By Marty Farmer
Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball coach Matt Maloney often talks to his players about the importance of the program's "five-year plan." And it has nothing to do with wins and losses, or on some level, even basketball.
"At the end of practice the other day, I asked our guys how many former [OPRF] players come back to visit five years after they graduate," Maloney said. "Honestly, it's ridiculous how many former players stay invested in the program. Whether it's Iman Shumpert, Gabe Levin, Phil Gary, Dan Barnes and on down the line, these guys give something back to the program. It truly is a family."
The current varsity players also feature excellent chemistry, which coupled with their talent, is a scary thought for opponents this season.
Leading the charge for the Huskies are senior guards Erick Locke and Jason Gant. Locke, who already has three Division I offers and is drawing interest from several other colleges, averaged 19.5 points, five assists, four rebounds and 2.5 steals last season, while Gant (five points per game) came on strong late last season to solidly his starting spot this year.
"Erick and Jason are very talented combo guards who will be our leaders this season," Maloney said. "You need great guards to have success, particularly in the playoffs. We feel like we have two of them."
Forwards 6-foot-5 Simmie Cobbs and 6-foot-4 Malik Garrett along with 6-foot-7 Jovanni Harrell comprise a long, athletic frontline.
The Huskies' bench appears versatile with team sparkplug Jawaan Jackson, senior brothers Ryland and Ryston Watts, and promising sophomores Breshawn Wilkerson and Connor Fuller in the fold. Junior guard Dallis Flowers will provide instant offense. He averaged over 20 points as the sophomore team's leading scorer last season.
"We feel like we have eight or nine guys who can contribute and allow us to match up with different styles of play," Maloney said. "Our offense is ahead of schedule, but we need to work
on our defense particularly transition defense and communication."
Along with defending champion Hinsdale Central and York, the Huskies are a top contender to win the West Suburban Conference Silver Division.
"All of us are excited and buying into what coach Maloney has to say," Locke said. "We have a lot of younger players and [three] transfers, so it's important that Jason [Gant] and I set a good example for guys to follow."
As for the upcoming season and the Huskies' aforementioned "five-year plan," Gant embraces it all.
"Oak Park is known for having a winning program so we need to maintain that tradition this season," Gant said. "I'm proud to be part of this program."