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Boys basketball: Player development the focus at Morris Shootout

MORRIS – The 34th annual Morris Boys Basketball Shootout has it’s theme of 92 games with 32 teams in eight pools on four courts over two days with one champion.

In the end, Chicago Bogan claimed a 61-49 victory over Joliet West for the shootout championship.

But this annual event is not necessarily about winning for our seven local teams – Joliet Central, Joliet West, Minooka, Bolingbrook, Plainfield Central, Plainfield North and Lockport.

For Bolingbrook, which recently has been the best team in the area, this summer is more about player development after the Raiders lost 11 seniors, which included four starters.

“This summer we have a lot of kids who haven’t played much, and it’s much more about developing those players,” Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost said. “Yes, this summer is different, because in our recent past we pretty much knew who we had and how we would go about the season. We are winning at a high rate this summer, but that can be a little misleading. When you lose most of your production from the previous year, we have to develop those returning players. We have good players, but they just don’t have that varsity experience we have had in the past.”  

Joliet Central has veteran leadership in coach Lawrence Thompson Jr., and he treats this summer no different than any other.

“Most of these kids play all summer on AAU teams, but we want to find the leadership in this group,” Thompson said. “Kids need to be coachable and be able to adjust both offensively and defensively, so we use summer games to really develop the team concept. The summer is important with your team because you come together as a group, and they know what is expected.”

On the other side of town at West, new coach Jeremy Kreiger is beyond excited about how the summer has progressed for the Tigers.

“We want to install a passion and desire, especially on the defensive end of the game,” Kreiger said. “If you can do that, that will lead to great transition on the offense, and it will look like the old-school Joliet teams. I believe our guys have answered the call so far this summer for what we have put them through.

“It’s important to drive home our pillars for success because then these kids think this way all the time, especially when working on their own, and they have that mindset.”

Much like Bolingbrook, the Porters lost eight seniors, and coach Brett Hespell has to use the summer to set a foundation for his inexperienced team.

“We recently just returned from a team trip to Grand Rapids, which is a unique opportunity for a high school team to do over the summer,” Hespell said. “It was great to sit with the team and hear their opinions on our program and what they want to accomplish and to have a voice on the team. 

“We have a lot of multisport athletes on the team, but these kids are taking basketball more serious than in the past. It’s about developing a culture in the program where everyone holds each other accountable, especially over the down time.”

Plainfield Central’s Gregg Bayer is starting his third year at the helm of the Wildcats and sees this summer differently than in the past.

“This summer it’s about less X’s and O’s because we know we have that baseline,” Bayer said. “You have to experience success to know what it feels like, and last year we had that, especially after getting healthy toward the end of the season. We had 12 games that were decided by five points or less, so we were in every game, and that is big moving forward.

“Every coach has their style, but now I know the strengths of our players, so we have to be able to play to those strengths on both ends of the floor.”

At North, coach Bob Krahulik is taking a different approach to the summer. “This summer is more about getting to know the kids and them knowing me and the staff,” Krahulik said. “We had a team camp for the first time, and it was great for the bonding between everyone. We have really worked on skill work, and last year’s juniors have come a long way, and they are working hard on the defensive end because that leads to great offense.”

Even as Minooka’s Kevin Cain begins his second year as coach this is his first summer with the Indians. Cain was hired late in the summer last year and didn’t have a chance to work with his team.

“This summer is our first, and we now have the opportunity to install things we want for our program, and we can teach the why and how,” Cain said. “Last year it was all on the fly, but we finally came together at the end, but missing the summer was big. We lost nine seniors, but this year’s seniors have not missed one day, and we have a great core to build on for the season.”

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