Huntley boys basketball coach Marty Manning knows his team, fresh off a 26-win season, returns plenty of talent capable of winning another Fox Valley Conference Valley Division title and then making a deep, postseason run.
But for now, the Red Raiders aren’t really talking about the season’s high expectations. Some of that is because Huntley could be a very different team in a couple months. Star forward Amanze Egekeze, a 6-foot-7 junior, is out until January after undergoing surgery for patellar tendinitis on his right knee in October.
“Every season is a new season,” Manning said. “We know we have some talented kids coming back but right now, (and) with Amanze being hurt, we’re just trying to see how good we can be with the team we currently have and just try to get better every single day.”
Egekeze’s absence will test Huntley, but senior guards Bryce Olny and Jake Wagner and junior forward Zach Gorney should carry the Red Raiders.
“Our juniors are getting the feel that the seniors did last year, just the different speed and intensity level that varsity games are played at,” Manning said. “I think the experience those four seniors have is going to be tremendous for us.”
Huntley doesn’t expect an easy path to a division title. Dundee-Crown, led by senior guard Brandon Rodriguez, will be a threat after finishing second in the Valley Division last season. Crystal Lake South, under new head coach Matt LePage, also should contend for the title.
There is no route to securing the FVC Fox Division crown. Last season, only two losses separated the top four teams. Grayslake Central, the defending champ, and Grayslake North again figure to assert themselves among the division’s top teams. But Crystal Lake Central, with its offense spearheaded by senior Corban Murphy, is attempting to produce another 20-plus win season with its sights set on reclaiming the division title. Johnsburg, featuring senior forward TJ Sigmund, should take strides in its second season under head coach Mike Toussaint.
“I think talent-wise we’re there,” Toussaint said. “I do think every night is going to be competitive [in the Fox Division]. Last year every night it was competitive, and I don’t think it’s going to be any different this year.”
Woodstock, an up-and-coming team, also hopes it can build off last year’s rough season and move into the upper echelon of the FVC Fox. The Blue Streaks receive a boost in the return of senior point guard Jordan Turner, with his four years of varsity experience.
“That’s great for me as a coach because he and I are on the same page,” Woodstock coach Al Baker said of Turner. “We’ve gone over the same things so many times that he can kind of finish my sentences for me in a lot of cases. As the point guard, he’s an extension of me out there, and that makes a big difference.”
The Blue Streaks’ offense could be tough to defend with an interior game combined with Turner. Damian Stoneking, a 6-foot-7 junior center, worked on his footwork during the summer and put on muscle, giving Woodstock another viable scoring threat.
“We’re fortunate to be a little bit bigger this year so Damian won’t have to shoulder the entire load,” Baker said. “But he definitely gives us a guy that can be a consistent scorer down on the block, which is not something that we’ve always had at Woodstock.”
In the Big Northern Conference, Richmond-Burton, which lost two of its top players to graduation, aims to repeat as the East Division champion while Marengo looks to improve on its 4-6 division record.
FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Huntley, junior, forward The Division I college prospect is out until January after surgery for patella tendinitis on his right knee, but Egekeze is a force in the post and will take an already dangerous Huntley squad to another level once he returns.
Crystal Lake Central, senior, guard With the Tigers one of the favorites to win the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division title, Murphy is a key cog in their offense and a go-to option any time Central has the ball.
Huntley, senior, guard Offense often earns the most recognition, and while he’s capable of leading the Red Raiders in scoring any given game, Only is one of the area’s best defenders.
Woodstock, senior, guard Turner, entering his fourth season on varsity, provides leadership running the offense as the Blue Streaks’ point guard. His play fuels an up-and-coming Woodstock squad capable of surprising teams in the FVC Fox.
Dundee-Crown, senior, guard As one of the Chargers’ top two scorers from last season, Rodriguez is a playmaker capable of scoring from anywhere on the court with a knack for finding his open teammates.
– Meghan Montemurro, email@example.com