The jury is still out on the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball team, which finished a pandemic-abbreviated 2021 spring season at 3-3.

But coach Phil Gary, who starts his first full season at the helm, said he’s impressed with how the Huskies have prepared for this campaign

“Our guys have been coming every single day with good energy,” said Gary, a former OPRF player. “We can’t wait for the season to get started. They’re tired of practicing against each other.”

Ranked No. 16 in the Chicago Sun-Times preseason top 25 poll, OPRF has plenty of reasons to be optimistic this year. Senior 6-foot-5 forward Justin Mullins, a Denver University signee, and 6-6 junior guard Sam Lewis are rated among the Chicago area’s top 50 players according to the Sun-Times.

But there’s more talent on hand for the Huskies. Other important contributors include 6-9 senior center John Vincent, has committed to Grinnell College, along with sophomore guard Oscar “Max” Johnson and senior guards Douglas “Max” Murray and Rai’Mon Yarbrough.

“Our strengths are our speed and athleticism,” said Gary. “We’re pretty long, especially up front.”

OPRF will navigate through a rigorous schedule this season. The Huskies open Nov. 23 at the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic at Riverside-Brookfield High School against Chicago University High in pool play. Games with Thornwood (Nov. 24) and the tournament host Bulldogs (Nov. 26) follow.

On Dec. 3, OPRF resumes its crosstown rivalry with Fenwick High School at the Chicago Elite Classic at Credit One Arena (formerly the UIC Pavilion). The Huskies will again participate in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament after Christmas, which Gary calls “the best tournament in the state.”

OPRF hopes to compete for the West Suburban Silver title, but has one big obstacle to overcome — Glenbard West, Illinois’ top-ranked team.

“They’re the number one team for a reason,” said Gary of the Hilltoppers. “We have to compete and try to knock them off.”

Regardless, the program goals remain the same — a top-five finish at Pontiac, a 20-win season, a conference championship and a regional title.

“Everyone’s goal is to play the last game of the season in March,” Gary said. “For the kids’ sake, it feels good to be getting closer to normal. Playing in front of fans will be great not only for us, but the entire state.”

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