Taking a look at ETHS’ new basketball team

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Taking a look at ETHS’ new basketball team

Junior Blake Peters goes for a layup.

Junior Blake Peters goes for a layup.

Photo by Litzy Segura

Junior Blake Peters goes for a layup.

Photo by Litzy Segura

Photo by Litzy Segura

Junior Blake Peters goes for a layup.

Eli Cohen, Sports Editor

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ETHS’ boys basketball team made the trip to Peoria for the state semifinals the past two seasons. The undersized, junior-heavy Kits look to make it for a third consecutive year, but they will have many obstacles along the way.

The road down state will certainly be a long, grueling one for the Kits both physically and mentally. Evanston’s roster features 10 juniors, three seniors and one sophomore. Of the 14 members, 12 are guards. Despite these seemingly discouraging demographics  to many, the team has full confidence in their players, especially the returning juniors. 

“It’s definitely a new year, where we have a new makeup of players at the varsity level. We’ve lost some players that had a lot of experience in not just one year, but three years,” coach Mike Ellis said. “Fortunately, we also have some guys coming back that started their freshmen and sophomore years, so now we can lean on them for direction and guidance.”

The Kits will surely lean on junior returning starters Jaylin Gibson and Blake Peters, but they are far from Evanston’s only weapons. ETHS will also be relying more on Isaiah “Itchy” Holden, who was a role player for the second place Kits last year, has stepped up into the starting role this season.

In addition to Gibson, Holden and Peters, the Kits added two more exceptional juniors to the roster this season: Elijah Bull and Daeshawn Hemphill. Bull was a part of ETHS’ third place finish during the 2017-18 season as a freshman, but attended Niles North last year.

Hemphill was another transfer from a nearby rival; the 6’1” wing decided to leave Notre Dame for Evanston this season. Hemphill was the sixth man for the Dons last year and is now starting for the Kits.

Hemphill made his presence felt as he tallied 21 points in the championship of the annual St. Viator Thanksgiving tournament, helping Evanston go undefeated and take home the championship trophy in the four game round-robin.

The five guard lineup of Bull, Hemphill, Holden, Gibson and Peters possesses a tremendous amount of talent, but there is one glaring hole sitting in the middle of the defense: a center. Without a rim protector, the Kits will be faced with unfavorable matchups at times. 

While Gibson is a guard, he has grown accustomed to playing the forward position on defense— he was Evanston’s leading rebounder last year. For Hemphill and Peters, however, the switch to guard bigger offensive players will be a tall task. 

“We’re definitely going to have to work on our rebounding considering we have no size at all,” Peters explained. “But we pride ourselves on being able to get stops and forcing turnovers, so I think we’ll be fine.”

Another factor that has made the transition harder was the loss of 6’5” French phenom Louis Lesmond. Lesmond, who transferred to Notre Dame, was sidelined with an ankle injury for much of last year’s season. He never fully recovered but showed flashes of stardom in the State Championship game where he played solid defense on 6’7” forward EJ Liddell of Belleville West, who is now playing at Ohio State.

Lesmond has blossomed as a Don thus far, as he was named most valuable player in Notre Dame’s thanksgiving tournament, shooting the ball with confidence and slamming dunks on opponents. 

With the loss of Lesmond, as well as last year’s strong graduating class, there may be no way around the lack of size on the defensive end of the court, but the Kits hope to make up for this with their elite defense on the perimeter.

“Defense is probably where [our lack of size] is going to hurt us the most,” Ellis said. “We really have to be more resilient defensively.”

On the other side of the ball, the Kits’ pace and space offense lets them play to their advantages, despite their lack of size.

“We have to really spread the floor,” Ellis explained. “With all the guards we have, who are our better players skill-wise, we want to make sure we run an offense that will allow us to play multiple guards.”

Spacing the floor will give the Kits a lot of versatility on offense– if the defense fails to play tight coverage, there will be many open shots for Evanston’s strong shooters on the perimeter. If they go all out to stop the ball on the arc, it opens the lanes for the Kits to attack the basket.

On top of spreading the floor in their half-court set, pushing the tempo and running in transition will be vital for ETHS to maximize their offensive success. Even though Ellis acknowledged that the team isn’t as quick as a whole compared to last year’s, they are still considerably more athletic than the average team.

“Itchy [Holden] and Elijah [Bull] are two of the fastest guards out there and Jaylin [Gibson] as well, they do a great job of getting it up and down the court,” Peters said. “We’re definitely going to have to rely on getting it out quick. We’ve usually been pretty good at scoring before the defense gets set up, so I think if we’re able to force the tempo of the game, and not let the other team dictate what we do on offense, we should win a lot of games.”

As the season progresses, the Kits will face plenty of challenges with a tremendously tough schedule and an undersized roster. In years past, however, we’ve seen ETHS pull it off as underdogs. The Kits will face Glenbrook North today at 7 p.m. in Beardsley gym.