RIVERSIDE – There’s no question the Riverside Brookfield boys basketball team lost a lot at graduation this year, but the Bulldogs have plenty of new faces to fill in.
With the summer season behind RB, coach Tom McCloskey was able to reflect on what he saw from the mostly young group he played with in summer action.
“I thought we had a really good summer,” McCloskey said. “The guys that were there all the time, a lot of them didn’t have varsity experience so it’s always nice to play a hectic, busy schedule in the summer time to get them prepared for the regular season.”
RB played a number of top teams while hosting its summer league that included strong programs like Simeon, Whitney Young, Morton Park, Proviso East, New Trier, Glenbard East, Homewood Flossmoor and West Aurora. The tough schedule tested a young group, but McCloskey wasn’t about to shy away from teams when the results don’t matter.
“Summer time you play everybody,” the coach said. “Everybody that comes sees playing time. It’s just experience to see your team grow and put in against top competition.”
Returning starter Jack VandeMerkt showed he could be the go-to guy in the winter. The senior forward has shooting range and size and already is looking better than he did during his junior season.
“He has really put a lot of time into basketball and it’s paid off for him,” McCloskey said. “It’s nice that he’s a very versatile player. He can shoot from the outside. He can post up. He’s 6-foot-7 with long arms. He had a lot of very impressive dunks this summer, and he was a very good rebounder.”
In addition to VandeMerkt, 6-5 junior Sam Johnson, 6-6 sophomore Mark Smith and 6-4 junior Paul Sitkiewicz will provide plenty of height for the Bulldogs. McCloskey said the big lineup took some time to jell, but having that much height does give them some other options to work with.
In the backcourt, junior Ryan Hanley and sophomore point guard Daniko Jackson showed improvement and figure to be in the rotation during the season. Jackson, who played on the freshman team last year, stepped into the starting role during the summer and was McCloskey’s biggest surprise.
“We didn’t know how much he would play this summer with the varsity,” McCloskey said of Jackson. “He played in the beginning and did a great job. He really established himself as our point guard this summer. He really passed the ball well.”