The Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball team is the No. 3 seed at the Bartlett Sectional behind York and Proviso East. The Huskies split two games with York, beating the Dukes in the second meeting to deny them a share of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division title. They have not played West Suburban Gold champion Proviso East but beat the Pirates in summer league action without forward Simmie Cobbs and center Javonni Harrell.
So the Huskies are favored to win a regional title for the third consecutive season, a feat achieved just once in school history (1951-53). They open with a regional semifinal against either No. 14 seed Lake Park or No. 19 Leyden and know better than to assume anything.
"I really just think [the key is] respecting everybody," senior guard Erick Locke said. "I'm sure every year in high school there's upsets.
"After playing in Pontiac against the top teams in the state we know we can play with any team. Every team we play is going to give us their best game, so we've got to respect everybody and go into every game with the energy that we had last week against York. If we come in there like that, I think we have a pretty good shot against anybody in the state."
OPRF coach Matt Maloney is thrilled that his team has topped 20 wins for the third straight year and fourth time in the past five years but is leery of the upcoming competition.
"We've seen crazier things happen where a 3 seed has gone down that first game," Maloney said. "We could play Leyden at home, we could play a tough Lake Park team, so we have to get through them and then we're staring down Glenbard North or West Chicago or Prosser and we know all three of those teams are good. Prosser is athletic and fast, West Chicago has a stud and Glenbard North has 20 wins. We just know that that's a loaded regional."
But confidence cannot be overrated and the Huskies have plenty of it.
"The 20th win was a big win for us and now we have momentum going into the playoffs," Cobbs said. "We're playing real good team ball. We're all having fun and we don't want it to end any time soon so we're going to keep it going."
OPRF has also raised its defensive intensity particularly down the stretch of the regular season. Locke, Cobbs and senior guard Jason Gant are all excellent perimeter defenders while Harrell holds down the paint.
"Defense has turned it up for us," Locke said. "We know we can score with the best of guys but we're really locked in to playing defense and getting points off turnovers.
"That's really where we thrive and that's where we can stretch out in games, so I think that's a big confidence-builder. Our confidence is really growing and we're going to be ready to make a deep run in the playoffs."