July 18th, 2017 11:32 AM
OPRF guard Dashon Enoch elevates high for a lay up. He returns next season as a high-scoring, athletic guard who can score, pass and defend. (File Photo)
After several injuries delayed his productivity in the NBA, highly touted Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers wisely coined the motto, "Trust The Process." Patience has paid off for the gifted 7-foot, 250-pound center, who is now rapidly coming into his own as one of the most versatile and best big men in the pros. Embidd has shown perseverance and commitment to the grind.
In a similarly prudent way, the Oak Park and River Forest High School boys basketball produced one of the greatest seasons in program history in 2017. By trusting their process, the Huskies improved throughout the course of the season en route to 24 wins, conference and regional titles and a sectional finals appearance. For good measure, OPRF upset defending state champion Curie in an unforgettable semifinal at the Proviso East Sectional.
It takes enormous amounts of grit to succeed in the annually stacked field of teams in the IHSA Class 4A basketball playoffs. Last season, OPRF fell one win shy of its first sectional title since 1976.
As cliché' as it sounds, there truly is no offseason for head coach Matt Maloney and OPRF. "Huskie Havoc," the team's preferred style of play that centers around pressure defense and transition offense, is a 365/24/7 proposition. Maloney puts great emphasis on the summer basketball season because it's part of the process that prepares the Huskies for tough postseason games in March.
"We want to develop a competitive streak in everything we do," Maloney said. "Winning is important in the summer and we always want to play at a high level. The summer is about building the individual game and playing with different offensive sets that we may use during the season."
Reflective of their brutal regular season schedule, the Huskies face some of the best teams in the state during summer competition.
OPRF caught fire this summer with a 32-6 showing in June. During their red-hot streak, the Huskies defeated Orr at the DePaul Team Camp and Springfield Lanphier at the NIIU Team Camp. The versatile, deep Huskies also knocked off St. Joseph, Proviso East, Bogan, North Lawndale and Uplift.
"We had a balanced attack this summer," Maloney said. "We had a deep roster which often had different leading scorers and key contributors each game."
Unequivocally, OPRF is one of the busiest teams during the summer season. The Huskies often play 10 games a week in addition to attending their own camp each in June. Many players direct their attention to AAU basketball in July.
Regardless, summer basketball is the most crucial time of the year for both individual and team growth.
"Our camp does a great job with skill development and polishing up the X's and O's," Maloney said. "But it's important for the guys to get exposure on the AAU circuit as well. That's why we did four Division 1 team camps in June to gear them up for July.
"July is a great opportunity for the guys to get looks in front of college coaches while they play for their travel teams."
The exposure is paying off, too, as several OPRF players are attracting interest from college basketball programs.
Judson University, an NAIA school in Illinois, has expressed interest towards OPRF senior guard Isaiah Fuller, while the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Western Illinois are recruiting OPRF guard Dashon Enoch. Cornell, Northern Illinois and Central Michigan (among others) are reportedly looking at OPRF forward Charlie Hoehne.
The Huskies' consistent success throughout the year reflects the obvious correlation between the regular season and summer. Finding the right balance of high school team basketball games in June and AAU basketball in July is instrumental in the development of OPRF's players.
Fuller, Enoch and Hoehne headline the roster next season. Center Malachi Ross is another terrific player from last year's squad who is an excellent defender and rebounder with scoring capability.
Chase Robinson, Phil Saleh, Sid Allgood and Ben Pierce will provide depth for the Huskies next season.
"We will continue our exciting brand of 'Huskie Havoc,'" Maloney said. "We will have a more up-tempo offense with our wing-oriented roster and will press teams for four quarters.
"Despite being in the toughest sectional in the state, we hope to go even further than our Sweet Sixteen run this year."
The Huskies' opportunity to dance deep into the 4A playoffs next season will be partly attributable to the routines they establish during the summer.
Under Armours' Michael Phelps-themed commercial showcases a striking quote: "It's what you do in the dark that puts you in the light."
Amid the scorching heat of summer, the Huskies are trusting their process through a bevy of tournaments. That approach should pay off next winter when OPRF wins the games that truly matter the most.
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2018 Answer Book, please click here.
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