Hoops Capsules: Huskies, Friars set sights on conference titles

Deep, talented rosters justify lofty expectations for both boys basketball teams this season

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Melvin Tate

The Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick High School boys basketball teams both won well over 20 games and enjoyed deep post-season runs last season. With several key returners back for the Huskies and Friars, expectations remain understandably high this year.

Here's a brief breakdown via that time-honored tradition of conference capsules of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division (OPRF) and Chicago Catholic League Blue Division (Fenwick). While competition will be fierce in both leagues, the Huskies and Friars have the talent, depth and experience to come out on top.

WEST SUBURBAN SILVER

Outlook: Despite losing all-conference inside players Cameron Gross and Jared Scott (now playing football at Wyoming), OPRF is the favorite to repeat as conference champion. The Huskies have several good returning players, including forwards Charlie Hoehne, Malachi Ross and Phil Saleh, plus dynamic guards Dashon Enoch and Isaiah Fuller. Marist transfer Chase Robinson brings even more firepower to a high-scoring offense.

Downers Grove North and Glenbard West should be the Huskies' main challengers. Each has a highly-rated junior - Semaj Henderson for the Trojans and Evan Taylor for the Hilltoppers. York, Hinsdale Central and Proviso West can win conference games on any given night. Lyons Township could be a sleeper. 

Top 5 Players: Dashon Enoch, 6-0, G, junior, OPRF; Isaiah Fuller, 6-1, G, senior, OPRF; Semaj Henderson, 6-1, G, junior, Downers Grove North; Evan Taylor, 6-5, F, junior, Glenbard West; Nolan Niego, 6-2, G, junior, Lyons Township.

Did You Know?: Lyons Township head coach Tom Sloan was part of the late 1980s University of Illinois basketball program as a walk-on player? The teams of that era were known as the Flyin' Illini because of the vast athleticism they displayed on the court. They were coached by legendary coach Lou Henson and featured future NBA players in Nick Anderson and Kendall Gill. Sloan also played basketball and graduated from Fenwick in 1988.

Quote:  "Top to bottom, our league is going to be really competitive this year." - Sloan

Predicted Order of Finish: OPRF, Downers Grove North, Glenbard West, Lyons Township, York, Hinsdale Central, Proviso West. 

CATHOLIC LEAGUE BLUE

Outlook: For the 2017-2018 season, the Chicago Catholic League realigned the two divisions and eliminated its season-ending tournament. Consequently, the league's best teams are in the Blue Division. Fenwick, with sophomore star DJ Steward heading a strong group of returnees, is the favorite. Along with Steward, look for big seasons from AJ Nixon, Billy Bruce and Michael O'Laughlin. Freshman Bryce Hopkins has the talent to make an impact on varsity sooner than later.

But the Friars will have to fend off several strong challengers. DePaul Prep and St. Rita have plenty of good, young talent, and St. Joseph has a senior-laden squad. Brother Rice, Loyola and St. Ignatius could all be darkhorses.

Top 5 Players: DJ Steward, F/G, soph., Fenwick; Perry Cowan, G, junior, DePaul Prep; Jordan Matthews, G, senior, St. Rita; Ahmed Muhammed, G, senior, St. Joseph; Kevin Cunningham, G, senior, Loyola.

Did You Know?: St. Rita head coach Gary DeCesare was a highly successful coach for 16 seasons at St. Raymond's in New York City. He won 2 state championships and 4 city championships. In addition, he has sent over 40 players to Division I universities, including 3 McDonald's All-Americans.

Predicted Order of Finish: Fenwick, St. Joseph, St. Rita, DePaul Prep, Loyola, Brother Rice, St. Ignatius, De La Salle, Mount Carmel.

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