Larkin basketball hungry for more successLarkin's Kendale McCullum (left) and Quantice Hunter dive for a loose ball over Dundee-Crown's Cordero Parson last season. Hunter and McCullum are part of a promising nucleus returning for the Royals. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 11, 2012 3:45PM
One dismal season after another rendered Larkin’s boys basketball program nothing more than an afterthought during recent summers, but thanks to a breakthrough 2011-12 campaign, the narrative is beginning to change.
The Royals are now being viewed as a team on the rise in the western suburbs, and if last winter’s results are any indicator, the team figures to continue receiving more attention for the foreseeable future.
A young nucleus made up of three sophomores, two juniors and one freshman helped lead Larkin to a 16-12 record last season. That might seem modest by most standards, but it marked a sea change for a Royals program that hadn’t posted more than eight victories in a season since the 2005-06 campaign.
Deryn Carter is now entering his fourth season as Larkin’s coach, and the former Royals standout appears well on his way to resurrecting his alma mater’s status as a respectable program.
With that said, Larkin has an opportunity to transcend mere respectability given the notable talent it has returning the next few years. The Royals might just have what it takes to rise into the upper echelon among suburban teams, but the newfound expectations aren’t changing business as usual according to Carter.
“In the program our expectations have always been to be as good as you can be every day,” Carter said. “Now some other people on the outside think we’re going to win games, but we’ve always expected to give our best effort.
“The end result might be a little better looking in from the outside, but program-wise we’re just trying to fight and work hard every day. That will never change, and we expect the guys to handle whatever expectations are coming from the outside.”
Larkin used last summer to develop chemistry and cohesion among the many newcomers on its varsity roster. The hard work showed during the regular season when the Royals won their first six games before going on to notch several other impressive victories.
Carter said the focus this summer has been more on developing the entire program, from the lower level teams on up to the varsity. But that hasn’t stopped Larkin from enjoying success throughout its summer schedule.
The Royals reached the semifinals of the Geneva Summer League tournament before bowing out against Metea Valley on Monday. Earlier in the summer Larkin went 4-1 at the West Aurora Hoop Mountain Shootout and lost to Rockford Boylan in the semifinals of the Ridgewood Shootout.
This weekend marks the end of the summer season for most high school teams, and the Royals will try to go out on a high note at the Crystal Lake South Shootout.
“We’ve been missing two or three guys we expect to play big minutes all summer because of commitments to other sports, vacations and stuff like that,” Carter said. “We’ve been trying to piece it together, but it’s been good because other guys have had to step up and get some quality time against good competition.”
Shooting guards Quantice Hunter and Quentin Ruff were the top two scorers last season for Larkin, and both players are back for their senior seasons. The team’s deep backcourt also includes point guards Derrick Streety and Kendale McCullum, both of whom will be juniors this year after filling up the stat sheet as sophomores.
The Royals boast two big men who seemed destined for big things. Drew Jones, the 6-foot-4 son of Streamwood coach Tim Jones, is going into his junior season after starting for Larkin last year. Meanwhile, sophomore Daniel McFadden has added an inch or two to his 6-4 frame after contributing off the bench as a freshman.
Carter said Taylor Boley and Alex Feliciano are two newcomers from the sophomore team who have impressed during the summer. The junior swingmen could add even more versatility to a Royals squad that perhaps has matured to the point where it can contend for the Upstate Eight River title next season.
“When we’re in a tight game with a couple minutes left, I think our guys have the confidence to open it up and finish it out,” Carter said. “Last year it was kind of a struggle, not that we didn’t win any, but it was kind of like pulling teeth. I just think as a group we’ve become a little better at closing out some of those close games.”
South Elgin’s Wells lands leadership grant
Darius Wells is going into his junior season with South Elgin, and he recently won a national leadership grant sponsored by NCSA Athletic Recruiting and the NFL Players Association.
The grant was awarded to a select number of student athletes throughout the country in all sports from football to track who qualified based on leadership in their community, academic achievement, athletics and a required essay written by the student athlete.
Wells said he was encouraged to apply for the grant by Larry Butler, one of his AAU coaches with the Illinois Warriors. Wells isn’t exactly sure what earning the grant will entail, but the expectation is that NCSA will work with him and his family to help him find a collegiate institution that best matches his academic and athletic achievements.
“It feels good to know that I’m being recognized as a leader now,” Wells said.
Wells, a 5-foot-9 guard, was a fixture in the Storm’s starting lineup last year. South Elgin hopes to improve on last year’s 12-16 finish, and Wells figures to play a prominent role after standout point guard Jake Maestranzi recently transferred to Niles Notre Dame.
“This is a crucial year for me,” Wells said. “I’ve been starting to work out a little more. Especially with Jake not being here, the ball is going to be in my hands a little bit more, so I’ve got to work hard and let the game come to me.”
Area teams set for Crystal Lake South Shootout
South Elgin and Larkin are among the six local teams set to compete at this weekend’s Crystal Lake South Shootout. St. Edward, St. Charles North, Jacobs and defending champion Huntley are also in the 24-team field.
The tournament comes at the end of the high school summer season as players get set to go their separate ways with the AAU season taking center stage in the coming weeks and months.
The Crystal Lake South Shootout begins with pool play Friday and wraps up Saturday. The semifinals are scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday with the championship to follow at 5 p.m.