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Huntley's Amanze Egekeze lifts a shot during a game last February. Egekeze was cleared Monday for full particpation after sitting out the first 13 games of the season while recovering from knee surgery. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media
Huntley is heating up just in time for the return of its best player.
The Red Raiders got the news they’ve been waiting for all season Monday afternoon when junior standout Amanze Egekeze was cleared by doctors to begin fully participating in practices and games.
Egekeze has been sidelined since the start of the season after undergoing surgery for right knee tendinitis in September. The 6-foot-7 forward returned to practice on a limited basis last week and will now ease into Huntley’s rotation, perhaps as soon as Tuesday’s game against Crystal Lake South.
“Amanze will probably get a couple minutes a quarter for the next week or so,” Huntley coach Marty Manning said. “I don’t think he’s going to be a huge help to us for the next few weeks, but in about a month when he’s closer to 100 percent he’ll definitely help us.”
The timing of Egekeze’s return couldn’t be much better as the Red Raiders are on a four-game winning streak after defeating McHenry 45-41 on Saturday.
Huntley (8-5) found itself in rare territory when it dipped one game below the .500 mark following a loss against North Lawndale in the first round of the State Farm Classic in Bloomington last month. The losing record didn’t last for long, though, as the Raiders ripped off three wins in two days to claim the tournament’s consolation title.
Now Huntley welcomes back Egekeze, who averaged a team-best 11.7 points as a sophomore to go along with 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. When fully healthy, the Division-I prospect brings a dominant post presence to a lineup that already includes four-year varsity guard Bryce Only.
The Red Raiders are the two-time defending Fox Valley Conference Valley Division champions and own a 22-game winning streak in league games. With the conference schedule about to heat up, Manning can’t complain about his team’s trajectory.
“I feel like we definitely made some progress down in Bloomington,” Manning said. “Our team is making some strides and creating an identity for itself.”
St. Charles East soldiering ahead without Stephens
St. Charles East coach Pat Woods isn’t completely ruling out the possibility senior star Kendall Stephens will play again this season, but the chances certainly appear slim.
Stephens announced Monday via Twitter that he plans to have surgery to repair the torn labrum in his right shoulder Jan. 22. The Purdue recruit went on to Tweet: “Next Time I Wear A Jersey It’ll Be Gold & Black!!”
The shoulder injury occurred during preseason practice in November, but Stephens decided he’d forego surgery and the six-month recovery period that comes with it until after his senior season. Those plans took a literal hit when the 6-5 forward aggravated the injury on a collision during his team’s second-round game at the Proviso West Tournament on Dec. 27.
“I know (Stephens) has the (surgery) date set, and sure, it’s a really good chance he’ll go through with it, but you never know,” Woods said. “(The shoulder) has been bothering him more than it was before. I don’t know if it’s the way he got hit or the way it settled, but he’s definitely not been able to move it like he was before.”
Stephens was averaging 19.1 points this season, and the loss of a four-year varsity starter certainly is a big blow to the Saints. But Woods isn’t ready to write off the rest of the season.
Junior point guard Dom Adduci headlines what was a young and talented supporting cast around Stephens. Now players like juniors A.J. Washington and Dave Mason and sophomore Cole Gentry will step into bigger roles.
With Stephens watching in street clothes, St. Charles East (10-4) defeated a formidable Glenbard East team in its third game at Proviso West. The Saints are in a three-way tie for first in the Upstate Eight River, and Woods thinks they will still be able to hold their own.
“We have a lot of different people that can do good things,” Woods said. “Kendall is obviously a phenomenal player to have on the court, but we have some other people that can step up, maybe not quite in the same way, but in a way that is going to keep us competitive with anyone.”
Red-hot Royals look to continue winning ways
Larkin (14-2) puts its nine-game winning streak on the line when it hosts St. Charles East in an Upstate Eight River showdown Thursday night.
The contest marks the first action for the Royals since they claimed their first-ever Elgin Tournament championship Dec. 29. Larkin is ranked No. 20 in this week’s Sun-Times Super 25.
“The good thing is winning or losing, we’ve learned from every game this year,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “That’s huge because you have 26 or 27 dress rehearsals before the games in the regional when winning and losing is the only thing that matters.
“Our guys have really taken that approach of trying to be better one possession at a time, one game at a time. I know it’s a cliche, but that’s why they’ve been able to do some of the things they’ve been doing.”
The Royals won the Elgin Tournament despite being without sophomore starting center Daniel McFadden all four games as he served a suspension. Carter said a date for McFadden’s return hasn’t been decided.
Larkin is tied atop the UEC River standings with St. Charles East and Geneva, but the Royals may now be regarded as the favorite with Stephens sidelined by a shoulder injury for the Saints.
A deep rotation has been key to Larkin’s success, and Carter will need all hands on deck during what figures to be a challenging second half of the season that starts with three critical home games.
First up is a clash against a St. Charles East team that will be trying to avenge a 61-55 loss to the Royals on Nov. 29. Next up Jan. 18 is Streamwood, one of two teams to defeat Larkin. The home stand ends against Geneva (13-3) on Jan. 19.
“We can’t just roll the ball out and beat the teams on our schedule based on talent alone,” Carter said. “Hopefully our guys keep that hungry edge.”