If we were to do power rankings, West Aurora would be our preseason No. 1 here at The Beacon-News. The Blackhawks won 25 games and claimed a sectional championship last year before losing to eventual Class 4A runner-up Proviso East in the supersectional.
West Aurora loses its leading scorer from a year ago, Juwan Starks, but the other four starters return. Junior Jontrel Walker averaged 13.6 points per game last season, and he is poised to assume Starks' role as the Blackhawks' go-to scorer. He's once again joined in the backcourt by senior Jayquan Lee. This will be the third straight season starting together for Walker and Lee, and they are right there with Oswego's Miles Simelton and Elliott McGaughy in the discussion for the area's best guard tandem.
Senior center Josh McAuley is on my list of potential breakout players this season. The 6-foot-7 post player was a defensive presence last year, but with more experience under his belt I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he puts it all together on both ends of the floor this year. The key for McAuley is to be more aggressive. Coach Gordie Kerkman says the big man "has the potential to be a dominant player" in the paint.
West also returns the two senior twins, Chandler and Spencer Thomas. The brothers stand just 6-foot-1, but they might as well be 6-5 with the way they play. These are two kids who will get on the glass and set hard screens. They bring a football mentality to the floor and they aren't shy about playing a physical style.
Look for 6-5 senior Rey Acevedo to provide some depth off the bench. Junior Matt Williams will also be a rotation player. Kerkman is bringing up three sophomores to the varsity level this year -- Matt Dunn, Roland Griffin and Tommie Koth. The trio will back up Walker and Lee at the guard spots.
Without question, West Aurora enters the season as the favorite in the DuPage Valley Conference. If you're looking for a team that might play in Peoria this year, the Blackhawks might be the best bet.
On the other side of town, East Aurora is looking to get back to respectability. Coach Wendell Jeffries suffered through his first losing season in 11 years at the helm last winter, and boy, it was one doozy of a losing season. The Tomcats finished 3-23 and won only one Upstate Eight Conference game.
I was born here in Aurora, grew up here and have spent most of my career here. But I can't ever recall an East Aurora basketball team struggling as much as last year's group did. It was an historically bad season, and I just can't see that happening again.
The Tomcats have a core of six returning players, the best of which is senior DeJon Talbert. The 6-1 guard averaged about 15 points per game last season and was a unanimous all-conference selection. It's not too often a kid on a 23-loss team gets that kind of praise, so that goes to show Talbert is a quality player.
Also returning are guards Ray Velazquez and Steve Green, along with forwards Tyree Willis, Jonathan Villezcas and Desmond Gant. Junior KeJuan Davis is a newcomer who might be able to make an immediate impact.
I would expect some tough sledding for the Tomcats in conference play this year. Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley and Bartlett are among the teams in the UEC Valley featuring Division I players. And, of course, Metea Valley is the defending conference champion. The competition is stiff, so it will be hard for East High to get back into the upper echelon this year.
That said, the Tomcats are going to be more competitive and win more games this season. They almost have to, right?