When the season started for the Evanston boys varsity basketball team, many expected a fast start out of Coach Bobby Locke’s men; they did start fast but were quickly slowed down by some familiar faces.
The first three games of the Lane Tech Tournament held two weeks ago turned out to be nothing compared to what the Kits would face in the last two games of that tournament.
The Kits quickly picked up a blowout win in their first game against Taft, winning 68-36 led by 23 points from sophomore Garrett Jones and 16 points from junior Ryan Frazier-Chambers.
The second game against Lane Tech, expected to be a blowout, became a surprisingly challenging match-up as the Kits made many self-induced errors such as missed free throws, missed lay-ups and numerous turnovers.
The Kits eventually pulled through 61-51 despite the mistakes. The third victory came against Oak Park in another tight battle with the Kits coming away with a 48-44 win, led again by Garrett Jones.
The next two games in the tournament fittingly came right after Thanksgiving – the Kits had their hopes of a perfect tournament record stuffed. First came Mt. Carmel, a team Evanston defeated twice last season, once in the same tournament and one more time in the super-sectionals sending Evanston downstate.
This time the Caravans came prepared as they beat the Kits 72-56 in a game where Evanston never got the deficit down to single digits in the second half. Led by sophomore guard Tracy Abrams who had 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals, the Caravans got their revenge in the round-robin play.
On Nov. 29, the Kits faced the team that beat them in the closing seconds of the state semi-finals last March. Zion-Benton came into the Lane Tech Tournament with a lot of talent and higher expectations than any other team.
Led by their utility-man guard Lenzelle Smith and Ronald Steward, each of whom had 14 points, the Zee Bees dominated in a 69-43 win.
Coach Locke knew his team struggled in their last two games but he is not giving up hope for the season.
“I still see a lot of potential in this team,” Locke said. “But the toughness you need to finish a game? We just don’t have that yet. Zion-Benton just outworked us, and that’s what’s tough to take. We had them on their heels and then we just stopped playing. That’s just a lack of maturity on our part.”
Evanston fans heard the names Frazier-Chambers and Jones plenty of times during the tournament, but there was a familiar face who was particularly quiet during the week, Eric Dortch.
Dortch was expected to be one of the players in a three-headed-monster coming into the season, but he is off to a slow start, averaging only 6 points per game in the tournament.
Coach Locke knows he will get more from his senior star. “Eric can do better,” said Locke. “He’s a senior and he’s a Division-I caliber player, and I expect better from him. We didn’t lose this tournament because of him, and I’m not going to give up on him. I trust him as a player.”
After the Lane Tech Tournament, the Kits got a little breath of fresh air when they faced a “revamped” Maine East team in a cross-over Central Suburban League match.
Evanston knew Maine East would have some new found confidence after winning their first regional playoff title in 36 years last season. Despite the hype around the Demons and their new team, the Kits went into their house and won 64-56 bringing Evanston’s overall record to 4-2 so far in this long season.
The next task for the Kits will be conference play, starting with Maine South. The Hawks have a 4-0 record but the Kits know this is not football, where Maine South dominates, but basketball where Evanston usually dominates. After that, they face off in an early but huge match-up Friday night against those pesky New Trier Trevians in their first of two matches at Welsh-Ryan Arena on the Northwestern campus, a neutral site but still in Evanston territory.
If there were ever a time for Coach Locke’s team to begin showing how serious they are about another playoff push like last season, beating the Trevians would certainly be a good start.