Boys Basketball: Joliet West impressive in summerMark Geers, left, from Minooka, blocks Tre Lesley, from Joliet West, during the Morris Boys Shootout at Morris High School in Morris, IL on Tuesday June 26, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media .
One in an occasional series on Joliet-area athletes and teams gearing up for the 2012-13 high school season.
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:23AM
Day 1 at the 27th annual Morris Boys Shootout ended on a sour note for Joliet West on Tuesday, but the Tigers still can add to their glowing summer resume.
West dropped a 70-40 decision to Waubonsie Valley to end the day 2-1 and in second place in Pool B. The first- and second-place finishers in each of the eight four-team pools qualified for the Gold Tournament on Wednesday with a chance to claim the shootout championship.
In fact, the Joliet area will be well represented in the Gold Tournament as Bolingbrook and Plainfield East won their pools with 3-0 records and Plainfield North and Plainfield South also went 2-1 to finish second in their pools.
Bolingbrook created a buzz as one of the most impressive teams on Day 1, and Plainfield East is much further along than might be expected from a team that lost its top nine players to graduation.
Minooka, meanwhile, finished 0-3 in rugged Pool B and will play in the Maroon Tournament, as will Morris. The Gold Tournament begins at 8 a.m. and concludes with a 3 p.m. title game, while the Maroon begins at noon and closes with a 7 p.m. final.
West’s blowout loss to Waubonsie notwithstanding, the Tigers have enjoyed a successful and promising summer. Last weekend, they won the shootout they hosted, beating Bloom, Seton and Homewood-Flossmoor in a four-hour span to clinch the championship. On Tuesday, they rallied to beat Loyola 62-57 in a game they never led until overtime and spanked Minooka 58-37.
“It’s all teamwork for us,” West 6-foot-3 senior forward Brandon McCullum said. “We’re trying to get further than the second round of the regional this year, maybe past the sectionals.”
McCullum noted the Tigers, 17-10 last season, are the same basic group that went 30-2 as freshmen even though guards Morris Dunnigan and Carl Terrell were promoted to higher levels during that season. Dunnigan, much ballyhooed early in his career, was the MVP of the West Shootout and McCullum was an all-tournament selection.
“Don’t worry about Morris, he will step up this year,” McCullum said.
“The big thing is Morris is 100 percent healthy in body and mind,” coach Luke Yaklich said. “He is developing into a quiet leader with his demeanor. He’s been lifting, getting stronger. I can see him playing all five positions at some point. We will post him up some.”
For his part, McCullum can score, but his greatest asset is defense. He limited Minooka standout guard Jake Hogen to single digits Tuesday; Hogen scored 47 in one game this summer, and that was with a running clock in 20-minute halves.
“I feel I can rebound and score, attack the basket, but I like the defensive part of the game because that’s where you win games,” McCullum said.
McCullum said the size or position of the opponents’ best offensive player does not matter, he will guard him.
“You have to keep your hand where the ball is, on his waist line,” McCullum said. “That way it doesn’t matter if he likes to drive or shoot from outside, you’re with him. I know I can’t let their best player get 20 points.”
“Brandon is the toughest, most team-oriented and unselfish kid I have had at Joliet and the toughest kid I have ever coached,” said Yaklich, entering his sixth season as head coach in the district and third at West. “He is all about team.”
Yaklich said McCullum has worked on his shot this summer to the point it could be an additional weapon.
“This is the best shooting team that I have had at Joliet,” Yaklich said. “We haven’t shot it that well.”
With 6-9 Marlon Johnson and energetic forward Brian Edwards having graduated, West will be guard-oriented. But with Dunnigan, fellow seniors Terrell and Ryan Modiest and junior Alias Burnett among the guard corps, that can be a positive.
Burnett is a brother of former West standout Remy Roberts-Burnett, who is playing well at Western Illinois. Yaklich said Alias has a better shot than Remy, though not the same spring in his legs.
“I anticipate a lot of minutes where we will have four guards on the floor with (6-7 senior) Andre Hardy,” Yaklich said. “Hardy is a developing big man.
“It’s a good group with great chemistry. I can tell already that it’s there. I always ask two questions: Do they like playing with each other, and are they tough? I have a good feeling about those two things.
“We have talent, too, so good things can happen.”