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Christian Negron, seen here with his AAU team, is a 6-foot-5 incoming freshman at Larkin. | Brian O'Mahoney~For Sun-Times Media
Meet Christian Negron, the next big thing to arrive on the storied high school basketball scene in Elgin.
It’s not every day that a 14-year-old kid walks into varsity practice with a 6-foot-5 frame and a polished skill set that includes a penchant for rim-rattling dunks, but those were the circumstances when Negron showed up at Larkin for the start of summer camp in June.
The Royals are coming off a breakthrough season in which they finished 23-6, won the Upstate Eight River title and captured the program’s first regional title since 2006.
Four of the top six players from the the rotation will be back this year, but don’t be surprised if it is the freshman Negron who generates major buzz among fans and attracts a good deal of attention from opponents.
“You don’t get players like Christian very often, or not around here at least,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “He’s so humble, he works so hard and he is such a good kid, and he’s just scratching the surface. He fits in well with the guys and he’s soaking everything up.
“We like to say the sky is the limit for a lot of kids, but it is probably true with him.”
Attacking the rim
A lifelong resident of the west side of Elgin, Negron has always been bigger than most kids his age. It was at Kimball Middle School that he created a bit of a phenomenon as the rare grade school player with the ability to dunk.
“I remember my fifth grade year I was trying to dunk, but I couldn’t do it yet and the ball would always go off the rim,” Negron said. “I think my sixth grade year was my first time throwing it down, but it was a real weak one.”
Negron has since become more adept at playing around the rim, but his talents expand far beyond simply being able to flush home a slam.
With Larkin this summer, Negron made a seamless transition into the lineup, helping the Royals go 29-2 and run the table at the Geneva Summer League. Negron’s older teammates couldn’t help but be impressed with his ability to navigate both ends of the floor.
“He fit in right away,” Larkin senior guard Kendale McCullum said. “I thought it was going to take him maybe most of the summer or half of the summer to get comfortable, but he came in and it was like he was with us last year.”
Negron has remained busy since the end of high school camp by playing with the Li-Ning Buckeyes 14-U AAU team, which continued its successful year by capturing a Division II national championship in Florida last month.
No matter how much talent a ninth grader possesses, jumping straight to the varsity lineup can be a challenge. Larkin senior guard Derrick Streety knows this firsthand after making the leap as a freshman four years ago.
“It is such a big change going from eighth grade straight to varsity,” Streety said. “You’re skipping two or three levels and there is a lot to learn.”
Streety, McCullum and the rest of Larkin’s upperclassmen will be there to help Negron along the way, and a willingness to buy in to the team ethos figures to play into his favor.
Free-throw shooting is one area where Negron says he particularly needs to improve. Ball handling is another point of emphasis given the role he will likely play with the Royals.
“Christian plays center in AAU, and I think college-wise he projects out as a small forward,” Carter said. “That will be an adjustment for him to make, and he’s still learning and trying to get in the habit of playing on the perimeter a little bit instead of just in the post.”
Negron was a regular in the stands cheering for Larkin during its run last season, and this year he will be on the receiving end of the support.
His arrival comes with heightened expectations both on an individual and team level, but Negron is confident he can help the Royals continue their upward trajectory.
“There is a little bit of pressure, but I feel like if I just play my game nothing can go wrong,” Negron said.
“Our main goal is to win, and that’s what we did in the summer season. If we continue to do the same things it should turn out the same way.”