MORRIS – The first inclination is to say 2017-18 boys basketball season was not a positive experience.
Although Lockport finished 7-18, there are a couple of asterisks. First, the Porters suffered five overtime losses, and second, they knocked off powerful Bolingbrook, 70-60, on Feb. 2.
Next season promises to be more successful, what with seniors Jake Karli, Matt Hatzopoulos, Tommy Halatek and Quinn Gardner being joined by junior wing Tommy Ferriter and sophomore guard Cameron Mallory.
The four seniors were the Porters’ top four scorers last season. Halatek, who is 6-7, 270 pounds, was a pleasant surprise and is doing nothing but getting better. Ferriter is a 6-4 wing with versatility and Mallory led the sophomore team last season, averaging 14.3 points.
“The experience we have is a huge plus,” coach Brett Hespell said. “We already see the difference. They went through it last year, and that will help.”
The Porters could be among the best 3-point shooting teams in the area with Hatzopoulos, Karli and Gardner leading the long-range barrage. But what Halatek gets accomplished in the middle may be the key.
“Tommy Halatek is getting a lot of Division III interest,” Hespell said. “At the beginning of last year, we didn’t think he would play that much. But he showed he can do some things kids his size don’t normally do.
“With the perimeter shooting we will have and Halatek inside, we should be pretty good offensively. Shooting will be an asset for sure.”
Karli, the point guard, was an All-Southwest Suburban Blue selection last season. He was the Porters’ second-leading scorer and led the team in rebounds, assists and steals.
He had to do everything. This season, though, he figures to be freed up to do more of the scoring. And he is concentrating his efforts on basketball this summer and fall rather than preparing to lead the Porters’ offense as the football quarterback.
“Jake wants to concentrate on basketball,” Hespell said. “But it’s not like Jake is just quitting football. He actually put the work in for both sports, and he finally decided he wanted to concentrate on one sport and play college basketball. He’ll be a three-year varsity starter for us.”
“Concentrating on basketball was part of it,” Karli said of deciding not to play football. “I want to play college basketball.
“But also, I decided I didn’t really have the desire to play more football. Other years, I usually did half and half between football and basketball in the summer. Now it’s just basketball.”
Hatzopoulos, who transferred to Lockport from Providence after his sophomore year, shot 49 percent (67 of 137) from 3-point range for the season. He and Karli play on the same travel team.
“I like having Jake with us all summer because it will build chemistry for the season,” Hatzopoulos said.
Gardner, meanwhile, shot 36 percent from 3-point range. Halatek always is an option inside, as well. So if the game is on the line with the clock winding down, who takes the last shot?
Karli laughed and gave the politically correct answer, with Hatzopoulos and Halatek standing next to him. “I’d probably have to choose between Matt and Tommy,” he said.
“A big guy like Tommy spaces the floor for us, so we all should get shots,” Hatzopoulos said.
“It really helped me that I got a good chance to play last year,” Halatek said. “The varsity game was a lot faster and you had to be a lot stronger, but it was more fun, actually.”
The recipe for success next season will begin with togetherness.
“Our senior class is full of A-plus guys who are easy to coach,” Hespell said. “Tommy Ferriter was up as a sophomore last year. He’s 6-4 and his long arms will be an asset, too. It will be a good group to watch and coach.”
The Porters have worked on building chemistry this summer with a trip to a two-day tournament at Grand Valley State University and another last weekend at Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington.
“We have a tough schedule with our conference (SWSC Blue) and we play both Joliets and at Pontiac,” Hespell said. “But we will be able to compete.”
“I think we easily could be above .500 this year,” Hatzopoulos said. “We lost a lot of overtime games last year. Now we will be able to finish those games.”
It would not take much for the Porters to push their record from last season in a more positive direction.