Any doubts Fenwick head coach John Quinn had about Peter Flowers' talents were quickly dashed two years ago in a game against Westinghouse. Flowers was a freshman playing on varsity. He scored 10 points and hauled down 10 rebounds. Kelvin Johnson was also there that night, an unselfish sophomore guard with instinctive defensive skills. Both are back as the "foundation blocks" to this year's team, and both are older, wiser and better basketball players.
Flowers and Johnson proved their progression was on course last year, helping the Friars to a 21-7 season, including a regional title and advancement to a sectional title game. Of course, star player Vince Humphrey was on the team last year, but he's at Valparaiso now. The Friars will be co-led this year.
Flowers, a 6-foot-5-inch junior whose father played for Notre Dame and the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, averaged 14.7 points and eight rebounds last year and earned first team All-Catholic League honors. The 5-11 Johnson was selected to the second team All-Catholic League with well-rounded numbers of eight points, five assists and 2.5 steals per game.
Flowers and Johnson aren't the only three-year varsity players returning this season. Steve Marifjeren is back to solidify Fenwick's unyielding defense. Quinn called Marifjeren, a 6-foot senior who played both soccer and football in the fall, a "dynamo on defense."
"Steve is an exceptional athlete" said Quinn. "He and Johnson are the catalysts to our defense."
Also returning is Blake Nielsen (6-8), who brings more than just height to the center position. At 235 pounds, Nielsen will be a dominant force in the paint. He's also been said to bench press nearly 300 pounds.
Swingman Michael Alexander (6-1) also returns this season. Alexander saw significant time last year, coming off the bench as a sixth man. Quinn said depending on Fenwick's opponent, Marifjeren or Alexander will share time in a starting role.
Others expected to make an impact are Newman Delaney, Luke Burchett, Tim Shaw, Shea Roche, Nick Harvalis, Bob Dingle and Sean Okrzesik, younger brother of former Fenwick standout Jason Okrzesik, now at Rice University.
Hales Franciscan, which boasts Nate Minnoy, one of the state's premiere players, looks to be Fenwick's fiercest competition for recapturing the Catholic League North title this season. Hales, unable to defend their Class A title last year due to IHSA violations, is ranked No. 1 in the state. St. Ignatius, which snatched the Catholic League title away from the Friars by one game last year, will again be scrappy and competitive.
Other formidable foes for the Friars will likely be Brother Rice, which boasts North Carolina-bound senior Bob Frasor, and Loyola, whose Jeffery Jordan (son of Michael Jordan) is now a sophomore.
"Every year it's a competitive schedule for us," said Quinn. "There's never a letup. The teams in the league just have a lot of pride."
The Friars tip the season off tonight (Wednesday, 6 p.m.) against North Chicago at the St. Patrick Thanksgiving Tournament. They play Streamwood on Friday (6 p.m.) and St. Patrick on Saturday (7:30 p.m.).
Fenwick's home-opener is Friday, Dec. 3 against St. Francis De Sales (7:30 p.m.).