Pressure defense has been the trademark of the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball program for years. Entering this season, head coach Matt Maloney is looking to increase the intensity at both ends of the floor by necessity and design.
OPRF will start 6-1 Dallis Flowers, 6-0 Breshawn Wilkerson, 6-2 Connor Fuller and 6-3 Elliot Greffin (all guards) along with either 6-4 Brendan Toye or 6-6 Liam Shannon at center.
Welcome to Huskie Havoc, an up-tempo, exciting style of play suited to OPRF’s personnel.
“We’re trying to develop an identity of ‘Huskie Havoc’ which is very similar to what VCU does on the college level,” Maloney said. “Defensively, we always want to be pressure-based with man-to-man as our core defense along with some different presses and zones. This year, we’ll be able to press more which is to my liking.”
The effectiveness of the Huskies’ four-guard attack will rely on the players’ versatility.
“All four guards played major minutes with Dallis and Elliot starting at certain points of last season,” Maloney said. “They can all shoot, run the floor, handle the ball and defend. Offensively, we have a system that will allow them some freedom to create opportunities for themselves and others.”
Juniors Sam Francis and Deandre Enoch along with 6-3 sophomore swingman Cameron Gross are expected to contribute off the bench. Maloney is also very high on 6-3 freshman, Alan Griffin, the son of Adrian Griffin who is an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls and former NBA player.
Treyvon Burton, Pat Skrine, Ravon Woods, Jeremiah Horton, Zach Harris and Markus Allen comprise the rest of the team.
The Huskies’ mix of returning players and promising newcomers offers cause for optimism.
“Even though we’re only returning a few seniors, we don’t want to call this a rebuilding year,” said Greffin, who shot 44 percent on three-pointers last season. “We think of it as a reloading year. Since we are going to start four guards it’s going to be a faster pace. We have to play fast, play defense and block out to rebound well.
“I’ll probably have to play a stretch four, but I’m comfortable with that role. I’m excited about the season and will give it everything I have for us to be successful.”
Like Greffin, Fuller has been working on his all-around game as the Huskies will face several tough teams with a decided size advantage in and out of the West Suburban Conference Silver Division.
“I’ve been working on my defense, jump shot, everything really,” Fuller said. “All of our games will be tough because we play in one of the best conferences. We’re going to have to come out and fight for every win. We have a lot of young guys coming up who can support our team this year. I know we have the potential to do well.”
Last season, the Huskies benefitted from the solid play of several senior stars like point guard Erick Locke, Jason Gant and Simmie Cobbs en route to a 20-7 record.
“We are hoping that guys who earned playing time [last year] can adjust from being role players to key contributors,” Maloney said. “Our players have hopes for the season. We had a nice summer season, much better than I think anyone expected. It’s still summer basketball so we know guys are missing and teams tend to be vanilla, but it allowed us to build some confidence. Even though we probably lost the most players in conference, I think we can surprise some people.”
The schedule certainly offers no favors. OPRF opens the season at the Riverside-Brookfield Tournament this week. Then, a showdown again cross-town rival awaits the Huskies in the Elite Classic, held at UIC on Fri., Dec. 5 (6 p.m.).
“Fenwick has been marked down on my calendar ever since last year [Fenwick defeated OPRF 51-40 in 2013],” Greffin said. “Playing them especially at UIC is going to be fun.”
After their tussle with the Friars, OPRF begins conference play plus a stop at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, arguably the best Christmas tournament in the state.
“Sometimes I look at the schedule and wonder what the heck was I thinking,” Maloney said with a laugh. “You have to play the best competition though to test yourself as a basketball team. We definitely haven’t shied away from anybody. Hopefully that will help us as the season wears on. I think our players are looking forward to the challenge.”
According to Maloney, defending conference champion Hinsdale Central is the preseason team to beat; however, the Huskies, Lyons Township, York and other teams will push the Red Devils.
The Huskies are off to a 2-0 start, with a 61-42 victory over Providence-St. Mel and a 53-39 win against Rich Central at the Riverside-Brookfield Thanksgiving Tournament. OPRF squares off against the host Bulldogs (also 2-0) on Sat., Nov. 29 at 5:30 p.m.