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Stars align for another big year at Larkin

11/22/2013, 9:15pm CST
By Erik Jacobsen ejacobsen@stmedianetwork.com

Larkin hopes to defend its UEC River title and improve on last year’s 23-6 finish with a mix of talented veterans and youngsters.

Larkin's Kendale McCullum drives to the basket during a game last season. | | Michael R. Schmidt ~ For Sun-Times Media

Larkin represents the rare case of a team that loses its top two scorers from a conference and regional championship team and yet still has even greater expectations the following season.

The unique circumstances stem from two realities. On one hand, the Royals remain loaded with experience as four savvy varsity veterans return to the fold. Meanwhile, an abundance of young talent arrives this year ready to help carry the program into the future.

The confluence of old and new has the excitement level through the roof on the west side of Elgin as Larkin looks to defend its outright Upstate Eight River title and improve on last year’s 23-6 finish. Many believe the Royals are on the cusp of joining the state’s elite after mounting a 29-2 run through summer league action, and they will have the chance to prove it this season against a difficult schedule filled with powerhouse opponents.

“In order for us to be successful, the highest expectations have to be from ourselves,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “We’ve done a good job in the past of having higher expectations than the outside world, and I think that relieves some of that pressure.”

Senior Kendale McCullum is back to lead the way on both ends of the court. The 6-foot-1 guard and three-year varsity member averaged 11.2 points, 5.0 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 3.9 steals as a junior while showing off a motor that doesn’t quit.

Senior Derrick Streety (5-10, G) adds to the veteran presence in the backcourt as a four-year varsity contributor who averaged 8.0 points off the bench last season. Up front, Larkin boasts a three-year varsity member in senior Drew Jones (6-5, F) and another returning starter in senior Brayden Royse (6-5, F).

Freshman Christian Negron (6-5, G/F) is in line to make a huge impact as he brings his electric athleticism to the lineup. Sophomores Keyvon Kyles (5-9, G) and Trell Mardis (5-10, G) will also be counted on to play heavy minutes in their first varsity seasons.

Relying on underclassmen is nothing new for Carter, who is going into his fourth year at the helm, but the circumstances have changed dramatically from when Streety played up as a freshman and the Royals stumbled to a 4-23 record.

“It’s a little different for these guys than any sophomores or freshmen we’ve had in the past,” Carter said. “They’ll be asked to make plays like those guys in the past, but I don’t know if our success is directly tied to their ability to do so. They’ve got less pressure on them just because of our experienced upper class.”

Senior Taylor Boley (6-1, G) will take on an expanded role this season, and juniors Charles Sanders (6-0, G) and Tanner Gardon (6-6, F) are two newcomers projected to be mainstays in the rotation.

Among those rounding out the 17-man roster are returning seniors Tyler Kalusa (6-1, G), Alex Feliciano (5-8, G), Bubba Clemons (5-8, G) and Jack McCracken (6-0, F).

“I’m not sure what our strength is to be honest, but I guess in some aspects you could say it is that we’re balanced,” Carter said. “I think we’re going to have between seven and nine guys that can get between eight and 16 points every night.”

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