By Mike Ellis
The 2016-17 Hinsdale Central boys basketball season is underway, and although some faces have changed, the system developed by head coach Nick Latorre is continuing intact.
Since arriving at Central in 2011 after previously coaching at Driscoll Catholic, Latorre has coached some standout athletes that have continued their playing careers in college, and more importantly, instilled a competitive culture rooted in "discipline, unselfishness and toughness."
"I think that our guys have bought into a style that we need to play," Latorre said, adding that thus far this season, his team has demonstrated a strong work ethic in practice. "We need to practice really hard; we need to play really hard; we need to execute."
When Hinsdale Magazine attended a tryout at Central last month, we observed exhausting drills designed to build up athletes' endurance and conditioning for the upcoming season.
"Our goal every year is to play up to our capabilities," Latorre said. "We don't really have expectations as far as wins and losses."
Returning regulars from last year's squad include senior guards Jack Hoiberg, Chris Eck and Tomas Misiunas, as well as junior guard Trevor Hamilton. Because the Red Devils graduated an extremely talented, experienced class of seniors in 2015, a number of younger players like the aforementioned student-athletes received the opportunity to acquire some valuable playing time last season.
Hoiberg, the son of Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, transferred from an Iowa high school last year, and began to grow more comfortable within the Hinsdale system at the end of the season. His disciplined brand of basketball is complemented by teammates like Eck and Misiunas, who play with boundless energy.
Latorre said he is also expecting contributions from seniors Danny Ahern, Anthony Brescia and Nate McGowan, as well as from sophomore guard Matt Rush, whose sister Gabrielle currently plays at Princeton, and is the most prolific scorer in the history of the Central girls program.
"I think Matt Rush will play a significant role," he said.
Senior guard Michael Yaeger is currently suffering from an injury, but Latorre said the team hopes he will return by the end of the regular season.
The Red Devils' season commenced at the end of last month at the "Hoops for Healing" tournament at Naperville North and Oswego High Schools.
This is the second consecutive year Central has competed in this tournament, and Latorre said his team was looking forward to the opportunity to assess its level against schools like Naperville North, which began the season ranked among the top 20 teams in the state.
"We're just kind of hoping to see where we're at," he said. "It's going to be a good measuring stick. ... It'll be a good opportunity to play against somebody else."
After three games that include a collision on the road with archrival Lyons Township, the Red Devils will compete at the second annual Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic from Dec. 27 to 30.
In last year's tournament, Hinsdale developed as a team, gaining valuable experience for the conference season by competing in multiple overtime games against quality opponents.
This year, Hinsdale Central will welcome schools from across the Chicagoland area, including Homewood-Flossmoor and Marian Catholic from the south suburbs, Maine South and Stevenson from the northern suburbs, and Lincoln Park and Westinghouse from the City of Chicago.
Latorre complimented athletic director Dan Jones and acclaimed tournament director Joe Spagnolo for their work on developing the tournament, and said he hopes the holiday classic will continue to grow as the community becomes more acquainted with it.
"We've added a few new teams this year, and I expect it will be a little bit better this year," he said. ... "It's great for our program, it's great for our kids; and I think it can be a long holiday tradition."
After the holiday classic wraps up, the Red Devils will dive into the bulk of their West Suburban Silver schedule in the new year.
"Our conference is loaded; our conference is really good," Latorre said, adding that he anticipates LT, Downers Grove North, Oak Park-River Forest and York will present the stiffest challenges this year.
He said in conference play, "every night is a dogfight," as the league is filled with "a lot of great teams and a lot of great coaches."
"There's no gimmes on our schedule--inside or outside of our conference."
You can watch the Hinsdale Central Red Devils in action at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic from Dec. 27 to 30 in the school gymnasium. The Red Devils will also host six consecutive home games between Jan. 20 and Feb. 4, including a rematch with Lyons Township on Feb. 3 at 7:30 p.m. Postseason play begins on Feb. 27. To view a full schedule and team roster, visit www.hcbasketball.com.