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Libertyville-12/21/12, Fri./Libertyville High School #33 Sam Downey, of Lake Forest vs. #22 Jack Deichl, of Libertyville. | Joe Shuman~For Sun-Times Media

Since Phil LaScala took over as Lake Forest’s boys basketball coach in 2006, his teams have all had one thing in common.

Simply put, they’re extremely competitive year after year, in large part because of the emphasis that he and assistant coach Joe Harmsen — who played college basketball at Northwestern — place on fundamentals and scouting.

“Coach LaScala and coach Harmsen both put so much work into making sure we’re prepared for every opponent we play,” said 6-foot-9 center Sam Downey, who has verbally agreed to continue his basketball career at Yale after graduation. “They know every team’s tendencies, every team’s plays ... it’s such a huge help to have coaches who spend so much time on details that will help us prepare for our next opponent game after game.”

Fresh off an 18-win season that saw the Scouts capture a Class 4A regional title last spring, Lake Forest is once again proving that it will likely be a force as tournament time approaches in March.

As of Dec. 28, the Scouts were 9-2 overall, and still in the hunt in the North Suburban Conference’s ultra-competitive Lake Division — which has Zion-Benton, Stevenson, Mundelein and Warren all clawing at each another for the title.

There are several reasons why Lake Forest could wind up being the best of that bunch. In addition to Downey creating huge matchup problems for opponents, the Scouts have a 6-7 sophomore in Evan Boudreaux, who has already received Division I scholarship offers from both Northwestern and Boston College.

“When you have a 6-9 guy who’s gonna play Division I basketball, and another guy who’s probably gonna do the same thing, you should get good shots at the basket every night,” LaScala said with a laugh. “Otherwise I’m a terrible coach. That creates mismatches. When you have mismatches, you have double-teams. It allows our guys to get open shots.”

However, as far one of the Scouts’ opponents is concerned, it’s not just Downey and Boudreaux teams have to be worried about.

“Sure, they have Downey and Boudreaux, who are probably two of the most skilled players in our conference,” Libertyville senior forward Jack Deichl said. “But it’s not just those guys. They have three or four guards who are really big, too, which makes them almost impossible to penetrate in the lane. Lake Forest isn’t a whole lot of fun to play against.”

Just how good can this team be?

“We’ll see,” Downey said. “We just want to take it one game at a time right now and try to win our conference. But I think we have the potential to be the best team in Lake County. Whether or not we reach that potential is up to us. It’s a challenge I feel like we’re willing to meet.”

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