Making a name for themselves
New faces key Bulldogs’ sweep to tourney title
Football took center stage at Richards last week, and some basketball players went along for the ride to DeKalb.
That’s where the Bulldogs sought to bring home the Oak Lawn school’s first football state championship in 24 years. And among those individuals contributing to a season’s worth of notable achievements were receivers Dedrick Shannon and Spencer Tears, both of whom missed out on preseason basketball practices because of their gridiron obligations.
Minus those two, as well as a pair of projected reserves, coach John Chappetto’s hoopsters entered the annual Thanksgiving-week District 218 Tournament in shorthanded condition. And the situation worsened when another veteran, guard Deon Alexander, missed the last two of Richards’ four contests for family-related reasons.
Then, just to top off the mounting unfavorable circumstances, Bulldogs forward Josh Meier was chained to the bench for all but a few minutes of the first half of Friday’s meeting with Marist because of foul trouble.
But while Richards’ bigger names were non-factors for various reasons, its no-names stepped forward. Guys like Jaylan Catledge Thaer Othman, Ameen Hussein and Greg Slaughter did so well enough, in fact, to allow the Bulldogs to gain four straight victories in the first week of the 2013-14 campaign.
A second-half surge broke open a close game against the RedHawks and sent Richards on its way to a solid 59-40 triumph in the championship tilt at Eisenhower. Earlier in the week, the Bulldogs notched victories over Shepard (83-55), Andrew (58-26) and Chicago Perspectives Charter (67-58) at D-Wade Court.
The title was Richards’ first in the season-opening tournament since 2009.
“We’ll take the 4-0,” Chappetto said. “I think people were stunned to see we were 4-0 without Tears and Shannon. I kind of was, too.
“And it’s not like we won by last-second shots or any of the crazy stuff — we beat everyone pretty good. If everything remains normal, we’ll have depth at a lot of positions.”
Chappetto pegged Slaughter as the perfect example of a breakthrough player.
“He’d never been on any Richards team before,” Chappetto said of the 6-foot-6 senior guard. “He had some maturity issues [previously], but I’ve seen some [positive] changes. And his game has improved.”
Chappetto admitted the Bulldogs entered into their first contest “with a lot of question marks,” but District 218 sister school Shepard derived no real benefit from that uncertainty. Behind five 3s from Othman, Richards constructed a commanding 41-27 lead by halftime and was never seriously challenged over the final 16 minutes.
“That was one of those Richards starts when we’re good,” Chappetto said. “We play quick, get easy baskets and shoot the ball well.”
Jacob Littleton tried to keep the Astros in the hunt by tallying all but three of his squad’s 17 third-quarter points, but his outburst couldn’t make a dent in the differential. Meier and Othman combined for 41 points between them, and freshman Catledge flashed star potential by torching Shepard for nine points, eight rebounds, three steals and two assists in just 12 minutes of floor time.
“You always worry about freshmen, but he doesn’t have any ego,” Chappetto said of Catledge. “And he has the best hands of probably anybody I’ve ever coached. He gets everything that comes his way.”
According to Chappetto, having the Chicago State University-bound Meier around is a big plus for everyone else on the Bulldogs’ roster.
“We had the best player in the tournament and he makes life easier for everybody,” Chappetto said. “It’s like having six guys out there. Obviously, we’re going to establish Meier in the post until [opponents] find somebody good enough to guard him, but when teams try to double- and triple-team him, that opens things up for other people.”
Richards took 68 shots from the field and connected on 46 percent of them. The Bulldogs registered a 42 percent success rate from 3-point range and sank 10-of-14 free throws. By contrast, Shepard shot 40 percent from the floor and 47 percent at the line.
Also hampering the Astros were 18 turnovers — 10 of which resulted directly from Richards steals — and a 36-22 disadvantage on the glass.
“Richards has got a nice team — I was impressed,” Shepard coach Tony Chiuccariello said. “And we’re really inexperienced. Even some of the seniors we have didn’t play as juniors, so we’ve got a few growing pains to go through.”
Littleton’s 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting paced the Astros. Kyle Longfield added 10 points and was one of three Shepard players to collect four rebounds.
Chappetto thought there were moments against Shepard when his team experienced “a defensive lull that looked really troubling,” but there was nothing of the sort emanating from the Bulldogs’ side last Tuesday.
Not only did Richards hold the Thunderbolts to one first-half field goal, but it never loosened its suffocating grip. Andrew ended the game with only eight baskets in 49 tries, a performance that was low-lighted by an 0-of-15 exhibition from 3-point land. The T’bolts also missed half of their 20 charity tosses.
“I think our defense was really good and they shot poorly,” Chappetto said. “I think some of our efforts made them take bad shots.
“They played really fast the first night [against Chicago Perspectives Charter], and I think they thought they could do the same against us. We were challenging a lot of their shots at the end of the press.”
Andrew was facing an uphill climb of 18 points after 16 minutes, thanks both to Richards’ stern defense — the ’Dogs finished with 13 steals — and Meier’s 12-point eruption in the second period. The big senior ended the contest with a double-double of 21 points and 13 boards.
Othman and Alexander each chipped in 10 points, while Catledge had six points, nine rebounds and four steals. Richards went 19-of-42 from the field.
Perspectives Charter 58
The Panthers used a shortened lineup in last Wednesday’s game and, interestingly, that gave the Bulldogs some first-half problems. Othman (10 points) and Meier got the Bulldogs off and running in the opening quarter, but Perspectives Charter was within one at the break and two at halftime.
In the third period, however, Richards benefited from the stricter enforcement of hand-check and body-contact rules that are in place this season and took 13 free throws. A technical foul called on the Panthers’ coach also contributed to the Bulldogs’ charity-toss bounty, which paved the way for a 16-point uprising and 12-point lead after 24 minutes.
“The game lacked a lot of flow,” Chappetto said, “and maybe that helped us.”
Richards’ edge grew as big as 20 in the fourth quarter, but after Othman fouled out, Perspectives Charter was able to make some inroads. The Bulldogs were never in danger of relinquishing their lead, but they also weren’t able to emphatically slam the door on their foe.
Meier (20 points), Othman (16) and Catledge (12, including 9-of-11 at the stripe) were Richards’ offensive stars, while Slaughter loomed large as a defensive presence. His work on the Panthers’ David Bryant was a key to the ’Dogs’ success — after scoring 12 first-quarter points, Bryant netted just two more baskets over the next two frames.
“A lot of different guys are stepping up,” Chappetto said. “We’re playing nine or 10 guys, and some of them are guys I thought would be cut.”
Under a revamped tournament format that divided eight teams into two separate pools, the Bulldogs met up with the RedHawks to decide an overall champion. Like Richards, Marist had chalked up three consecutive victories to begin its 2013-14 campaign.
And 16 minutes into the title clash, the two teams were evenly matched. With Meier beset by foul trouble, the Bulldogs had a difficult time generating a great deal of offense, and their halftime lead stood at a meager two points (23-21).
But everything changed in the third quarter. With Meier back in action and supplying nine points, Richards embarked on a momentum-shifting 17-0 run that put it in full command.
“We really turned up the pressure and forced them to rush,” Chappetto said of the RedHawks, “and I think their inexperience showed a little bit there.”
Othman (19 points) and Meier (17) again led the way for the Bulldogs. Catledge scored eight points, two of which came on a thunderous dunk that followed a steal.
Perspectives Charter 69
Last Tuesday’s matchup against the Panthers presented Chiuccariello with a reunion of sorts — on the opposite sideline sat Javon Mamon and Mike Smith.
Mamon is a former Homewood-Flossmoor player whom Chiuccariello remembered from the Astros’ days in the now-defunct SICA East, and Mamon’s brother, Jesse, once played for Shepard. So, too, did Smith, who teamed with Michael Hall, Reggie George and Jon Cleveland to form one of the Astros’ best-ever contingents in the early 2000s.
Mamon and Smith put aside any personal fondness of Chiuccariello long enough to have Perspectives Charter dole out a defeat. The Panthers outscored Shepard in every quarter, starting with a 12-7 advantage in the opening period.
While Chiuccariello had no trouble crediting Perspectives Charter for all it did right, he also thought the Astros “could have done some things better out there.”
“We could have done a better job with our effort and execution,” Chiuccariello said. “I was disappointed with the team aspect — we didn’t do a very good job of moving the ball and we forced some things on an individual basis. That’s not what I consider to be Shepard basketball.
“We always talk about [the fact] there are things we can control, and this was the one game out of four I felt we didn’t play very well.”
Evidence of the Astros’ lack of sharing was found in their total of just eight assists. Longfield (13 points) and Littleton (12) both cracked the double-figure plateau in scoring, but Shepard shot only 30 percent from the floor while committing 23 turnovers and getting out-rebounded by a 37-21 margin.
The Astros and T’bolts went toe-to-toe for three periods and took a 40-all tie into the final frame last Wednesday, but Andrew inched in front near the end and handed Shepard a tough-to-swallow loss.
Littleton’s layup off a Zack Hexel assist had the Astros within a point with two minutes to go, but Shepard missed a 3-pointer on its next trip down the floor and then allowed the T’bolts to rebound their own missed free throw. Andrew, which had netted a basket right before the charity toss, ran more seconds off the clock to put the Astros into a deeper — and ultimately inescapable — hole.
But while his club suffered a third straight setback, Chiuccariello saw a light in the apparent darkness.
“I thought it was the hardest and most together we’ve played so far,” he said. “When you do those things, you’re at least giving yourself a chance to win.”
For the first time in three games, Shepard played even with its foe on the glass and committed fewer turnovers. Littleton (16 points, five assists) and Longfield (12 points, six rebounds) once again gave the Astros’ attack much of its juice, but Shepard’s accuracy rate continued to languish near the 40 percent mark.
Southland Prep 41
Everything finally clicked for the Astros on Saturday, when they drubbed Southland Prep in a meeting of last-place pool finishers. A 22-11 edge in the first quarter got Shepard going, and it followed up with a 21-9 scoring advantage over the next eight minutes.
Littleton was four assists away from recording a triple-double, as he totaled 28 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Longfield contributed 10 points and eight boards, Yakov Witherspoon delivered eight points and six rebounds, and Darren Cohen also tossed in eight points.
While Chiuccariello still wasn’t thrilled with his club’s lack of accuracy, having 66 shot attempts enabled the Astros to survive another round of rather heavy misfiring. Shepard benefited from a 44-29 differential on the glass — which included 15 offensive rebounds — 25 made free throws and 24 Southland Prep turnovers, which were seven more than the locals committed. The losing team shot only 26 percent from the floor.
“Southland Prep’s a little down, so it’s hard to gauge this game,” Chiuccariello said. “But for the second game in a row, we played as a team. That’s where we have to get with this group — being [consistently] unselfish.”
Little Village 35
The 20 turnovers and 18 percent shooting that undermined the RedHawks in their Friday loss to Richards ran counter to everything else they accomplished in the District 218 Tournament before that.
Its lopsided season-opening conquest of Little Village was a better example of what Marist can do when its execution is up to snuff. The RedHawks jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first quarter and kept on extending that margin over the remaining 24 minutes.
With Jeremiah Ferguson (17 points, eight rebounds, two assists), Bradley Hill (16 points, two assists, two steals) and Kevin Lerma (13 points, two steals) showing the way, Marist sank 57 percent of its two-point shots. Complementing that display was a defense that caused 20 Little Village turnovers.
“I thought our efficiency on both sides of the ball was very good, and winning just becomes a product of that,” RedHawks coach Gene Nolan said.
The rapid getaway for Marist was somewhat unexpected, seeing as how 10 seniors graduated from the program last spring, including career scoring leader LJ McIntosh and No. 1 assist man Lexus Williams. With Ryan Tucker and Nic Weishar not yet available following a prolonged football season, Ken Rivard was the lone RedHawks player with any degree of past varsity experience.
“It’s different,” Nolan said of his team’s situation. “All of the faces are new, but it’s something exciting. We’re kind of learning about ourselves, [but] some unknowns became knowns, or at least we got a better sense of what we have.
“For a team with as little experience as us, the game minutes are what we’re lacking. However they set it up, we’ve always enjoyed going to [the District 218 event], but getting a guaranteed fourth game was big for us.”
Southland Prep 42
Although the RedHawks chalked up another convincing win last Tuesday, that didn’t begin happening until the second quarter. The first period was spent engaging Southland Prep in a heated battle.
Nolan wasn’t completely taken aback by Marist’s slow start.
“Everybody’s always up to play Game 1, no matter who it is,” he said. “The real test is in Game 2, when the excitement has worn off. That’s always a challenge.
“We want to make sure we always approach things the way we need to and find a way to play well for four quarters, not just the middle two.”
Doing well in the second and third periods was enough to boost the RedHawks on this particular occasion, however. An 8-0 run triggered by contributions from Ferguson, Lerma and Kyle Reynolds, plus a couple of Southland turnovers gave Marist a double-digit edge during the earlier of those stanzas.
The RedHawks outscored Southland 20-9 over that eight-minute stretch to assume a 34-19 halftime lead and then posted a 19-12 advantage in the third frame to basically seal the deal. Lerma finished with 21 points, six rebounds and three steals to pace Marist, while Reynolds (11 points), Ferguson (10 points, five rebounds) and freshman Romello Burrell (seven points, six rebounds) all offered able support behind him.
Three other players had six points for the RedHawks, who shot 59 percent from inside the arc and collected 36 rebounds.
“We were able to play everybody in the first two games, which really helped [their development],” Nolan said.
Notable in this game was Marist’s lack of reliance on the 3-ball. Normally a major component in the RedHawks’ attack, the long shots taken here numbered just six.
“One of the things for us is having an accurate perception of reality,” Nolan said. “We can’t ask every kid to be great at everything. We want to accentuate our strengths and stay away from our weaknesses.”
Even when pitted against the shot-happy Cardinals last Wednesday, the RedHawks didn’t suddenly start launching bombs. Marist, in fact, reduced its total of 3-point tries to two.
Nevertheless, the RedHawks had enough potency to withstand a typical Eisenhower barrage and emerge with a third consecutive victory in Blue Island. The Cards did briefly grab a fourth-quarter lead, but that 79-78 edge soon turned into a 92-85 advantage for Marist.
Nolan, though, didn’t grow too comfortable.
“When you play a team like Eisenhower, no lead is safe and no deficit is insurmountable,” he said.
Sure enough, the Cardinals came roaring back and drew within 93-90 with 45 seconds left. Eisenhower’s best shooter then missed an open 3 and Brian Barry’s two free throws created a five-point margin, but Marist required another pair of charity tosses from Lerma to survive after the Cardinals drilled one more long-range bucket.
There were still 5.6 seconds left after Lerma buried his second foul shot, but with no timeouts remaining, Eisenhower was in a dire predicament.
“We told our players, ‘Let them fly the ball up the floor because they can’t stop the clock,’” Nolan said. “They couldn’t win unless we fouled them on a [made] 3-point shot, so we just had to make sure we didn’t.
“To win a game like this was a real character test for our team, and our kids responded very well.”
Five players tallied in double figures for the RedHawks, a group led by Lerma, who deposited 28 points on Marist’s behalf. Chamar Hawkins had 15, Ferguson and Burrell 12 apiece, and Hill 11. Six players grabbed at least four rebounds.
The RedHawks shot 61 percent in the game.
Hill’s 12 points represented Marist’s high-water mark against Richards, as the Bulldogs’ pressure defense continually frustrated the RedHawks.
“Their pressure on our guards really sped us up and we were not able to get into an offensive rhythm,” Nolan said. “All of their kids stepped up and played well. A sign of a really good team is when it finds [different] ways to win.”
Shepard 14 13 17 11 - 55
Richards 21 20 19 23 - 83
Shepard Scoring: Littleton 25, Longfield 10, Cohen 9, Lawson 5, Heidinger 3, Witherspoon 2, Hexel 1. Rebounds: Heidinger 4, Hexel 4, Longfield 4.
Richards Scoring: Meier 21, T. Othman 20, Catledge 9, Alexander 8, Cottrell 6, Slaughter 6, Jones 4, Hussein 3, Anagnostopolous 2, Burton 2, O. Othman 2. Rebounds: Catledge 8, Meier 6. Assists: Alexander 5, T. Othman 5. Steals: Alexander 3, Catledge 3.
Andrew 3 6 7 10 - 26
Richards 11 16 15 16 - 58
Richards Scoring: Meier 21, Alexander 10, T. Othman 10, Catledge 6, Anagnostopolous 2, Cottrell 2, Hussein 2, O. Othman 2, Spencer 2, Jones 1. Rebounds: Meier 13, Catledge 9. Assists: T. Othman 3. Steals: Catledge 4.
Persp. Charter 16 18 6 18 - 58
Richards 17 19 16 15 - 67
Richards Scoring: Meier 20, T. Othman 16, Catledge 12, Anagnostopolous 9, Cottrell 4, Slaughter 4, Jones 2.
Marist 11 10 4 15 - 40
Richards 15 8 21 15 - 59
Marist Scoring: Hill 12, Hawkins 7, Reynolds 7, Ferguson 6, Turner 5, Burrell 3. Rebounds: Hawkins 6. Assists: Ferguson 5.
Richards Scoring: T. Othman 19, Meier 17, Catledge 8, Hussein 7, Cottrell 5, Anagnostopolous 3.
Persp. Charter 12 18 18 21 - 69
Shepard 7 11 11 14 - 43
Shepard Scoring: Longfield 13, Littleton 12, Cohen 7, Ogungbemi 6, Hexel 2, Lawson 2, Witherspoon 1. Rebounds: Cohen 5.
Andrew 15 9 16 13 - 53
Shepard 11 13 16 8 - 48
Shepard Scoring: Littleton 16, Longfield 12, Cohen 9, Ogungbemi 5, Witherspoon 4, Gorski 2. Rebounds: Longfield 6. Assists: Littleton 5.
Southland Prep 11 9 5 16 - 41
Shepard 22 21 16 15 - 74
Shepard scoring: Littleton 28, Longfield 10, Cohen 8, Witherspoon 8, Hexel 6, Vitello 5, Ogungbemi 3, Gorski 2, Lawson 2, Smith 2. Rebounds: Littleton 10, Longfield 8, Witherspoon 6. Assists: Littleton 6.
Little Village 6 12 9 8 - 35
Marist 17 16 18 11 - 62
Marist Scoring: Ferguson 17, Hill 16, Lerma 13, Hawkins 5, Burrell 4, Rivard 4, Turner 2, Barry 1. Rebounds: Ferguson 8, Hawkins 8. Assists: Ferguson 2, Hill 2. Steals: Hill, Lerma.
Southland Prep 10 9 12 11 - 42
Marist 14 20 19 14 - 67
Marist Scoring: Lerma 21, Reynolds 11, Ferguson 10, Burrell 7, Hill 6, Rivard 6, Turner 6. Rebounds: Burrell 6, Lerma 6, Rivard 6, Ferguson 5. Assists: Hawkins 3, Turner 3. Steals: Lerma 3.
Marist 23 32 15 27 - 97
Eisenhower 23 18 24 28 - 93
Marist Scoring: Lerma 28, Hawkins 15, Burrell 12, Ferguson 12, Hill 11, Reynolds 9, Barry 8, Rivard 2. Rebounds: Ferguson 6. Assists: Ferguson 5.