By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
Two things are certain as the NIC-10 gets ready to start another season of boys’ basketball.
One is that the Rockford Auburn Knights are the clear favorite to repeat as the conference champions. The second is that anyone else could finish in second.
A combination of graduations, coaching changes, and returning experience has left the predicted conference standings anyone’s best guess this season.
“The other nine teams are probably going to beat each other up,” Rockford Jefferson Head Coach Todd Brannan said.
Things in the NIC-10 start and end with the Auburn Knights. After going 16-0 in the conference last season, the team will be led by returning all-state point guard Fred Van Vleet, as well as rising seniors LaMark Foote and Javauntae Hicks.
“We need to get more offense out of Javauntae, and to his credit, he’s worked very hard at it,” Auburn Head Coach Bryan Ott said. “Everybody is coming for us, and anybody can get anyone on any given night.”
Many are looking to Rockford East as a primary challenger to the Knights. The E-Rabs are returning the most talent out of all the teams with all-conference star Alonte Holliday being the only missing piece.
Javon Henderson, Steve McNease, Darshawn Pumphrey-King, C’Vontez Johnson and Andrew Lantz lead a strong core from a regional championship team.
“East is coming off a sectional championship appearance,” Ott said of the E-Rabs. “They have almost everyone back, and they are certainly looking to try to contend for a conference championship.”
After the E-Rabs, things are less certain. Most expect Rockton Hononegah to be good, but they only return one starter, though it happens to be all-conference point guard Carlos Hendrix.
Boylan will have some growing pains between working in players from their state champion football team and getting used to a new coach in Mike Winters.
Things could look very different for the Titans. Between a new coach and most of their scoring being lost to graduation, Boylan will look to hang their hat on their defense.
Machesney Park Harlem returns arguably the best player in the conference after Van Vleet. Michael Proscia is a high-scoring guard who will get his points, but height could be an issue for the Huskies.
A sleeper in the conference could be Freeport. They return all their starters, but most importantly they return Luke Norman and Quavion Scott, one of the best inside-out combinations in the conference.
Another good combo is at Jefferson, where the young J-Hawks will be led by seniors LT Davis and Jared Mayes.
“Jared is our best player, and still, he might be our most improved player,” Brannan said. “He doesn’t just play hard when he has the ball, but he does all the little things that help the team win.”
Rockford Guilford has a lot of quickness and shooters, while Belvidere North has a lot of experience despite not returning any starters. The Belvidere Bucs will also surprise a lot of teams as a deeply experienced and talented team returns, as shown by their 4-0 start to the season in a non-conference tournament.
From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2011, issue