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North Chicago's Emmanuel January (left) and JaVairius Amos-Mays congratulate each other for a good play late in the game. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

North Chicago has lost last year’s leading scorer, rising senior JaVairius Amos-Mays. An unconfirmed report from a Zion-Benton athlete said Amos-Mays is transferring back to Z-B — he attended Zion-Benton as a freshman before coming to North Chicago — and Warhawks coach Gerald Coleman made it clear he is not now and will not be part of the Warhawk program next season.

“We no longer have Amos-Mays. Different guys are going to take on a part of his responsibilities,” Coleman said.

In that and other ways, the 2013-2014 basketball season will mark the end of an era at North Chicago.

As freshmen, Big Kurt Hall and JayQuan McCloud played in Peoria when the Warhawks brought home a fourth-place trophy from the 2011 Class 3A state finals.

As sophomores, they were back in Peoria, this time playing for the state championship, and they returned to Lake County with the second-place trophy.

Last year, as juniors, they were on target to repeat as second-place finishers at state to champion Morgan Parkbefore the team completely imploded for reasons not related to baskets and rebounds, and the season ended with a humiliating performance in a Round of 8 loss.

Now comes the senior season for Hall and McCloud, and the duo, who have wanted all along to bring Lake County its first-ever state championship in boys basketball, are leaders of a team that, in all likelihood, is good enough to challenge for that elusive state crown.

And, if they don’t win it, those in the know will tell you that the group of players who will be freshmen in August just might win it down the road.

“We’re excited. This is going to be a very interesting season for us,” said veteran coach King Coleman. “This is a great, coachable group of kids. It should be fun.”

He’s especially excited about the fact that both Hall and McCloud are good students, which opens up all sorts doors for both of them.

Look for them to be playing different positions next season, as King helps prepare them to play at the next level. That means McCloud — a shooter — will play a lot at the point, and Hall — the second-best inside player in the county (Zion’s Milik Yarbrough) — will be playing a lot of “2” and “3” out on the wing.

That means an inside player is needed, and there’s one in the program.

Cortes Zinnerman-Dixon is going to be a good one. The 6-4 junior learned from the bench last season, and now it’s his time.

“I’m expecting him to give us 16-18 points a game. He’s playing that well right now,” said the coach. “We played up at Carthage College a couple weeks ago and went 7-0 up there. Cortez was one of our leading scorers. McCloud and Hall have really taken him under their wing, like he’s their baby brother.

Also returning are junior Jamero Shelton and senior Arnold Shead, who probably will be quarterback of the school’s football team which is a likely playoff team, so he might not be in basketball shape in November.

The team’s stars understand that there is work to do without the leading scorer coming back.

“We have to find some pieces and fix the puzzle. We lost a good player,” said Hall. “Now, everybody has to learn a different role.”

McCloud: “We understand that we have to go two times harder to make up for what we lost.”

The irony is that the loss of one star might mean additional playing time for some of the prized freshmen on the varsity level, as Coleman tries to keep this program at the elite level.

“I have a very good freshmen group coming in.,” said Coleman. “A couple of them will probably wind up on the varsity.”

He also has 5-6 sophomore Marreon White, who was brought up to the varsity last year as a freshman, and while he did not see a lot of action, he will add another shooter to the rotation this year.

One huge difference this entire is that while North Chicago basketball is never out of mind, it will definitely be out of sight.

The team is not playing in the local summer leagues at Stevenson and Carmel, and has bailed on the Warren/Mundelein Thanksgiving week tourney in search of elite competition that week in the Peoria area. The team also will be in the 309 area code during Christmas break, trying to defend its title in a tournament in Bloomington/Normal.

“I’m trying to get the guys the best competition I can get them at different shootouts. We have a lot of new kids, and I need more time in the gym with them than I needed with other groups we’ve had come through North Chicago,” Coleman said. “This group will still get about 40 games (this summer), but we need more time to work on some things.

“Plus, we play a lot of these teams all the time. I want to throw the best at these kids so we know where we’re at and where we want to go.”

Which, of course, is back to Peoria in March.

NORTH CHICAGO BASKETBALL

Last year: 28-4 (11-1 NSC Prairie); Lost to Chicago Orr 63-49 in 3A Round of 8 supersectional.

Key losses: F Jarrod Coleman. G Emmanual January. G JaVairius Amos-Mays. (transferred)

Returning stars: 6-4 SR G JayQuan McCloud. 6-6 SR F Kurt Hall.

Other key returnees: 5-10 SR G Arnold Shead. 5-10 JR G Jamero Shelton. 6-0 SR F Joe Thomas.

Newcomers: Look for 6-4 junior wing/forward Courtez Zinnerman-Dixon to be a major contributor this season. The Warhawks brought up 5-6 G Marreon White last year as a freshman, and while he did not see a lot of action, he will add another shooter to the rotation this year.

VIEW FROM THE BLEACHERS

Watching North Chicago at the Bob Brown Shootout, McCloud and Hall have really embraced the role as teachers for the younger players.

They have become such good players that they know they can take over a game and lead the Warhawks back. There is no indication of panic when the numbers on the scoreboard are not moving in the right direction. Instead, they focus on helping their teammates become better, then take over when they need to. In short, they have become what you want the star players in your program to be. It is really fun to watch, even more than the spectacular plays they make.

Courtez Zinnerman-Dixon was aggressive around the rim and looks to be grasping the idea that in addition to providing offense from the wing, he can be the guy for North Chicago who cleans up on the boards and score on layups when other players penetrate and dish. The Warhawks have a very small lineup overall, and they need him to be that player in the paint.

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