‘Homecoming’ for Stevenson’s Johnson
While Stevenson boasts a highly touted 1-2 punch in Jalen Brunson and Connon Cashaw, it was Matthew Johnson’s participation in the Night of Hoops quadrupleheader Saturday that most excited many folks in host Batavia’s program.
Johnson, a junior guard for the Patriots and the team’s third leading scorer, transferred to Stevenson from Batavia in the aftermath of his mother’s death from cancer in August 2012.
Johnson was a popular student and athlete at Batavia as a freshman and sophomore, and projected to be a key component in the Bulldogs’ basketball and football programs.
Johnson played well in Stevenson’s win against Benet on Saturday, and has helped make the Patriots one of the state’s elite teams this season.
“That kid’s a special kid, on and off the court,” Batavia senior Micah Coffey said. “He’s a heck of a man for the stuff that he’s been through. He’s a heck of a player, as you can see, on the floor.”
Batavia second-year coach Jim Nazos said a knee injury for Johnson prevented him from seeing much of Johnson’s game during their overlapping time at Batavia except for one or two open-gym sessions. There’s little doubt Johnson would have given Batavia a huge lift but Nazos and the players are thrilled to see him succeed at Stevenson after all the adversity he’s had to overcome.
“He comes back and sees these guys constantly on the weekend,” Nazos said. “He’s got lifelong friends here. He keeps in touch with them all the time. … On Sunday, he’ll come and [scrimmage]. I’m ecstatic for the success that he’s having. He’s deserving of it.”
Coffey and the Bulldogs were able to watch Stevenson’s game Saturday, and came away impressed.
“It was fun to see him on his homecoming and to see him play well,” Coffey said.
New Christmas digs
Last week it was announced that the Elgin Holiday Tournament was going to dissolve, but Nazos confirmed Batavia informed Elgin a few weeks earlier that Batavia would not be returning, opting instead for York’s Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament around Christmas-time.
The Elgin event has struggled to attract teams in recent years but was a major attraction earlier in its 39-year run.
“I know we’ve been at Elgin forever, and loyalty, but players come first,” Nazos said. “You’ve got to think of what’s best for them. If we would have been one of those forfeit games, I would have been fired up.
“ … It’s sad because I was rooting for it the last couple of years, come on back, come on back. They brought the Vegas team in, the La Lumiere team in, and you were thinking maybe it was going to attract more teams.”
Nazos thinks the 32-team Jack Tosh field will be an exciting new home for the holidays for the Bulldogs.
“There’s 32 teams there, and you get a chance to play some teams from different conferences,” Nazos said. “The juniors, we talked to them about it, and they’re excited for it, too. We said, hey, you play well enough, you get to play on New Year’s Eve.”
Geneva ‘D’ doing the job
Midway through the season, Geneva coach Phil Ralston lamented his team’s defensive regression from last year to this one.
But the Vikings’ defense has been resurgent as the season has unfolded, playing a leading role in recent wins against St. Charles East, Streamwood and Quincy.
In Saturday’s 53-46 win at Quincy, the Vikings pitched a first quarter shutout, leading 12-0.
“I think it’s more of a focus on it, and it’s the fact we’re making some adjustments with it and our kids have really, since we’ve kind of made that our point of emphasis again, I think our kids have bought into it,” Ralston said. “They understand the connection that playing good defense gives them the opportunity to win even if they’re not playing particularly well [on offense].”
– Jay Schwab, email@example.com
IN THE GROOVE
Ty Carlson, Kaneland, Sr., F
What he did: Carlson spearheaded an offensive explosion for Kaneland in Friday’s Northern Illinois Big 12 East win against Rochelle, scoring 33 points.
Makur Puou, Mooseheart, Sr., F
Puou demonstrated he’s capable of putting up huge numbers against big-school competition, scoring 19 points to go with 19 rebounds and five blocked shots in Saturday’s loss to Bartonville Limestone at the Jim & Sylvia Roberts Batavia Night of Hoops.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM LAST WEEK
Mooseheart deserves to be considered a legitimate state championship contender at the Class 1A level.
That much became clear with the Red Ramblers hanging with 3A downstate power Bartonville Limestone down to the final minute of Saturday’s game. The Ramblers are supposed to play up again Sunday against top-ranked 4A force Curie in a shootout at Northside Prep, but Curie’s scheduled participation in the Chicago Public League playoffs Sunday has called that matchup into question.
WHAT WE’LL LEARN IN THE WEEK AHEAD
How the debut of Kaneland’s Day and Knight of Hoops goes over.
The inaugural shootout at Kaneland takes place Saturday, featuring varsity games between St. Charles North and Peoria Richwoods at 4:30 p.m., Larkin and North Chicago at 6 p.m. and Kaneland and Hillcrest at 7:30 p.m.
There will also be a fundraising component to the day in support of the Wounded Warrior Project.
COACH SLY SAYS
Kudos to Batavia for continuing to bring some great competition in for Night of Hoops.
For local fans to get a look at elite teams like Stevenson, West Aurora, Limestone and Benet should not be taken for granted, and adding Mooseheart this year was a nice touch.
Here’s hoping the event stays on such solid ground for many more years to come, and some of the event’s magic rubs off on Kaneland with the Knights’ new shootout that’s set to debut.
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