Last year, the Riverdale boys' basketball team enjoyed its most successful season in nearly two decades and ended the prep career of star guard Wes DeClercq on a fitting note.|
Led by DeClercq's 22 points and four assists per game, the Rams won all but one of their 14 Three Rivers Conference games to nose out Sterling Newman by one game for the league championship. They then followed that up with their first boys' hoops regional crown since 1993.
However, an era ended for Riverdale with its overtime loss to Minonk Fieldcrest in the Class 2A sectional semifinals. With DeClercq and three other starters lost to graduation, the Rams will be retooling around a nucleus of seven returning seniors led by its lone returning starter, point guard Jared Richmond (10 points, 4 assists per game in 2011-12).
"I know the first thing people will think is that, `Wes is finally gone.' I had coaches tell me last year that it seemed like he'd been playing here seven years,'' said Riverdale coach Jason Hendrix. "Losing 90 percent of our scoring, the first reaction people have is that we're going to struggle and rebuild, but I don't think so.
"Jared learned quite a bit from Wes at point guard, and we do have a lot of size. In previous seasons, we haven't had one guy taller than 6-foot-5, so we're going to change some stuff this year. I think we'll surprise some people this year.''
While Hendrix and the Rams hope to open some eyes this winter, last year's runner-up Newman is tops on many TRAC-9 coaches lists after a season in which the Comets advanced to the Class 1A Elite Eight.
Another team with title aspirations is Erie (24-8), which was third in a tight race last season, two games behind Riverdale and one behind Newman.However, losing three starters -- including 6-foot-6 forward Jordan Schaller and his 16 points and 9.5 rebounds per game -- will be tough for the Cardinals, who will lean on returning senior guard Jacob Johnston (18.5 points, 7 rebounds) to shore up the offense. A rugged early-season schedule doesn't help matters much.
"In my 10 years of coaching, I've never seen a more brutal schedule to start, with us playing Rockridge, then Monmouth-Roseville and Orion (at the Orion Tip-Off Classic),'' said Erie coach Ryan Winckler, who begins his 10th year at the helm of his alma mater. "Then, we open conference play against Newman, one of the teams picked to win the TRAC-9.
"We're going to ask Jacob and (senior guard) Connor (Saad) to do a lot of things to start out the year, and hope our younger guys quickly understand what it takes to play at the varsity level.''
Looking to keep moving forward is Prophetstown (16-15), which is coming off consecutive winning seasons for the first time in two decades.The loss of 6-7 center Matt Juhola (15 points, 8 rebounds) in the paint will hurt, but the Prophets otherwise return the rest of their starting lineup, led by the senior duo of guard Devin Johnson (12 points, 3 steals, 3 assists) and forward Zach Inskeep (7 points, 7 rebounds). That has goals set high.
"The guys know what's expected of them,'' said Prophetstown coach Cordell Juhola. "They're ready, and inspired to take it to another level. It doesn't matter what we do in the conference -- our sights are set on winning a regional title, which is something Prophetstown hasn't done in 30 years. That's our goal.''
After slipping to 10-18 last year, Kewanee looks to bounce back despite the loss of 10-point-per game scorers Dontae Pryor and Glenn Wells, with the latter putting up 11 points and 10 boards a game last year. Senior guard and leading scorer Dayton Ince (16 points) and up-and-coming freshman forward Donovan Oliver have hopes high in the Boilermaker camp.
"We're not very big, but we're athletic,'' said Kewanee coach Steve Salisbury. "Donovan got a lot of recognition and experience playing AAU ball, and he's been fitting in well with the others.''
Both Morrison (9-22) and Fulton (6-22) seek improvement this year, although the Steamers have to replace graduated guard Erik Renkes and his 20 points and eight rebounds per game and the Mustangs lose 6-5 center Bill Bos and his 14 points and seven boards per night.
2012-13 THREE RIVERS CONFERENCE BOYS' BASKETBALL CAPSULES
Milan, IL Details
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