By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
For several years, the Rockford Auburn Knights dominated the conference in boys’ basketball. Every game they played was an event, and they knew they would get their opponents’ best shot.
Last season, a young team had to bear the brunt of that dominance. Teams were still just as excited to play the Knights. But a young team that had some success was not always ready for those big moments.
This year, that young team has grown up. And now that the previous dominance is pretty far in the rear-view mirror, Auburn has been able to quietly go about their business this year. And their business is winning.
“Coming in as an underdog, they don’t see us as a big threat,” junior guard Laytwan Portersaid. “So, we just come into every game and play hard and try to come out on top.”
And the Knights have been coming out on top almost every night in the NIC-10 this year. They have topped defending champion Belvidere, outran city rival Rockford East, and out-executed early season favorite Rockton Hononegah.
The Knights now sit on top of the conference, a half game up on Boylan, which is the only team this season the Knights have not been able to beat.
They will get their chance later in the season, however. Feb. 28, at home, the Knights will host the Boylan Titans.
Auburn guard Laytwan Porter goes for a layup against Guilford. The junior scored 23 points against the Vikings in a 96-76 win. (Photo by Matt Nestor)
In the first meeting, things did not go well for Auburn. They shot poorly while often seeming disorganized on offense. And defensively, they did nothing to slow down the Boylan attack, despite causing double-digit turnovers.
“Defense,” junior forward Antoine Pittman said when asked what the Knights have changed since that game. “We’ve picked up our mistakes from the Boylan game, and got better.”
It starts with those two junior stars, both of whom are starting to get NCAA Division I interest. Porter and Pittman can both score at will. But they are surrounded by talented teammates, and they are starting to make a commitment to get them more involved.
There is senior guard Phil Trammell, the one player left who got significant minutes as a sophomore when Auburn went downstate. Or fellow senior forward Malik Minor, who is a threat inside and out.
There is also senior forward Cleveland Redd, who does a lot of the dirty work down low. And senior sharpshooter Zavious Hoover, who returned from an injury to hit five 3s and score 23 points in helping the Knights down Rockford Guilford.
“Coming off the bench, coming off his injury, it was a big stepping stone for him,” Porter said about the senior guard.
It is a lot of offensive talent that can often become too much for opponents to handle. Put that together with tough pressure defense, and it is easy to see why the Knights are on a roll.
And they will have to stay that way if they want to stay in the conference race. Both Auburn and Boylan have defeated Hononegah in the last week. Those wins, couple with a Boylan win over East, has really made this a two-team race. Belvidere is on the outskirts with three losses. But the two one-loss teams have a leg up.
And Boylan is really rolling right now. Brock Stull is on fire, having recently become the 15th Boylan player to surpass 1,000 points. Chase Ferger is picking up clutch baskets and playing great defense.Demry Croft is playing like a beast down low, and the Titans were able to win when he missed a game on a football recruiting trip.
All that is to say it does not look like Boylan will be slowing down anytime soon, and is likely to stay at one loss in the conference by the time they travel to Auburn to end the season. So, the Knights will have to do their best to keep pace.
And to do that, they have to continue to gel as a team. If they can stay multi-faceted and continue to play smothering defense, they will be right there at the end.
“We just have to play together as a team,” Porter said. “We have to make sure we are playing help side defense, taking charges, and working together as a team. We need great practices and a lot of intensity.”
Posted Feb. 5, 2014