his bad luck finally has subsided.
Durante has come off the bench and started at various points, and is part of a solid backcourt rotation with Chris Parrilli, Cam Cook and Pace Temple for the 14-4 Vikings.
"It's a dream come true, finally, to play basketball, so far for a full season through," Durante said. "I haven't had any injuries. So it's just been unbelievable to be out on the court, play with my teammates finally. I haven't played with them really a full season since freshman year, so it's awesome."
Riding a four-game winning streak and having played consistently solid basketball throughout the season, losing Saturday's rivalry showdown to St. Charles East by a 90-55 margin had to feel surreal for St. Charles North.
North coach Tom Poulin, though, is hopeful the sour night can be channeled constructively going forward.
"We will be better because of tonight, honestly – not just a typical coaching cliche," Poulin said after the game. "We saw what happens when we don't work defensively with everything you have. Because it's harder to play that zone than it is to play man-to-man. You've got to push yourself harder, and we didn't do that. If we don't do that, you can get embarrassed."
The East matchup capped a five games in eight days stretch for North. Poulin declined to use that bustling period as an excuse for North's play Saturday, but is hopeful the upcoming break – North doesn't play again until Jan. 30 at Elgin – will be useful as the North Stars aim to sharpen their competitive edge, especially defensively.
"We've had one stinker in 17 games, and that was tonight," Poulin said. "We have to remember who we are. We're a team that plays harder than the other team and a team that plays together moreso than our opponent, and that was not the case tonight."
St. Charles East and St. Charles North both boast high-end guard duos, with East featuring Dom Adduci and Cole Gentry and North riding Alec Goetz and Jake Ludwig.
While understanding it's a team game, Gentry acknowledged the two backcourts going head-to-head provided extra motivation for Saturday's crosstown rematch.
Ludwig and Goetz have deservedly drawn rave reviews for their play this season, with one statewide talent evaluator – Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-eye – recently tweeting his belief that Goetz and Ludwig are the most underrated backcourt combination in the state.
"Me and Dom all week, I've been sending Dom text messages of the tweets about them and stuff, just to keep in mind, we've got to be ready, and we're good, too, we can play with them," Gentry said. "I think [Saturday] we showed … they're playing really well, give them credit, they're both amazing players, but I think me and Dom are just as good. I don't think there's any reason why we can't outplay them. I think we showed why we're highly touted, too."
IN THE GROOVE
St. Charles East shooters
What they did: Buried 16 3-pointers in Saturday's 90-55 thrashing of St. Charles North. Six Saints contributed to the 3-point bonanza: Dom Adduci (5), Jake Asquini (3), Zach Manibog (3), Cole Gentry (2), Jake Clodi (2) and Mick Vyzral (1).
John Pruett, Kaneland, Sr., F
What he did: Pruett scored 27 points to keep Kaneland competitive throughout Friday's overtime loss against Yorkville.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM LAST WEEK
Marmion is on the upswing.
The Cadets have been one of the area's most improved teams as the season has moved along, including Friday's 84-78 rivalry victory against Aurora Central Catholic. The Cadets are now 8-10 after starting the season with six straight defeats.
WHAT WE'LL LEARN IN THE WEEK AHEAD
How much five days off and a venue change can cool St. Charles East's shooters.
After Saturday's memorable outburst against St. Charles North, the Saints will next take the floor Thursday in a UEC crossover contest at Metea Valley.
COACH SLY SAYS
The Fighting Saints sure had the look Saturday of a team that can defeat a lot of teams in the state. East and its fans have the right to be very excited.
But ... it was just one night, and East has had its vulnerabilities at times this year, especially on the defensive end.
When the 3-pointers are falling, there's no doubt East can play at a very high level. The trick for the Saints will be finding winning formulas against good teams when the jumpers aren't falling in bunches.