Chicago is renowned as one of the biggest basketball cities in the nation, but after years of consistent success, ETHS has established itself as a suburban powerhouse. This year’s guard-heavy team hopes to continue the success of past seasons despite lacking a looming presence in the lane.
“We miss Matt Hall’s size and presence inside. That’s been pretty noticeable out of the gate,” coach Mike Ellis said. “This year we’re a little bit smaller, but we’re more athletic, and faster.”
Due to the graduation of Hall, the 6’8” center, Evanston’s starting lineup consists of five guards, none of whom are taller than 6’3”. As a result, the Kits spread the floor to rely on their shooting, quickness and finishing at the rim.
In an attempt to play to the team’s strengths, a few players have needed to change their playing style to fit the new scheme.
“It allows us the opportunity to exploit more mismatches,” Ellis said. “When we have players on the court who can do multiple things, it allows us to be more flexible and dynamic.”
Most notable of those who changed their style completely is sophomore Jaylin Gibson. Gibson plays the guard position for his AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) team, but shifted to the post for the Kits. Gibson tallied a career high 17 points and 11 rebounds in the Thanksgiving tournament championship win against St. Viator.
“I had to get used to not playing with the ball in my hands,” Gibson said. “At first, I didn’t [feel comfortable], but now I’m used to it, and my main job is to get the most rebounds on the team.”
Playing ‘small-ball’ is considered a weakness by some, but with three star senior guards in Ryan Bost, Jaheim Holden and Lance Jones, the Kits are just playing to their strengths.
The trio of seniors have played a crucial role in Evanston’s success for the last two seasons. Both of those seasons ended in a defeat to Whitney Young, a CPS magnet school. These consecutive losses at the hands of the Dolphins, losing in the Super-Sectionals and the Final Four, made the Wildkits even hungrier to win a state championship.
“We’re more together than we were last year,” Holden said. “The type of loss we took downstate gave us more of a drive.”
ETHS lost to Whitney Young narrowly, but in the trio’s last ride, they hope the tables will turn. While Wildkit fans hope to see Evanston defeat the Dolphins at some point this year, the long regular season is far from over, and the Kits will just take it game by game.
“If we have to run across Whitney Young again, we’ll be ready for them this time,” Holden explained. “But we’re not aiming for any specific team, whoever gets in our way is who we have to deal with.”
Playoffs are always considered the importance of sports, but before that enters the Kits’ minds, they face a tedious winter break schedule, playing in multiple tournaments, even traveling to Kentucky to show their talents to college scouts.