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Naperville Central's Nick Czarnowski looks to score as Glenbard North's Ryan Krueger defends. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Busting out of the gate at 9-3 after winning the Wheeling Hardwood Classic last December, optimism was high for Naperville Central entering 2012.
But with star sophomore center Nick Czarnowski in and out of the lineup with tendinitis for the rest of the season, the Redhawks staggered to a 6-9 finish before eventually exiting 63-49 to Neuqua Valley in the regional semifinal.
Entering this season with Czarnowski healthy heading into his junior campaign, Naperville Central’s expectations are high.
“Czar’s healthy, looks good. So that’s a big plus for us because we didn’t know what his status would be for sure,” Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer said. “(His recovery) went well, he’s playing well, looks good. So that’ll be a huge plus for us getting him back.”
Noting that his young team, which featured sophomores Austin Pauga and Ryan Antony, struggled without the 6-foot-8, 220-pound Czarnowski last year, Kramer believes his team is in better shape to handle that possibility now after playing without him all summer.
The Redhawks’ supporting cast of Pauga and Antony, both juniors, and a pair of seniors in Mike Blaszceyk and Nick Lopez will be asked to make opponents pay for all the attention Czarnowski, who averaged highs in points (14.1) and rebounds (6.2), is sure to receive.
“(We have a) very similar (make-up to last year’s team),” Kramer said. “We’ve got four kids on the perimeter that can just flat-out shoot — Blaszceyk, Pauga, Antony and Lopez. All four of them started at different times throughout the year last year and all of them scored at different times throughout the year.
All four of them can be a threat from three-point range and they can all put in on the floor and make something happen, too.”
Pauga is the only other returnee who averaged double-digits in scoring (10.4), but Blaszceyk, Antony and Lopez all chipped in at least four points a game, with Blazceyk pacing the perimeter trio with a 6.3 point average.
Since current Northwestern senior forward Drew Crawford led the Redhawks to a record 27 wins and a regional title in 2008-09, Naperville Central has averaged just over 14 wins a season during the last three years following Crawford’s departure.
With staying healthy his team’s No. 1 priority and all the emphasis placed upon Czarnowski’s health, Kramer believes he has a crew assembled that could compete for the program’s first DuPage Valley Conference title since running the table with a 14-0 record behind Crawford in 2008-09.
With West Aurora returning four starters from its sectional-winning team and both Glenbard East and defending DVC champion Naperville North figuring to be in the conference mix, Naperville Central’s depth and the experience its three juniors gained a year ago could prove to be beneficial.
“I think we’ve got a bunch of kids that aren’t one-dimensional,” Kramer said. “They can do it at both ends. I think last year we had some kids who were just real good defenders but couldn’t bring it every night consistently on the offensive end. But right now, we have about seven kids that really just aren’t one-dimensional.
“They’re not afraid to defend and get after people. I think the key for us is just having enough patience to take the best shot we can get every time down the floor.”