When the Fenwick High School boys basketball team enters the playoffs later this year, the Friars will certainly be ready, thanks to a brutal schedule. The challenging slate of games is by design as Fenwick coach Rick Malnati likes to see how his team fares against top teams.
The Friars (9-3) split four games at the 54th annual Proviso West Holiday Tournament over the Christmas break. Fenwick lost to ranked teams, Hillcrest (9-3) and Hinsdale Central (10-2) in the opening round and consolation bracket final, respectively, during the five-day event.
The schedule is arguably even tougher this month, with games against St. Ignatius, De Paul Prep, Benet, St. Joseph, Proviso East, Loyola, St. Laurence and St. Rita.
Although the Friars lost their stellar front line of Dan Dwyer, Tom Planek and Scott Lindsey to graduation, junior point guard Mike Smith, along with Mike Ballard and Jamal Nixon, have provided leadership and experience as the team’s top performers.
Smith, in particular, typically plays his best basketball on the biggest occasions. His second team all-tournament recognition at Proviso West reaffirmed his talent. The Division I recruit who is drawing interest from multiple Big Ten schools, averaged 21 points and made 30 of 50 shots (60 percent), including 8-for-15 attempts beyond the three-point arc.
In the Friars’ 62-52 loss to Hinsdale Central, Smith had 24 points, three rebounds and five steals in 31 minutes. Nixon and Ballard contributed nine points and seven points, respectively.
Hinsdale Central led 38-36 after three quarters and outscored the Friars 14-6 in the fourth quarter en route to victory. The Red Devils’ Matt Rafferty dominated the paint with 22 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks. George Kiernan, the other key post player for Hinsdale Central, added 13 points and three rebounds.
The Friars advanced to their meeting with Hinsdale Central by defeating Homewood-Flossmoor 62-51. Led by Smith (22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists), Fenwick pushed out to a 22-15 advantage at the end of the first quarter and extended it to 39-26 at halftime. Nixon also played well with 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while Ballard (10 points) and Kevin Owens (7 points) also contributed.
In other games, Smith scored 20 points and Mike Ballard added 17 points to power the Friars past tourney host Proviso West 64-47. The Friars opened with a 53-48 loss in overtime to Hillcrest. Smith paced the team with 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting and Ballard chipped in six points and three rebounds.
Fenwick reached the quarterfinals at Proviso West last year before losing to Morgan Park and finishing sixth. The Friars are younger and less experienced this year and were not expected to make a deep run, though Malnati pointed out they were missing two starters at last year’s tournament.