Let the March Madness begin.
The Class 3A and 4A boys basketball playoffs tip off Monday, with the postseason culminating on the weekend of March 17-18 with the state finals in Peoria.
And along with the much-hyped event comes the annual complaining of how the IHSA’s four-class system has watered down the achievement of winning a state championship.
I beg to differ.
Case in point, the 4A Thornwood Sectional. It’s stacked. As rigorous as any sectional I can recall. The team crowned sectional champion at Thornwood will be deserving of the honor.
“It’s pretty brutal,” Marian Catholic coach Mike Taylor said. “No matter where you’re seeded, there are some big hurdles to clear.”
No doubt, top-seeded Simeon (24-3) is the class of the field. But the Wolverines can be beat. So which teams have a legitimate chance of winning this sectional?
Here’s the way I see it:
Brother Rice (23-5): Second-seeded Crusaders have rode the shoulders of seniors Josh Niego and Mike Shepski to the Catholic League South title. If the Crusaders are going to make a deep playoff run, a third scoring option must emerge.
Four years ago, Mike Shepski and Josh Niego walked into Brother Rice without any hint of what would happen. Shepski was 5-foot-nothing. Niego was as thin as a toothpick.
But what about their will to win and their work ethic?
“All I’ve tried to do is compete,” Shepski said. “And get better.”
They both got better each season. They also got bigger.
An insatiable desire to improve, along with unforeseen physical development, have now placed the 6-foot, 165-pound Shepski and the 6-4, 180-pound Niego among the Crusaders’ all-time greats in basketball.
The varsity basketball team won two games over the weekend of February 11 and 12, 2017, advancing to the semifinals of the Catholic League tournament.
Senior Mike Shepski was the hero on Sunday, hitting a 3 at the buzzer to beat St. Laurence 44-41. He finished with 18 points. The Crusaders play on Wednesday, February 15, at 7:00 P.M. vs. St. Joseph at Fenwick High School.
The freshman basketball team completed its season on a high note on Monday, February 13, 2017, competing in two of the best freshman games ever.
The A team beat Marist 38-36, playing great team defense throughout. They were led offensively by Colin Campbell with 17 points. Sean Joyce added 10 points and Jack DeJarld had 8 points.
The B team beat Marist 31-30! It was a great team effort, and was led by Courtland Claude with 9 points; Javet Warner and Kevin Phelan added 6 points each. Congrats to all the freshmen basketball players finishing the season with two awesome wins.
As Br. Rice High School Coach Bobby Frasor watched his basketball team cut down the net amidst a crowd of Crusader Crazies, he turned to Assistant Coach Jim Zigulich with a smile.
“We should have practiced this,” Frasor said.
That might be a good idea if the Crusaders continue on the path that’s taken them to their first league title since 2005.
Playing patient offense and then catching fire from distance, Br. Rice took down Leo 55-45 on Feb. 3 to clinch the Chicago Catholic League (CCL)-South title.
The Brother Rice Crusaders take down the Leo Lions to earn the Chicago Catholic League South Championship.
Brother Rice senior Mike Shepski was just a tyke the last time the Crusaders won a Catholic League title.
He’s seen film, though, of that 2004-05 team.
“Oh, yeah,” Shepski said. “They were really good. We try to emulate them, move the ball like they did.
“They were really good at sharing the ball, setting screens. That’s what Rice is all about.”
Shepski moved the ball well, but the Bemidji State signee shot it even better Friday in the Crusaders’ 55-45 Catholic League South victory over visiting Leo.
From one high school president to another, plans were formulated months ago to tweak a basketball schedule. Ironically, the change will complement a celebratory week and month in a most fitting and Christian way.
Kevin Burns, Br. Rice High School president, dialed up his Leo counterpart, Dan McGrath, to suggest the Lions host their own scheduled home game at the more spacious and accessible Crusader gym on Friday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m.
Celebrating its 24th Alumni Night, Br. Rice will don its away uniforms in one of many symbolic gestures capped off by an over-21 reception immediately following the game in the Br. Rice Carmody Center, where complimentary pizza and beverages will be served, thanks to support from both school’s alumni groups.
Source: Beverly Review