Zach Vaia and Andrew Veon were not about to have their final summer campaigns ruined by an early exit at the famed Morris Shootout.
The prestigious, two-day 32-team tournament marked the conclusion of the boys basketball offseason for Riverside-Brookfield on June 27 and 28.
Knocked into the consolation bracket of the White Division on Thursday with a gut-wrenching 62-60 overtime loss to Ottawa, Vaia and Veon continued their exemplary play from last winter for R-B.
“Zach and Andrew were both all [Metro Suburban]-Conference players last year,” R-B coach Mike Reingruber said. “Zach was the conference player of the year. We expect a lot out of them.”
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, second-day play was double-elimination.
R-B suffered seven-point losses to both Alton and Joliet Central during pool play on Wednesday before responding with a one-sided win over South Elgin to conclude the round-robin competition.
After surviving a frantic Sycamore challenge in the consolation semifinals—the Bulldogs nearly blew a 17-point lead before holding off the Spartans 51-50—downstate Washington awaited in the finals.
The Bulldogs polished off Washington 51-41 in the consolation final to end their summer season with a 27-16 record.
Veon, a 6-foot-5 rising senior, was the unmistakable difference-maker in the first of two 20-minute running-clock halves.
The forward scored 12 of his game-high 16 points during the span.
But—even more revealing—Veon scored all but two of his 12 first-half points on putbacks.
Veon had nine of his game-best 13 rebounds in the first half as well.
“We always work on boards in practice,” Veon said. “It’s always a big thing with what we want to do in dominating the boards.”
“Andrew has done a phenomenal job on the glass all summer,” Reingruber said. “He plays with a high motor.”
Vaia was in agreement with Reingruber on the critical role Veon performs for the Bulldogs.
“He’s done that for us in every single game this summer,” Vaia said of his fellow senior. “We need that out of him. We’re losing a lot of size from last year, so he’s big on the boards.”
After a sluggish offensive start against Washington, Vaia let his outside game and court awareness play the decisive role in the Bulldogs’ 10-point victory.
Vaia scored 12 of his 14 points on four 3-pointers while also setting up teammates with five assists as R-B never trailed after taking a 26-22 lead into halftime.
“I didn’t really work on my perimeter shooting until I started in high school,” Vaia said. “Ever since then I have really been working on that. When I get it going from the perimeter, It just comes naturally.”
“Zach is our point guard, shoots it well and gets us started offensively,” Reingruber said.
The chemistry between Veon and Vaia was easy to decipher.
“Zach and I have been playing together since we were little,” Veon said. “We’re on the same AAU team [Westmont-based Breakaway Basketball].”
In the Bulldogs’ razor-thin win over Sycamore, the Bulldogs’ Reggie Loury made indispensable contributions from his 6-3 guard slot.
“When Reggie plays with energy, he’s really good,” Reingruber said. “We expect a lot of him for this [coming] year.”