First-year Fenwick boys basketball head coach Staunton Peck appreciated the good fortune of hosting a Class 4A regional this season.
He said before the state playoffs began, “We host a regional here so I like our chances. Being at home in the playoffs always helps.”
However, he also knew that the Fenwick Regional presented a pair of very difficult Chicago Public League opponents in nationally-ranked Curie (31-1) and well-regarded Kenwood.
After holding off Kenwood [69-64] in the regional semifinals, the Friars’ season came to an abrupt end via a 76-51 loss against Curie.
“I love how hard our team competed in both games,” Peck said. “We did a great job handling runs by Kenwood and Curie and not giving up. Throughout the season we always played with a ‘never give up’ attitude which I love about this team. It says a lot about our seniors and leaders.”
Led by Kansas State recruit DaJuan Gordon, 6-foot-4 Ramean Hinton, and guards Trevon Hamilton and Damari Nixon, Curie’s athleticism, size and speed overwhelmed Fenwick in the regional championship game.
“We knew that Curie could really crash the offensive boards and they did hurt us with that,” Peck said. “Curie also made 7 of 8 three-point shots in the first quarter. That was not totally expected, but I think our guys responded well and outplayed Curie in the second quarter. In the end, Curie is a talented team that plays hard and well together. We are just not quite there yet.”
Star sophomore Bryce Hopkins led the Friars with 13 points and six rebounds, while senior guard Solomon Oraegbu contributed 12 points and three assists. Freshmen guards Trey Pettigrew (9 points, 2 assists) and Kaden Cobb (8 points, 4 rebounds) also played well.
“We knew going into the Curie game it wasn’t going to be easy, but we were very prepared and knew what to expect,” Pettigrew said. “We started off strong but Curie hit some big shots down the stretch. It slipped away from us toward the end.”
Against Kenwood, Hopkins scored a game-high 29 points on 7-for-15 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds to power the Friars past the Broncos. Oraegbu contributed 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field. Pettigrew played a nice floor game with eight points, four assists and four rebounds.
Seryee Lewis and Artese Stapleton led the Broncos with 16 points apiece.
Under the direction of Peck, Fenwick (18-14) produced a number of memorable moments this season, including a buzzer-beating win over crosstown rival OPRF, courtesy of a layup by Hopkins, as well as late-season victories over top 25 teams Brother Rice and St. Laurence. The Friars also finished fourth at the 58th Proviso West Holiday Tournament with victories over Dunbar and Hillcrest. Fenwick turned in competitive efforts in close losses against Proviso West Sectional qualifiers Riverside-Brookfield and Whitney Young as well.
In the aforementioned signature win against OPRF at the Chicago Elite Classic in early December, Hopkins recorded a double-double of 30 points and 13 rebounds as the Friars pulled out a 66-65 overtime victory at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.
“My mindset was to keep on fighting,” Hopkins said after the OPRF game. “Last year, we lost to OPRF for the first time in six years. We had to remember that and keep on fighting. I’m going to remember this and keep on fighting so that I could do this again.”
A 6-foot-5 forward, Hopkins averaged 22 points and 6.5 rebounds this year, earned all-Chicago Catholic League honors, and was a first-team pick at the aforementioned Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Regarded as one of the best players in the Chicago area, Hopkins is a surefire Division I college basketball prospect.
Fenwick will lose all-CCL performer Oraegbu (17 points, 5.2 rebounds per game) forward Lucas Kolovitz (7 points, 6.2 rebounds) and guard Ryan Jackson to graduation. Oraegbu will play college basketball at UW-Parkside next season.
“Solomon Oraegbu was a big playmaker for us this year and his scoring/leadership will leave a big void to fill. He leads by example and plays with no fear,” Peck said. “Lucas Kolovitz will be a big loss for this team next year. He is one of the toughest kids I have ever coached.
“Charlie Westerman, Ryan Jackson, Keon Williams and Tom Koch all brought a level of commitment that was a great example to our young players,” Peck added. “They set the tone for the work that our players will need to put in to succeed as a basketball program.”
Hopkins, Pettigrew, Cobb, Sean Walsh and Ryan Planek return next season to lead the Friars. There are several other current underclassmen who should fortify the varsity roster. Additionally, the Friars’ freshmen team finished 25-3 this year.
“Me and the other younger guys got a chance to play at a high level with our older teammates guiding the way this season,” said Pettigrew, who averaged six points and three assists as a full-time starter. “We’re excited for next year because now we have experience. We’re looking to put the work in during the offseason to come back stronger next season. We want to get back to the same position as this season, but come away with the win next year.”
Peck enjoyed the season as much as the players.
“I truly enjoyed my first year as head coach and I appreciate [Fenwick athletic director] Scott Thies giving me the opportunity,” he said. “We replaced seven guys that got significant time last year which was a challenge, but it was a fun at the same time. I think the younger guys really started to play well as the season was coming to an end.
“It makes me excited for the future of the program,” Peck said. “I am ready for a few weeks off, but I’m looking forward to working with this young group again this summer and next season. I am really excited about the program. The future is bright.”