By Marty Farmer
Sixty-four team teams, 16 four-team pools, and one first-place bracket champion.
That's the challenging road Stevenson High School navigated en route to earning the distinction as the best basketball team at the 17th Annual Riverside-Brookfield Shootout over the weekend.
MVP Matt Ambrose powered the Patriots to a 63-49 win over Whitney Young in Sunday's championship game/shootout finale of the three-day event on June 21-23.
In the second-place bracket final, East St. Louis edged Bogan 47-44.
Curie, Marian Catholic, Oak Park and River Forest and Neuqua Valley also played very well as semifinalists in the aforementioned top pair of brackets.
Perhaps no school, however, deserves a tip of cap more than host Riverside-Brookfield.
"This was by far the best event we've been involved with since I became Oak Park's head coach," OPRF coach Matt Maloney said. "[RBHS coach] Mike Reingruber ran the best tournament in the Midwest and possibly the country this past weekend. The top teams in the state were in attendance and all players were showcased in front of 150 plus college coaches."
RBHS welcomed a blitz of teams, players, college coaches, media, parents, fans and volunteers to soak in a weekend of non-stop hoops activity on multiple courts. Based on complimentary remarks via Twitter from several participating high school programs, the RBHS Shootout was a huge success.
Notable college programs like Arizona, Indiana, Louisville, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Texas also benefitted from the event, dispatching coaches to RBHS for a closer look at the some of the best players and teams Illinois has to offer. In-state attendees included coaches from DePaul, Loyola-Chicago, Illinois and Bradley. Coaches representing Division I, II, III, NAIA and junior colleges and conferences like the Big 10, Big 12 and ACC appeared on the guest list.
"This is one of the live, certified events for high school basketball," Reingruber said. "We moved it from the first week of June to later in the month to be part of the new NCAA legislation. This adjustment allows high schools to have live events for a couple of weeks so Division 1 coaches can watch players. We also expanded the field of teams from 40 to 64."
No offseason for Bulldogs
During the regular season, RBHS is known for dominating the Metro Suburban Conference (17 conference titles in 18 years) and developing talented players who flourish in the Bulldogs' fundamentally-based, team-oriented system.
In the summer, RBHS is regarded as a hotbed for hoops. In addition to hosting the RB Shootout, the Bulldogs run leagues for varsity, sophomore and youth basketball teams.
Over the weekend, RBHS took third in the Pool J standings with a 1-2 record. Homewood-Flossmoor and Oak Forest defeated RBHS by scores of 66-51 and 67-50, respectively, before the Bulldogs bounced back with a 57-49 victory against Uplift High School from Chicago.
Schaumburg beat RBHS 57-54 in a third-place bracket game on Sunday. Paul Zilinskas paced the Bulldogs with a game-high 20 points against the Saxons.
While winning games is beneficial, it's not a top priority for RBHS during summer competition. Evaluating players and developing team chemistry take center stage for the Bulldogs.
In addition to the 6-foot-5 Zilinskas, who transferred to RBHS from Richards, the Bulldogs will have a new look overall next season. The team graduated its top seven players including standouts Zach Vaia (two-time conference MVP) and Andrew Veon from last season's 28-5 squad.
Guards Luke Gentile, Nate Schoditsch and forward Jamir Truman are pegged as new leaders for RBHS. Forward John Hanley will assume a major role as well. He led the sophomore team in scoring as a freshman last season. Dylan Meehan, Ryan Gaynor, and Jordan Chapp factor into the lineup as well this summer and next regular season.
At RBHS, Fenwick fared well in Pool A with a 2-1 record to finish first, ahead of Bloom, Hinsdale Central and Morton.
Bryce Hopkins recorded a double-double of 27 points and 11 rebounds in the Friars' 68-59 win over Bloom. Donovan Newby and Keshawn Willams chipped in 12 points apiece for Bloom.
On Sunday, Stevenson notched a 50-36 victory against Fenwick in the first-place pool play bracket.
Several college coaches including Texas' Shaka Smart, Missouri's Cuonzo Martin and Northwestern's Chris Collins scouted Hopkins at the shootout.
Hopkins, a high-scoring 6-foot-5 forward, had a breakout sophomore campaign last winter, averaging 22 points and 6.5 rebounds as an all-Chicago Catholic League player. Promising guards Trey Pettigrew and Kaden Cobb also competed for the Friars at RBHS.
Lyons Township took third in Pool B play, winning one of three games. The Lions routed Leo 49-29 but lost to Simeon (64-52) and Stevenson (55-46). In their final game, Grant Niego led the Lions with 20 points in a 74-67 loss against Morton.