MORRIS – A Southwest Prairie Conference championship, a regional title for the first time since 1977 and an impressive 23-9 record.
The 2015-16 season was a special one for the Minooka basketball program. The Indians ended their tournament preparation for next season at last week’s Morris Boys Shootout with expectations of more good times to come.
“We definitely expect to continue the success we had,’’ Minooka coach Scott Tanaka said between games at the 32-team event. “We’ve won 15 or more games for five straight years. Our kids have done a great job of building a winning tradition at Minooka.
“We are very excited about not only our freshmen class, our sophomore class, but also the varsity guys we have coming back.’’
Jon Butler and Keegan Graebner started for the team that advanced to the Class 4A Lockport Sectional semifinals before losing to Oswego. The other three starters were seniors, including Jon’s brother, Joe, who is moving on to Illinois State on a baseball scholarship.
“We’re missing a lot of pieces, but we have good guys coming back,’’ Graebner said. “I think we can do something special this season as well.’’
Preparation began this summer. Minooka also participated in shootouts at Joliet West and Oswego East, and played Monday nights at Joliet Central against several different teams.
Minooka was winless in five games at the Morris Shootout, but the Indians struggled to win last summer and still had an historic winter.
“We’ve had some kids injured this summer that has hurt some of our growth in regards to our varsity team,’’ Tanaka said. “But with the summer leagues we’ve been at, we’ve been able to get a lot of young guys some significant varsity experience, where they’re going to benefit from it in the future.’’
Graebner and his twin brother, Kyle, missed the summer high school season after a golf cart accident over the Memorial Day weekend. Bruised ribs and a sore knee sidelined Keegan, while Kyle suffered a broken finger and a back injury that kept him off the court. Early morning sessions of physical therapy have kept the two juniors busy, but watching their teammates play isn’t easy.
“It only makes you want to play more,’’ Kyle Graebner said. “I see little stuff I can fix in my game.’’
Other players Tanaka expects to be big contributors include guard Antonio Milazzo, forward Adrian Paige and sophomore Adrian Gutierrez, a burly, 6-foot-5 transfer from Providence who played on the Celtics’ sophomore team as a freshman.
“We have a whole group of sophomores who have done a great job for us this summer,’’ Tanaka said. “They might not be with us during the varsity campaign, but they’re a huge part of our future. They’ve done a great job of being committed and dedicated the entire summer.’’
Tanaka called the Graebners the ‘’two most important guards’’ on the team. As such, they’ll play a big role in the Indians’ success.
“I don’t think anybody is going to predict us to win as many games, to get over 20,’’ Keegan Graebner said. “But I still have the same expectations as last year. You do as well as you can.’’
“I think a lot of people will count us out this year,’’ Kyle Graebner said. “But we have a new addition, Adrian Gutierrez, who will help us out a lot. Jon [Butler] is returning and Keegan with his varsity experience. We’ll be all right.’’
Jon Butler, an all-conference selection last season as a junior, knows one path to success.
“Defensively, because that was our main thing last year,’’ Butler said. “Everyone new comes in and works, we can play the same defense we did last year.’’
Tanaka realizes the 2016-17 Indians may not impress some observers.