Senior guard Max Johnson poured in 31 points to lead the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball team to a season-opening 70-62 victory over Lake Park on Nov. 20 at the Wheaton Academy Thanksgiving Tournament.
Junior center Alex Vincent scored 12 and grabbed 12 rebounds, junior forward Alex Gossett had 11 points, junior forward Justin Bowen scored 9, and senior guard Joe Halper had 7 for the Huskies.
“We played better defense in the second half, carried by Max Johnson,” said OPRF coach Phil Gary. “Our four main guys showed their experience down the stretch.”
It was a good start for OPRF as it seeks to bounce back from a difficult 2022-23 season that saw the Huskies finish 9-19, including 3-9 in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division. Gary is optimistic about a turnaround this year.
“There are some things we need to get better at,” he said, “but the guys are working pretty hard. Defense has been our main focus; if you can defend teams, you’ll always be in the game.”
Bowen and Johnson (14 points per game each last year), Gossett (8 ppg, 8 rebounds per game), and Vincent (9 ppg, 7 rpg) are not just returning starters, they’re also the only returnees. But Gary sees that as a positive.
“Anytime you have four of your main guys returning, that’s always helpful,” he said. “Offensive transition is a strength, but rebounding is a concern, and we can get better at flying around on defense.”
Another area where OPRF needs to improve is closing out tight games. Last season, nine of the Huskies’ losses came by fewer than five points, including six by three or less.
“Finishing games is a big priority,” Gary said. “Being a young team last year, we found out valuing the possession early in games matters. Not turning the ball over is key this season.”
OPRF’s top newcomers are Halper; sophomore guard Jerome Delaney; junior center Andre Stanton; and junior guards Dom Hale and Andrew Zhou.
“They’re getting better,” Gary said. “Andre is looking all of 6-10 and can fill in for [Vincent] when he’s tired. He’s coming along.”
The annual crosstown showdown with Fenwick in the Chicago Elite Classic at the University of Illinois Chicago’s Credit One Arena on Dec. 1, along with the Pontiac Holiday Invitational, Dec. 27-29, are the highlights of OPRF’s schedule, which also includes non-conference games with north suburban powers Glenbrook South and New Trier.
Usually, the WSC Silver is wide open. However, Downers Grove North, which finished fourth in the IHSA Class 4A tournament, is this year’s clear favorite.
“Everyone’s going to be gunning for them,” Gary said.
Gary, now in his fourth year, feels this season has the potential to be his best.
“My staff has a full two years under me and have helped set the foundation,” he said. “This year, we want to show improvement all around. We’re ahead of schedule right now in practice, looking to get better each day.”
The Huskies face DeKalb on Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m. in the next round at Wheaton Academy, and conclude the tournament with games Nov. 24 and 25.