Guided by youth and talent, the OPRF basketball team took on a slightly different look over the summer and the change seemed to pay off.

Head coach Matt Maloney’s tall and senior-laden team of last winter is no more. The squad that went 22-5 overall during the 2009-10 season and held a height advantage over many of its opponents with the likes of Jeff Dirkin (6-foot-8) and Aaron Levin (6-6) has been replaced with a much smaller but faster group. The new Huskies showed off their new speed by going 24-6 in summer league play, but the favorable record during the off-season isn’t why Maloney is looking forward to the 2010-11 campaign.

“The record during the summer is not actually reflective of what any team has – with guys coming and going – but I was extremely pleased with the way we performed and how the team seemed to embrace a new system we have put in place to accommodate the skills of this particular group,” said Maloney, himself a former OPRF hoops player who took over the head coaching position from Al Allen two years ago. “Not only that, but there’s a drive in these guys and they’re attentive to working a little extra to improve on their game. That’s a good thing to see for a coach so early.”

Ka’Darryl Bell and Jordan Foster are two players that Maloney said stepped up their games immensely during the summer. The 5-11 guards, who are both honor roll students, will be juniors next season and are attracting heavy interest from top Division I colleges. Bell, who scored a key 10 points in OPRF’s close win over cross-town rival Fenwick in the semifinal of the regional last season, has gained the attention of such schools as Iowa, Oregon State, Cal Poly, Northwestern and Fairfield.

“Ka’Darryl had a tremendous month-and-a-half playing for us this summer,” said Maloney of Bell, who played sparingly last season behind all-conference players Jeff Stanciel-Wynn and Antonio Foster. “He’s a lot more confident in his shooting and is determined to be ready to play on a regular basis against high-level competition. He’s one of the many players who was begging me to open the gym early and close it late during camp this summer.”

According to Maloney, Bell’s determination seemed to be contagious this off-season.

“The team was shooting on its own and even doing drills before and after camp,” he said. “It was really great to see. There was a real positive buzz going around the gym.”

Others who showed promise during summer play included Gabe Levin, Corey McCrarey, Steve Ramsey, Steve Shedrick, Brian Miller and Josh Lang, a transfer-student from Providence St. Mel who was on OPRF’s junior varsity team last season that went 10-1. Gabe Levin, Aaron’s younger brother, is a slender 6-5 junior who can dribble well for a big man.

“Gabe was one of three top scorers on the sophomore team last year and the team’s leading rebounder,” said Maloney. “He’s also a very good defender.”

The 6-2 Miller has a shot at the starting power forward position, added Maloney. “He’s a quick leaper and distinctive rebounder.”

This summer’s personnel adapted to Maloney’s new up-tempo style of play with ease.

“It’s really built for this group,” he said. “We’re going to speed things up and press a lot more. It’s a style not only fun for the guys to play but fun to watch.”

With six or seven of his players competing in the upcoming AU Nationals, Maloney can rest assured they won’t miss a beat now that camp has concluded.

“This is a group of guys who seem to be on a mission,” he said. “I see them playing as well as they did this summer in December and beyond.”

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...