Boys Basketball: Zion-Benton looks to bounce back

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Zion Benton's Shonta Wilson (54) makes a shot against Palatine during their summer basketball match on Monday, June 26th. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media


Last year: 15-15 overall (2-10 in the North Suburban Conference Lake Division)

After struggling during a 1-7 stretch following a month-long layoff due to the holiday break and a teacher’s strike, the Bees found a formula that worked for them in rattling off seven straight wins before falling to Mundelein in a regional semifinal to end the season.

2007-08 — 32-4, Class 4A second at state. 2008-09 — 25-7, lost to Waukegan in sectional semifinal. 2009-10 — 20-11. 2010-11 — 20-10. 2011-12 — 15-15.

Zion has not had four straight seasons with double-digit losses since Don Kloth’s first four years at the helm. Last season marked the first since the 1995-96 season that the Bees’ failed to win at least 20 games, and the 15 losses were the most since going 9-17 in 1992-93, Kloth’s fourth year. After winning 13 regional titles in 15 years, and four sectional titles in a nine-year stretch, the Bees have gone three seasons without hoisting a regional championship plaque.

Last year, the Bees entered the season with only one returning starter and only one other player, center Curtis Cook, who saw significant minutes off the bench. This season, in addition to Cook moving on, the Bees lose forward Niko Paaloalo and guard Richard Ray who saw starter minutes, as well as spark-plug reserve Devante Nicks, but they return a lot of meaningful experience at the forward and guard positions.

With Cook gone, Zion will play smaller than they have in recent memory. That said, it’s all relative. 6-8 junior Chris Moragne will still be one of the tallest players on the court, and at 6-5, junior star Milik Yarbrough gives the Bees a dimension that few teams in the state will have.

Senior guard Dorsey Cadette and junior Maurice Young return. Both had their struggles last year, but their ability to take care of the ball and make good decisions continues to improve. The overall level of play appears to have improved up and down the bench, and there is a greater chemistry among the supporting cast than in years past. Whether that chemistry will develop between them and Yarbrough will be an important factor in their success. When things are clicking, the Bees can be very dangerous. When not, they could struggle.

Last week at Carmel, the Bees came back from a seven-point halftime deficit to beat Palatine in sudden-death overtime 46-44. Moragne only played the overtime and Yarbrough did not see action during the first game. They then dismantled a short-handed Carmel team 62-45.

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Updated: July 2, 2012 11:58AM

The next high major college basketball player to come out of Lake County is in the lineup.

The man on the bench running the show is, by far, the winningest active coach in Lake County.

The student-fans are among the best you’re going to find.

All that’s needed to make this a return-to-glory season for Zion-Benton boys basketball is the emergence of a quality supporting cast.

It just might be there.

The pieces began to come together at the end of last season, which wound up 15-15.

Because of the December holiday break and a teachers strike, the Bees went more than a month without playing a game.

But in February, the players surrounding star Milik Yarbrough started to resemble a precision-like machine and the team finished with a nice run to make it to .500.

“When you finish the season (with a nice run), you hope that will carry over,” said Don Kloth, the dean of Lake County hoops coaches as he begins season No. 24 at the helm. “I was very proud of the way that team came together and finished out the season.”

For this year, Kloth made some major changes in his approach to summer basketball, and that will pay dividends in the regular season.

“We went to different tournaments this summer. Instead of us running tournaments, we traveled to a couple tournaments,” he said. “It was good for me, because when we’re running a tournament, I’m so busy that I don’t always get to see the kids play.

“We’ll have played around 40 games, and I’ll have been able to coach each one. We’re doing maybe a little less in quantity but hopefully the quality of our time has improved.”

This summer has been about finding the pieces that work best with Yarbrough, a 6-5 junior who can play every position of the court and is right there with Jereme Richmond (Waukegan) and Brandon Paul (Warren) in creating a buzz among college scouts.

The key is finding the right mix of players rather than having four players stand and watch while Milik is forced to play “hero ball.”

“A lot of players have had the opportunity to show what they can do, although summer is different than the regular season, but we’re hopeful that we’ll have depth again this year,” said Kloth.

The coach knows what he’s looking for from the players this summer.

“We want them to play with effort; we want them to play as a team; and we want them to have a good attitude,” he said. “If you can get those three things, then generally you’re going to see some other positives.

“For the most part, I’m happy. During the summer when you’re playing a lot, you have games when there is a letdown, but overall, I’ve been encouraged.”

Reasons for encouragement, besides Milik, are Dorsey Cadette, Maurice Young and Chris Moragne, all of whom were part of the nice finishing run last winter.

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