Entering his 10th season as the head coach of the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball team, Matt Maloney has been around long enough to coach some of the best high school players in Illinois.
Maloney, who has a career record of 163-86 at OPRF, believes this year's Huskies may be the deepest, most athletic team he has coached.
Fresh off a Sweet 16 post-season appearance in the Class 4A playoffs last year, the hype surrounding the Huskies has never been greater. The optimism is understandable considering OPRF upset 2016 defending state champion Curie 46-43 in a riveting sectional semifinal before losing to last year's eventual state champion Whitney Young in the next round.
The most noticeable absence in this season's lineup will be forwards Cam Gross and Jared Scott who both graduated.
"By losing Cam and Jared, we're losing close to 30 points and 15 rebounds a night," Maloney said. "Beyond that, we lost such great leadership and veteran experience. They did so much for us on both ends of the floor because they knew what the coaches wanted to accomplish. Their presence on the floor is nearly impossible to replace."
Nevertheless, OPRF will attempt to fill their void this season with a strength in numbers approach.
Seniors Isaiah Fuller (12.5 points, 4 assists, 3 steals per game in 2016) and Malachi Ross (8 ppg, 6 rpg), junior Dashon Enoch (10 ppg) and transfer junior Chase Robinson will lead the Huskies this year. Ross, an unsung leader and versatile post player brings grit and toughness to the lineup. Fuller, Enoch and Robinson may be the most dynamic guard trio in the state.
Groomed to replace Gross and Scott on the frontline, the versatile Charlie Hoehne has the potential to be an all-conference player.
Additionally, reinforcements such as Sid Allgood, Phil Saleh and Anthony Roberts will enable the Huskies to go 10 deep comfortably.
The personnel this season fits perfectly in terms of the kind of basketball Maloney wants OPRF to play. This group should be successful maintaining the program's identity of "Huskie Havoc," a system designed to create an up-tempo style of play via aggressive defense that leads to easy transition baskets while rattling opponents.
"We are going to be pushing pace all game," Maloney said. "We have to be able to dictate the tempo while playing smart and under control."
The Huskies' athleticism, speed and depth suits the Maloney-created "Huskie Havoc" model for success. To prepare for this kind of sustained intensity, OPRF has been getting after it in practice.
"The atmosphere in our 1 West Gym feels like a game," Maloney said. "Every day guys are fighting for spots. We have over eight guys who could start on any given night. This makes splitting up teams in practice a lot more competitive."
Although the West Suburban Conference Silver Division is one of the toughest in the state, OPRF hopes to repeat as outright champions this season.
According to Maloney, it won't be easy.
"York is going to be really tough and Downers North could win over 20 games," he said. "Lyons Township also has a lot back and can be dangerous. Our number one goal is to be better today than we were yesterday. If we do that, I like our chances in conference play."
The team's difficult schedule stretches way beyond conference. OPRF faces crosstown rival Fenwick on Dec. 1 at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in the Chicago Elite Classic, and they play in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament as well.
"This year, Pontiac may be the deepest tournament you can find in the country," Maloney said. "Simeon, Curie, Bloom, Danville, West Aurora and Bloomington, which are all ranked in the state, will be at Pontiac. It's a great opportunity for our guys to get used to the big stage since we play in the toughest sectional in the area."
While OPRF has plenty of strengths, Maloney is looking for improvement in three areas.
"First and foremost, I would like to see us shoot the ball more consistently beyond the arc," Maloney said. "We also need to be able to rebound defensively and clean the glass. Valuing each possession is the third area that needs improvement."
After getting a taste of what they are capable of last season, the Huskies are hungry for more success this winter. Watching the Huskies' development should be fascinating.
"The greatest thing about this year is the starting lineup could change each game," Maloney said. "So many guys have a great feel for the game and have tons of confidence. It's going to be a fun season. I know that our tough schedule is going to prepare our guys for another deep run in March."
Answer Book 2018
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