Stars are aligned for a season to remember for RamsGrayslake Central's Jordan Taylor (above right) shoots as he runs into Lakes' Justin Schneider (lower right) as Lakes Jay-Jay Elvir watches. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Non-Fox Valley Fox Games
Nov. 21-22, 25-26, 28 — at Mundelein tourney
Wed., 11/30 — at Glenbrook South
Tue., 12/6 — at Vernon Hills
Wed., 12/14 — Waukegan
Dec. 27-30 — at Bloomington/Normal tourney
Wed., 1/4 — at Cary-Grove
Wed., 2/15 — at Zion-Benton
Fri., 2/24 — FVC Championship Game
Updated: October 17, 2011 7:20PM
Big-school powerhouses Zion-Benton, Waukegan and Warren have owned area high-school boys basketball for the last five years, with Warren figuring to make is six years come next March.
But last season, North Chicago finally got this county’s smaller schools on the board with a nice March Madness run that culminated with a fourth-place finish at the IHSA Class 3A state tournament.
This coming season, the area again figures to be a factor in the class for smaller schools. But don’t be shocked if the team carrying the baton is not the North Chicago Warhawks, but rather the Grayslake Central Rams.
While all involved in area hoops agree that the road to Peoria next March goes through North Chicago, the reality is that Grayslake Central may have the perfect storm that will make it their turn to carry the area small-school banner to Peoria.
Consider these building blocks:
• An outstanding point guard in 5-foot-7 Jordan Taylor, and a strong wing player in 5-9 Savonte McWilliams.
• A post player — 6-9, 230-pound Casey Boyle — who is a half-foot taller than any player North Chicago can put on the court. But besides height, Boyle has a low-post game and can also bomb away from behind the arc. Think of him as Ryan Sawvell Lite — a comparison to the former Mundelein star who landed a full scholarship to play hoops at NCAA Division I Evansville in the Missouri Valley Conference.
• A schedule that includes games against big-school powers Waukegan and Zion-Benton, which will prepare the Rams for a tourney meeting with the Warhawks.
• Homecourt advantage. Grayslake Central has the sectional, which means North Chicago would have to win a road game to make it to Peoria. The Rams are very tough on their own court.
Last Sunday, Grayslake showed it also is tough on a neutral court, as a team of Rams beat a team of players from Hersey High School (Arlington Heights) 72-49.
Neither Taylor nor McWilliams were available for Sunday’s Fall League game at the Joy of the Game facility in Deerfield, but Boyle was unstoppable, scoring around 30 points and grabbing almost every rebound, along with blocking shots.
He knows that this is it for this group of talented players.
“We’ve gotten better, but we still need to work on our consistency,” Boyle said. “Throughout the summer, we had some good stretches and some games where we didn’t play together. The big thing with the group we have is that we have to play as a team.
“We’re not the type of team that’s going to have success playing one-on-one ball. I think we’ve gotten better with that, even though we haven’t had everybody together very often.”
The center said he’ll wait until after what surely will be a strong senior season to decide where he’ll play his college ball. He said NCAA Division II schools Northwood in Michigan and Lewis in south suburban Romeoville, have offered full-ride scholarships, as has NAIA school St. Xavier.
Last year, Boyle had games where he looked like an all-stater, and other games where he looked like something much less.
This year, expect a level of consistency from the man in the middle.
“I’ve been working mostly on my footwork, getting faster on defense and improving my endurance,” he said. “With our team, we’re going to have to run up and down the floor a lot to take advantage of our speed, and I’m going to have to be able to keep up with guys like Jordan.”
Needless to say, he’s excited about his senior season, and then maybe taking that baton from North Chicago in the sectional.
“We have to work on getting up and down the floor. Aaron (Simpson, North Chicago’s top player)) is on my AAU team. I’ve played with him forever. I know how much he loves to run. We have to be physical.
“We have to rebound and hold onto the ball, because they’re really scrappy and love to grab loose balls. You want to slow the game down, but you still have to be able to run. The important thing is to not get out of control. That’s how they beat you.”
This winter, don’t expect too many teams to be beating the Rams.
“I’m really excited,” Boyle said. “I want to have a great senior season. Jordan and I have been good friends and we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”