Jason's Take

Beacon News assistant sports editor gives his unique commentary on the local, regional and national sports scenes

BBKwauro-ABN-111912.jpgOn the eve of the high school basketball season, it's time for a look at the two schools that generate the most interest in our coverage area -- West Aurora and East Aurora.

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?

blog-ABN-111812.JPGToday we take a short road trip south to take a look at this season's prospects for Oswego and Oswego East.

The Southwest Prairie has become a pretty competitive conference over the last four or five years. How will our two local clubs stack up?

Well, there's no doubt Oswego is the favorite this year. Plainfield East won it last year, but it lost a number of key players to graduation. The Panthers have most of their best players back. Most importantly, they've got two four-year varsity players starting in the backcourt. I'd put both Miles Simelton (pictured) and Elliott McGaughy on my "watch list" as far as preseason candidates for Beacon-News Player of the Year.

Simelton had D-I offers from Chicago State, Miami of Ohio and California-Davis. He needs 28 more points to reach the 1,000 mark for his varsity career. The guess here is he'll have that by the second game of the season. McGaughy led Oswego in scoring (17.5 per game), assists and steals last year. This might be the best backcourt in our coverage area.

The Panthers have an experienced frontcourt too, with 6-4 Jack Kwiatkowski and 6-5 Josh Oros returning for their senior seasons. Both are three-year varsity players. Jamaal Richardson (6-3) missed last year with a shoulder injury, but look for him to play a significant role. Oswego East coach Ron Murphy praised Kwiatkowski and Richardson for being players who are willing to do the small things to win games.

This Oswego team features both star players and glue guys, and the experience level is high. This could be a pretty good year for coach Kevin Schnable's crew.

On the other side of town, Murphy takes over for Jason Buckley as the head coach of Oswego East. Buckley left to become the athletic director at West Aurora over the offseason.

The new coach inherits a team that finished .500 a year ago and lost eight of its top 10 players to graduation. The good news for Murphy is senior guard C.J. Vaughan is back. Vaughan, a three-year starter, can score and he's a plus defender, too.

After that, the Wolves have a lot of unknowns. This will be a senior-oriented team, but most of these players have little varsity experience. Kendall Dorsey, Jordan Baker, Nick Craft, Scooter Smith and Tyler Ross will be among the players fans will see more of this year.

As per usual, these two teams will go at it twice in conference play this winter. Mark your calendars for Dec. 18 and Feb. 1. I'm sure there will be a packed house both times. Oswego will be gunning for a conference title and a good seed for the regional, and Oswego East will want nothing more than to spoil the party.

Coming tomorrow: West Aurora and East Aurora

blog-ABN-111612.jpgContinuing our look at the upcoming boys high school basketball season, today we feature the three private schools in Aurora.

If this year is like every other year, Aurora Central will labor against a tough regular season schedule, then peak in the postseason. The Chargers went just 12-17 last year and have a combined record of 29-31 over the last two seasons. They also have two regional championships and a sectional championship to their credit. They've played Rockford East in the sectional final two years in a row, winning in 2011 and losing last year.

ACC will have to replace its top two scorers from a year ago -- Robert DeMyers and Joey McEachern. But, the Charger lineup could feature four seniors, the best of which is point guard Anthony Andujar (pictured). Phil Schuetz, Shawn Soris and Zach Flint are other players who figure to step into more prominent roles.

As per usual, coach Nate Drye's team will feature a 2-3 zone defense. Mediocre record or not, I won't be surprised if ACC is one of the last teams standing in our coverage area come March. The Chargers have guys who have been in the system and know how to play. It's just a matter of figuring out where the scoring will come from.

Aurora Christian should be an interesting team to watch this year. The Eagles are coming off an 18-win season, but they also were upset by Plano in the first round of the regional. They have a lot of experience coming back, but a slow start wouldn't be a surprise since many of the key players on this club are still playing football.

Junior Johnathan Harrell is the one returning Eagle who isn't occupied on the gridiron, so he may have to carry the team early. Once football season ends, three-year starter Ryan Suttle and a pair of 6-4 players -- Ryan McQuade and Cory Windle -- will be added to the lineup.

New coach Pat McNamara will have to work those guys back into the mix quickly as a difficult early-season schedule awaits. But, this is a group of kids that has played together on varsity for awhile, and that should make McNamara's task a little easier.

At Marmion, coach Ryan Paradise believes he'll have a deeper team than past years. The Cadets might play 10-12 guys instead of the customary eight or nine.

The top two returning players off last year's 14-14 squad are 6-5 senior Colin Kavanaugh and senior Alex Theisen. Look for those two players to lead Marmion in scoring most nights. After that, there are a lot of new players, a lot of unknowns, and it remains to be seen who will step up.

Paradise praised the energy level and attitude he's seen in practice. We'll see if the good practices translate to good results in the games.

Coming Sunday: Oswego and Oswego East

blog-ABN-111512.JPGWe are just five days away from the start of the high school boys basketball season. That means it is preview time here at The Beacon-News. The first three stories will be appearing in the Thursday morning edition.

For starters, we're taking a look at two teams that are expected to contend for the Upstate Eight Valley Conference championship.

Metea Valley is the defending champion. The Mustangs are coming off an impressive 25-5 season that included a 14-0 start and a run to the sectional finals -- where they lost to crosstown rival West Aurora.

If I had to take a guess, Metea won't quite be able to repeat that success. Six of the team's top seven players from a year ago were lost to graduation, although there is enough talent in the pipeline to fashion another winning season. The one player returning is senior forward Sean Davis. Don't be surprised if he has a breakout year. He's moving back to his natural position after playing center last year for the good of the team.

Waubonsie Valley is among the group of teams that might overtake Metea in the conference race. The Warriors were contenders a year ago, when they went 18-9 overall and 7-3 in league play. They return three starters, including perhaps the most prolific scorer in the area in sharpshooting guard Jared Brownridge (pictured). The senior will attend Santa Clara next season, and he will almost certainly be on the short list of Player of the Year candidates this year.

He'll have some help in the post, too, as Waubonsie returns 6-6 forward Bryan Jefferson, an all-conference pick last year. Junior Jack Cordes, who also stands 6-6, gives the Warriors some additional size. Also returning is guard Dylan Warden, fresh off a good season as Waubonsie Valley's starting quarterback.

It's looking like a four-team race in the UEC Valley, with Waubonsie, Metea, Neuqua Valley and Bartlett all with legitimate hopes of coming out on top.

Thursday's paper also features a look at this year's Yorkville squad. The Foxes had a nice run a year ago, finishing 20-8 overall and 5-5 in the balanced Northern Illinois Big 12 East. The bad news is all five starters are gone from that team.

Yorkville returns four seniors, all of whom played in reserve roles last season. The most experienced returning player is point guard Brett Assell, who was the team's sixth man previously. Center Josh Gengler, forward Taylor Carter and guard Cody Knudsen are the other returners. Coach Dan McGuire is going to need Carter to step up and score.

The Foxes could have as many as four sophomores on their roster. They have a number of players in new roles, plus several others who are new to the varsity level. Safe to say it will be a work in progress for Yorkville this season.

Coming Friday: Marmion, Aurora Central and Aurora Christian.

blog-ABN-110712.jpgIt's been 18 long years since West Aurora last made the IHSA state football playoffs. The year was 1994 -- the fall after I graduated high school.

Yeah, it's been awhile.

This is my 10th year here at The Beacon-News, and during that time West High has had only one winning season in football. That came in 2004, when the Blackhawks went 5-4 and missed the postseason due to a lack of playoff points.

People have asked me many times through the years what it will take to bring West High football back to prominence. Heck, my friend and former colleague Jim Owczarski wrote a great story about that very topic in February of 2011, prior to the hiring of current West head coach Nate Eimer.

For all the theories we can come up with, maybe it comes down to this: West Aurora needs to get the hell out of the DuPage Valley Conference. West left the Upstate Eight Conference at the conclusion of the 1996-97 academic year and joined the DVC the following fall.

Sixteen football seasons have come and gone since, and what do the Blackhawks have to show for it? A big goose egg. Consider this: West Aurora is 0-16 against Naperville Central, 0-16 against Naperville North and 0-16 against Wheaton Warrenville South.

West High fans, every season you have three automatic losses on your schedule. That means you have to go at least 5-1 in the other six games to become playoff-eligible. That's a tall task, and the Blackhawks have pulled that off only once -- the aforementioned 2004 season. However, that fall West High beat a winless East Aurora team and a one-win Elgin squad during its non-conference schedule. Thus, they didn't have the playoff points to get into the postseason.

The DuPage Valley is arguably the best football conference in the state. It is simply better than Upstate Eight most years (although this year might be considered an exception with the success of Waubonsie and Neuqua Valley). For a school like West, it's really hard to find a path to six wins in a conference like the DVC.

In addition to that one 5-4 season, West High has put together three 4-5 seasons over the last five years -- 2007, 2010 and 2011. I would argue a 4-5 season in the DVC is roughly equivalent to a 6-3 campaign in the Upstate Eight.

If West High were still in the Upstate Eight, it might have had as many as four IHSA state playoff appearances over the last 10 years. If you can make the postseason every now and then, that creates hope and interest in the program. You get more athletes coming out for football. Maybe you finally get some traction and start to build a consistent winner.

Where am I going with all this?

Well, there's an open spot in the Upstate Eight Conference right now. Lake Park is leaving after this academic year. West Aurora has filed a letter of interest to fill that vacancy.

The letter does not obligate the school, it merely expresses interest, according to West athletic director Jason Buckley. There will be competition for that open spot in the UEC. Sources tell us Glenbard East and West Chicago -- two DVC schools that are also struggling mightily to keep up in football -- have also expressed interest. West High is now waiting to hear back from the Upstate Eight.

I hope the move happens. I'd like to see West back in the same conference with other Aurora schools, like East High, Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley. I'd also like to see Eimer's football program have a fighting chance to get off the ground.

I think that football playoff drought on the West Side of Aurora would end sooner rather than later if West High moves back to the UEC.

blog-ABN-101912.JPGThe Detroit Tigers wrapped up their 11th American League pennant Thursday with an 8-1 butt-kicking of the New York Yankees. With the win, Detroit completes a four-game sweep and advances to the World Series -- which will begin at the home of the National League champion next Wednesday.

I had to chuckle at one of the comments made by Detroit owner Mike Ilitch after the game.

"I've got a great bunch. We don't have one hot dog in the bunch," Ilitch said. "They're all great guys. ... The Tigers are something special."

Not one hot dog in the bunch, huh? Has Ilitch seen his closer pitch lately? I'd argue Jose Valverde is the biggest hot dog in all of baseball.

I don't know that the Tigers are all that special either. This is an 88-win team that didn't clinch a playoff spot until Oct. 1. They only got into the playoffs because the White Sox gave away the American League Central Division title the last three weeks of the season. Detroit had the seventh-best regular season record in the league this year.

Is this a special or great Tigers team? Absolutely not. Doesn't mean they can't win the World Series, though.

Detroit beat an inexperienced Oakland team in five games in the first round, then had the good fortune of running into a Yankees' club that seemingly forgot how to play baseball after its captain, Derek Jeter, broke his ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS.

The Yankees may have hit 245 home runs in the regular season, but they put on the most awful display of postseason hitting I've seen since the 2000 White Sox.

Over the course of the four-game ALCS, the Yankees scored just six runs -- five of them on home runs. They scored in only three of their 39 offensive innings. They hit just .188 in the postseason, a record low for a team that played at least seven playoff games. New York's team batting average in this ALCS was .157.

Some of the credit has to go Detroit's starting rotation of Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. They were good against Oakland and dominant against New York. The Tigers' starters are 4-1 with a 1.02 ERA in nine postseason games this year.

This ALCS can only be described as a combination of good Tigers pitching and brutal Yankees offense. That's how it turned out to be so one-sided.

What we've seen from the Tigers these last couple weeks just proves that sometimes the hardest part of a baseball season is getting in the playoffs. Detroit underachieved all year, in my estimation. But if you can somehow get into the postseason field, you can get to the World Series if you can play hot for two weeks.

On the National League side, we may be looking at an 88-win champion as well. The St. Louis Cardinals now possess a 3-1 series lead over the San Francisco Giants after an 8-3 win Thursday night. Game 5 is Friday in St. Louis.

If the Cardinals finish that thing off, the fifth-best team in the National League will be playing the seventh-best team in the American League in the World Series.

Yes, indeed, wacky things happen in the baseball playoffs.

Beckman.jpgThe University of Illinois football team has a bye this week. Feel free to insert your joke here about how the Illini are 27-point underdogs against "Bye."

For those who missed it, Illinois fell to 2-5 last Saturday with a humiliating 45-0 loss to Michigan. The Illini have not been competitive in any of their five losses -- each defeat coming by 28 points or more. The lopsided nature of the losses has first-year coach Tim Beckman under siege from Illini Nation.

It has gotten so bad for Beckman that some fans are longing for the return of the hapless Ron Zook, who was relieved of his duties last November after compiling an abysmal 34-51 record in seven seasons at Illinois.

I'm no fan of Zook's and would never want him back. But just for fun, here's a little numerical comparison between Beckman and Zook:

In five losses under Beckman this season, Illinois has been outscored by 149 points -- 208-59.

During the final 16 losses of the Zook Era -- and those losses were accumulated over a period of three seasons -- the Illini were outscored by a mere 146 points -- 484-338.

So, basically, Beckman has gotten his rear end kicked more in one half-season than Zook has in the last three years. Not good, folks, not good.

In fairness to Beckman, Zook's first Illinois team (2005) was outscored by 166 points (230-64) in its first five losses. Thus, we can conclude Beckman's first year at Illinois has been better than Zook's was -- but only slightly.

Oskee oww oww.

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