Between them Micquel Roseman and Elyjah Williams started 26 games for Evanston’s basketball team and helped the Wildkits win the Central Suburban League South division championship last year.
But in the competitive cauldron that has become Evanston basketball since head coach Mike Ellis took over the program, no one’s starting job is safe on a week-to-week – sometimes day-to-day – basis, and both Roseman and Williams saw their playing time dwindle in the last month of the 2014-15 season.
Based on their play this summer, the pair is determined not to let that happen again. They rank among the squad’s most improved players leading up to the climax of the summer cage season this weekend when the Wildkits placed second in the 32-team Justin Sharp Shootout tournament at Rock Island.
Iowa City West ran away from the Kits in the tourney finale Saturday night for a 72-56 triumph as the Iowa power ruled the shootout for the third time in the past four years. The winners scored 28 transition points to end a strong run by ETHS in four previous tournament games that featured wins over Davenport West of Iowa (49-28), East Moline (47-43), Pleasant Valley of Iowa (53-46) and Sun Prairie of Wisconsin (49-48 in two overtimes).
Both Roseman and Williams stepped up as leaders for a team that has been minus two returning starters all summer. Leading scorer Nojel Eastern will get the walking boot removed from his foot in two weeks after suffering a broken bone in his left foot, and forward Dylan Mulvihill is focusing on his baseball activities after missing much of the spring season with elbow tenderness.
ETHS has still thrived in June, although Saturday’s performance actually accounted for their best overall finish in any shootout. Earlier the Kits participated in shootouts at Riverside-Brookfield High School and Ohio State University, both times losing to the eventual tournament champs in pool play. They also traveled to Michigan State University.
Ellis has brought a different roster of players to every shootout, partly by design and partly due to the absences of Eastern and Mulvihill. Three incoming freshmen – Lance Jones, Ryan Bost and Jaheim Holden – made the trip to Rock Island.
But it’s the play of upperclassmen like Roseman, Williams and guard Chris Hamil that has caught the eye of Coach Ellis.
“We’ve played some good games this summer, but we’ve had some dud games, too,” the Coach said. “I think it’s been good to see the lessons some of these guys have learned with Nojel out. I believe competition motivates people to get better, and there’s always someone waiting in the wings for an opportunity here.
“Chris Hamil has stepped up his game and now we have another legitimate scoring threat. Elyjah is such a positive kid and he’s a grinder who makes energy plays for us. Now he’s starting to make more plays for us and he’s stretched his shooting range almost out to 3-point range. We’re really looking for him to have a good year.
“As far as Micquel goes, there are three things at work, I think. No. 1 is that a lot of times what you’re doing is a lot more important your senior year. No. 2, with Nojel out that gives him a chance to handle the ball more (as a point guard) and get more involved. And No. 3, he’s more aggressive, and that’s important because he’s at his best when he’s more aggressive. His strength is getting to the basket, and now he’s playing to his strength, and with that his confidence has improved.”
Roseman didn’t play a single minute in Evanston’s season-ending loss to Lake Forest in the Class 4A Waukegan Sectional semifinals and Williams didn’t contribute a single rebound or point in 10 minutes of action in that game.
Now they’re hoping they’ve turned things around.
“I feel like I’ve become a better leader this year,” said Roseman, whose strong second half performances were critical in Saturday’s quarterfinal and semifinal shootout wins. “What happened last year motivated me to attack more and to work on my game more, and be a leader. I’m kinda laid-back, but now in the huddles I’m talking more to my teammates when they seem like they’re down, and I’m trying to help teach the freshmen some of the plays so we can come together better as a team.
“I know that without Nojel here I have to pick up my game and contribute more. This is a fast team, so I try to pick up the tempo whenever I can.”
Evanston needed 10 second-half points from Roseman – he finished with 11 – to pull away from Pleasant Valley in the quarterfinals Saturday at Rock Island. The Wildkits sealed the win by sinking 9 of 12 free throw attempts in the final 3 minutes, 30 seconds in a game that featured a combined 57 free throw attempts. Hamil led the winners with 15 points.
Roseman took center stage in the overtime triumph over Sun Prairie hours later. ETHS trailed by 10 points in the second half, but pulled even on Hamil’s cold-blooded 3-point basket off the dribble with 15 seconds remaining in regulation. A Roseman steal in the final seconds prevented the Wisconsin team from getting off a last-second shot.
The senior guard scored Evanston’s only two points in the first overtime on a pair of free throws. In the second OT, with shootout rules making it sudden death with the first team to score advancing, guard Tre Marshall forced a jump that gave the Kits possession.
Roseman was subsequently fouled 20 feet from the basket and drilled the game-winning free throw to finish with 7 points. Hamil tossed in 14 and Marshall netted 9 for Evanston, which trailed 26-19 at halftime.
Williams, meanwhile, was plagued by foul trouble in Saturday’s first two games but did manage 8 points and 9 rebounds in the championship game loss. Hamil led the way with 13 points and Roseman contributed 9.
The 6-foot-4 Williams is a leading candidate to replace graduated post player Elijah Henry up front this winter if Ellis opts for two “bigs” in the starting lineup like he did over the second half of last season.
“It was really hard for me to sit on the sidelines in the (state) playoffs, and I know it was for Micquel, too,” recalled Williams. “I want to show the coach that he can trust that I’ll make big plays when we need it now. I’ve mostly worked on improving my defense and my ballhandling ability, because I want to be the type of point forward who can get a rebound and push it in transition myself.
“I do think I’ve improved this summer, although I’m shooting worse, I think. I really think everyone has improved this summer. We know we have to step up in our roles and play our best and help out until Nojel comes back, but that’s why we’re such a dangerous team, because everything isn’t based off of just one scorer like Nojel. It’s not about one person, it’s about playing team ball and hitting the open man no matter who it is.
“It’s really a lot of fun when everyone plays their role like we have been.”