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Lemont players celebrate a big win against Hillcrest in February. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Three-Pointer
Despite a 25-3 record, Lemont flew under the radar last season until a late February win over Hillcrest gave them a piece of the South Suburban Blue title. This year, it’s making noise early.
Although Lemont doesn’t have a marquee win on the résumé in its 7-0 start, this is a team that returned four key players, including three starters, from that confidence-building season of a year ago. Plus, talented Oak Lawn transfer Martynas Einikis is an added weapon.
Most importantly, coach Rick Runaas has the comforting element of having catalyst Juozas Balciunas back. Balciunas, a 6-0 point guard and returning player of the year in the conference, is one of the most unheralded players in the Chicago area. He can score, distribute and lead.
And this season’s date with Hillcrest? It lands on Feb. 22 in the regular-season finale in Country Club Hills.
At what point does the discussion start about this being the best Marian Catholic team in school history? How about now.
The Spartans had a 20-win season in 1993. There was the 22-win campaign and regional title team in 2006. There was … well, that’s about it.
In the last 50 years of Marian Catholic basketball, there have been a total of two 20-win seasons and three regional championships. Behind a terrific junior class, led by dynamic point guard Tyler Ulis, the Spartans are off to an impressive 7-1 start.
The chase to 20 wins, however, won’t be easy. The Spartans play a pair of unbeaten teams in nonconference play next week in Homewood-Flossmoor and Lemont. They then head to the McDipper Holiday Tournament in late December before getting into the heart of the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference play.
Inflated expectations at an early age can derail any young prospect. Yet it’s difficult to ignore three players in the Class of 2015 that have separated themselves from the rest of the pack as they start their sophomore seasons.
While the sophomore class is still developing, Simeon’s versatile 6-foot-7 D.J. Williams, St. Rita’s 6-4 combo guard Charles Matthews and Stevenson’s 6-1 point guard Jalen Brunson are at another level as prospects in comparison to their Class of 2015 peers.