The Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball team heads into the IHSA Class 4A state tournament on a roll, having won six of its’ last seven games — the sole loss coming at the hands of top-ranked Glenbard West 62-35 on Feb. 11.
In their most recent game on Feb. 15, the Huskies (15-10 overall, 8-4 and 3rd in the West Suburban Silver) edged past visiting Downers Grove North 59-57. Senior forward Justin Mullins, a University of Denver signee, continued his solid play with 20 points and nine rebounds.
“Justin’s had a tremendous year,” said OPRF coach Phil Gary of Mullins, who was named to the All-West Suburban Conference team, averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds per game. “He leads us in every statistical category.”
OPRF is the No. 6 seed in the Proviso West sectional tournament, which begins this week, and Gary feels the Huskies’ hard work down the stretch helped earn it.
“For our first full year together, I thought it was up-and-down,” he said. “It was solid considering some guys were out for COVID and injuries. As a coach, I was prepared for it, and I thought we responded well the last month of the season. We’ve been playing our best basketball, and that’s really good going into the playoffs.”
The Huskies open postseason play Feb. 23 with a regional semifinal against Jones College Prep at Riverside-Brookfield High School. Should the Huskies prevail, there’s a good chance of a rematch with the host and No. 4 seed Bulldogs, who defeated OPRF 73-66 on Nov. 26 in the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament, in the regional final Feb. 25.
“We need to take care of the basketball,” said Gary of the key in determining OPRF’s postseason fortunes. “When you play smart basketball, you get better possessions on offense. We need our guys to perform at a high level.”
Fenwick heads into sectionals as No. 4 seed
Fenwick High School went 7-17 (5-9 in the Chicago Catholic League Blue) in head coach Tony Young’s debut regular season. But Young believes his young Friars’ team has gotten better as the year has progressed.
“We have a lot of young kids that are learning the game at this level,” he said. “We also are a new coaching staff to the seniors, who’ve had their own adversity. But the reality is that these boys played their butts off. I’m proud of the way they came on, and the seniors did exactly what I wanted them to do: they’ve laid a foundation as we build a culture.”
Young has reason to be optimistic about Fenwick’s fortunes in upcoming seasons as there is talent in the program’s lower levels. The freshman A team finished 30-0, the freshman B team 20-3 and the sophomores 25-3.
“Our younger levels are playing really well and I’m excited about what the future holds,” said Young.
But Young’s focus is now on the IHSA state tournament. Fenwick is the No. 4 seed in the Class 3A King Sectional.
“I feel good about our seed. I think it’s a great opportunity for us,” Young said. “The schedule we’ve played has prepared us to go out and compete in our regional. We need to take one game at a time and continue to get better. This is the time of year when we start to lean on our older guys.”
If the Friars’ defense can continue to lock in, Young feels confident about the team’s postseason prospects.
“But we also need to put points on the board and find consistency on offense,” Young said. “If our defense can steer our offense, I think we’ll be in good shape. We’ve made some huge strides and been in some close games, and I’m excited to see them play when it’s all on the line. You’ve just got to go for it.”
Fenwick opens postseason play with a regional semifinal against Muchin College Prep on Feb. 23 at Prosser High School in Chicago. Should the Friars win, they’ll face either the King or Bulls Prep for the regional title Feb. 25.