By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The opening weekend of the conference season is the first chance for NIC-10 basketball teams to make a statement about what they will be for the season.
This year was no different. While there were some things that were confirmed about certain teams, several teams made big statements with their first impressions.
Freeport was one of the first teams to make a statement. The Pretzels struggled through much of last season, mixing in a lot of newcomers.
Those struggles, however, mean there is a lot of experience on this year’s team. But to open the season, rising junior Quavion Scott was missing.
That did not matter on opening night, as a great first half and clutch free-throws helped the Pretzels hang on for a 60-55 win on the road to open the conference season at Rockford Guilford.
“They came together,” Freeport Head Coach Jeff Zick said about the Pretzels’ injuries. “They all banded together, and it’s really nice to see. They played their hearts out, and they deserved to win.”
The reason Freeport was able to play so well was largely because of senior point guard Luke Norman. One of the top guards in the conference for several years now, Norman looks to be much more under control and is making great decisions at the point.
“That’s something that he always does,” Zick said. “He’s so great with the ball and he makes the best decisions with the ball, I’ve ever seen.”
The Pretzels also got late free-throws from freshman Giovanni Offard to help ice the game. Offard also had a nice reverse layup late in the game, and could be a key cog off the bench when Scott returns.
“He had a tough miss late in the sophomore game, and that can be tough on any high school kid, especially a freshman,” Zick said. “But he stepped up and hit some big free throws at the end, and that’s a big deal for a freshman.”
The biggest statement of any team on the weekend was made by Machesney Park Harlem. The Huskies went 1-1 when most expected them to be 0-2 after the weekend.
It started with a tough loss at Rockford East. Many expect the E-Rabs to challenge Rockford Auburn for a conference crown, but Harlem led by 4 entering the fourth quarter, before falling to East late in the game.
Things were no easier the next night as Boylan, fresh off an opening-night win at Rockton Hononegah, was waiting for Harlem. But the Huskies used some great shooting and full-court pressure to knock off Boylan in dominating fashion, 72-54.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you start off with two of the top three or four teams in the conference,” Harlem Head Coach Chad Barger said of his team’s opening schedule.
Also making a statement for Harlem was Michael Proscia, their prolific scoring senior guard. Fred Van Vleet of Auburn is the favorite for conference MVP coming in, but scoring 20 against East and 22 against Boylan gets Proscia off to a good start in his own MVP campaign.
“Mike is playing well for us,” Barger said. “He’s aggressive at both ends of the floor.”
In other NIC-10 action:
• Auburn got off to a 2-0 start with Van Vleet leading the way. The Knights opened the season with a 73-51 victory over Belvidere on opening night, and followed that up with a 65-48 win over the Pretzels.
• East is keeping pace with their own 2-0 start. After rallying to top Harlem, the E-Rabs topped Guilford 69-61 on the road.
• Hononegah had a rough shooting night against Boylan in a loss, but their defense was strong both nights, especially in a 57-41 win over Belvidere North.
• The Rockford Jefferson J-Hawks fought down the stretch of their first conference game to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat North 72-70. But on the second night, they were surprised by Belvidere, a potential dark horse for a top-half conference finish, with the Bucs winning 53-45.
From the Dec. 7-13, 2011, issue