High school boys basketball: Gators ready for physical style of Fox Valley Conference

CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake South might have lacked size last season, but the Gators didn’t lack physicality with graduated post players Kyle Leva, Tyler Haskin and Blake Kuffel.

“Those guys were defensively solid and physical,” Gators coach Matt LePage said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, replacing that physicality on the glass. ... They were all team-first kids.”

South again won’t have the benefit of height in the traditional post positions, but LePage doesn’t think that will prevent the Gators from competing against the likes of some of the bigger bodies in the Fox Valley Conference, including Crystal Lake Central center Alex Timmerman (6-foot-9, 245 pounds) and Cary-Grove center Frank Jakubicek (6-7, 195).

Matt Reall, one of the team’s top scorers last season, is one of South’s tallest players at 6-foot-4, but his traditional position is guard. Ben Geske will run the point, while the Gators also return guards Ryan Lawson, Tyler Miller and Patrick Fischer.

“Haskin and Leva were great in the post, but this year, I’m one of our tallest players,” Reall said. “We’re just gonna have to push each other in practice, and make sure it spreads to our younger guys, too. Hopefully, we can develop that same competitiveness and physical style.”

The Gators are one of nine area teams competing in the Crystal Lake South Gary Collins Shootout at Gator Alley this weekend.

LePage said the Gators will have a more balanced attack this year without a go-to scorer. They might have to rely on quickness and speed, but the team is working hard to improve its rebounding and physical presence this summer.

“Filling those roles will be hard this year,” Miller said. “Rebounding is going to be a lot harder without those guys, but we’re just gonna have to play with more energy than the other team and have more effort on the boards, crashing hard.”

Expecting big things: Richmond-Burton’s Jeff Jankowski broke out his junior year and 10th-year coach Brandon Creason again is expecting big things from the 6-foot-1 forward as a senior.

Jankowski was third in area scoring last year at 17.7 points behind Johnsburg senior Zach Toussaint (22.8 points) and McHenry graduate Gavin Markgraff (21.7).

“He’s getting interest from Division II schools,” Creason said. “There’s just something about that senior year. Seniors always play much different than juniors. [2018 graduate] Shane Byrne is great example of that. I don’t think anybody knew who Shane was before his senior year, but after a few games they did.”

Creason said a strong junior class will help fill three of five starting roles. Also back for R-B are seniors Luke Uhwat and Jimmy Horner. Horner missed his whole junior season with a torn ACL.

Starting fast: Huntley coach Will Benson is taking a new approach to practices and summer camps this season, implementing more team-first drills as the Red Raiders hope to avoid a slow start that has become a common theme in the past couple of seasons.

Benson met with high school basketball coaches this spring and decided he needed to do more to get his players ready to compete from Day 1.

“We’re working more 5-on-5 in practice and camp as opposed to shooting and ball handling, but we’re still doing some of that,” Benson said. “In order to avoid getting off to a slow start and be ready to go off the bat, we thought we’d do more team stuff.”

Huntley senior Ryan Sroka emerged as a scoring threat last year with 24 3s and is expected to take on a bigger role, along with Davis Pasco (team-high 52 3s) and junior Uchenna Egekeze.

“We have really good length. Anybody can push it up the floor,” Sroka said. “We have a lot of kids that can take it off the dribble and shoot, so scoring shouldn’t be an issue. The [FVC] is very physical, but you get used to it. It’s a good conference with a lot of high IQ players.”

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