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Naperville North's Derek Westman (1) blocks the shot of Oswego High School's Miles Simelton on Wednesday February 29, 2012 at Oswego High School. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
Defying preseason predictions, Naperville North surprised many by coming out of nowhere to win the DuPage Valley Conference title last season.
Behind a deep rotation and typifying a team-first mentality, the Huskies won their first DVC crown since 1998.
Huskies coach Jeff Powers understands that an encore performance this season will have to be done the same way.
“Last year, we got 10 or 11 (to play well together). If we can get five guys to play together, we’ll be good and if we get seven or eight guys to play well together, we’ll be really good,” Powers said. “But there’s no way if you only have two guys playing well and the other three aren’t that we can win here that way. We have to win with at least five guys all on the same page.”
Offensive production was spread around as seven different Huskies averaged at least five points a game last season, with senior Derek Westman the team’s leading returning scorer at eight points per game.
Losing Mike Keane, Kyle Lindberg, Matt Stacho, David Sinickas and Max Lewis, Naperville North’s fortunes this year will be placed upon the production of its four seniors — guards Westman, Bryan LoLordo and J.P. Riley and 6-foot-5 center Rafee Mahmud, who only played in three games last year.
Junior guard Anthony Rehayem, the team’s only other returning starter who averaged 5.2 points a game while starting every game last year as a sophomore, will lead a youthful supporting cast that includes fellow juniors in forward Brendan Herbstritt and guard Jayson Winick.
“That’s the mix of guys. They’re on the smaller side. (They’re) quick, good shooters. I think the conference is loaded this year, so we’ve got to work to defend our conference championship. So it’ll be a lot of work,” Powers said.
As Powers enters his fourth season at Naperville North, perhaps with the exception of his first group that won 20 games in 2009-10, his teams have generally been known as good shooting outfits.
Given their lack of size in some spots, what the Huskies do from the perimeter takes on added importance, along with sustaining the momentum defensively that they enjoyed a year ago.
“They should be a very good shooting team,” Powers said. “A very good ball-handling team. You know, they’ll probably learn how to play defense. Right now, they haven’t learned how to play defense. So we’ll have to teach them how to play defense in the next two weeks.”
Winning the program’s first DVC crown in 14 years highlighted Naperville North’s 19-win season a year ago.
But losing its playoff opener 65-53 to Oswego, denying them an opportunity to play West Aurora, the eventual winner of the Class 4A East Aurora Sectional, left a sour note at the end of the Huskies’ story in 2011-12.
Heading into this season, thinking about what was and what might have been isn’t a concern.
“Last season’s done now,” Powers said. “This is this year and all our focus and energy right now is on getting a team picked and getting ready for Benet (in the Hoops For Healing Tournament opener Nov. 19). So we kind of go from the past. We live in the future.”