By: Luke Drase
Last season, Niles North were just three minutes away from winning their fourth regional title since 2011.
Unfortunately for the Vikings and their coach Glenn Olson, the end of the game did not follow the script, and Niles North were heading home without a regional title for a fourth straight season.
Niles North finished with a respectable 21-9 record and a second place finish in the CSL South, but the end of last year left the Vikings wanting more.
“We’re hungry, I think we know what we squandered,” said Olson. “The desire is to get back and to compete for another regional. At the same time I think we need to understand that saying it and acknowledging it is different than doing it. So we need to get a little better at doing that and committing to everything we do and become more determined in my opinion.”
Despite the disappointing loss, Niles North returns every main contributor from last years team, including their top three scorers in Damaria Franklin, Jamal Stephenson, and Dravon Clayborn.
Olson said: “The experience helps, and this is kind of their last crack at it. All the other great players in this program have postseason hardware. Those guys want to be along with the (Abdel) Nader’s, the (Malachi) Nix’s, the (BJ) Beckford’s, and in order to do that they have to do something in March.”
Believe it or not, coach Olson will already be entering his ninth season as the head coach of the Vikings, and although Niles North has been ranked in the top-20 at the end of the season on three separate occurrences, the 2017-18 Vikings have garnered preseason media hype that they don’t normally see.
While the primary reason for the high expectations is understandably due to the senior trio of Franklin, Stephenson and Clayborn, there is a plethora of young talent that cannot be ignored.
Olson said: “Jalen (Butler) is a great player, he’s athletic and strong and we want him to develop into a perimeter player. With (sophomore) Aquan (Smart) we need him to make a big jump this year. He was great last year with the varsity but we need consistent production, and Miles (Davis) has got to be a guy who comes in a changes the game with defensive pressure for us.”
The 6’5″ Butler is one of the best young talents in the area and may be the most varsity ready freshman Olson has had at Niles North. A program which saw players like Nix and Crishawn Cook earn minutes as freshman.
“I love him, he shows up everyday, he’s in every morning to get extra shots up and he’s just the kind of guy you love to coach,” said Olson. “Some of the other guys we brought up as freshman were good, but haven’t had the success that Jalen had at the lower levels. With his size and athleticism, he’s the most varsity ready of all the other freshman.”
Even with the pieces in place, Niles North still must navigate through the extremely tough CSL south, and an always tricky north suburban sectional if they intend to win their first piece of hardware since 2013.
“Our conference is nuts. To even talk about winning conference is crazy,” said Olson.
“The CSL south has had some great years but this year will be up there. Maine South and New Trier brought just about everybody back, Glenbrook South was young, Evanston lost a bunch but, one they’re Evanston, and two they have three Sophomore guards who were a handful.”
With such a tough conference slate, it looks as though CSL South is completely up for grabs, with Olson and another coach believing the conference could easily be won with a 7-3 or 6-4 record.
Even though preseason outlooks are mostly just educated guesswork, there is one thing you can always count on when it comes to Niles North basketball, speed.
The Vikings’ uptempo offense combined with their high pressure, full court man to man defense is something to behold, and has given opposing teams fits for nearly a decade.
Even just one practice into a brand new season, the Vikings don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
“With us it’s going to be about playing with tempo like we always do. Sharing the basketball, taking great shots and playing better situational basketball,” said Olson.
“Defensively, it’s going to come down to finishing possessions and committing to great ball pressure. If we do that, we’ll be a tough out. I’m not saying we’re better than anybody, but we won’t just be walked over.
The Vikings tip off their season on November 20th against Urban Prep in the Lane Tech Thanksgiving Tournament.