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Naperville Central's Ryan Antony is pursued by Glenbard North's Ryan Storto in Naperville on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media

Naperville Central coach Pete Kramer has been putting in long days recently, but he’s not complaining about it.

Kramer is one step away from helping the Redhawks advance to the Class 8A state championship game in football and has an experienced and talented basketball squad that began its season Monday in the Hoops for Healing Tournament.

“I’m like a walking zombie,” laughed Kramer, who is also the wide receivers coach for the football team. “But there’s a good reason for it and we’re very excited. We’ve got six of our top eight guys back from a team that won Hoops for Healing last year and went 10-4 in conference while being the only team to beat Glenbard East.”

The Redhawks (18-10 last year) should be full of life and energy with point guard Ryan Antony, in his third season, leading the way, and 6-9 senior center Nick Czarnowski in the middle. Czarnowski is one of those rare fourth-year players. He averaged 14 points and 8.5 rebounds last year.

One thing Kramer is really stressing to his team is health.

“We really feel our No. 1 goal is to stay healthy, to make sure we’re being careful not to overdo stuff, to ice when we should and to communicate honestly,” he said. “You never want to be clicking and playing well and then see the fun go away because of injuries.”

Czarnowski was plagued by tendinitis in his right leg last season and the Redhawks need the Hillside recruit on the floor as much as possible.

Patrick Mahoney, a 6-6 senior, saw his minutes increase last season as his play improved. Sharing court time simultaneously with Czarnowski will give the Redhawks a size advantage against most teams.

Senior guard Matt Bennett has improved his game and filled in nicely last season when Antony was banged up, while senior forward Taylor Zelinski also contributed and will be asked to do more.

“These five seniors all started or played a lot,” Kramer said. “It’s a pretty good group of guys and then we have some hungry underclassmen who will pushing for opportunities.”

Nate Dahl and 6-4 Alex Pomeroy are two of the up-and-coming juniors who should come off the bench. “Alex can just jump out of the gym and is very active,” Kramer said. “He’ll help us off the bench or be starting. Either way, he’ll play a key role.

Sophomore Matt Meier will also come off the bench, as will senior Tyler Schmidt and sophomore Emmanuel Rugamba, two players who have seen plenty of Kramer this fall as wide receivers.

“The pieces are there. Now it’s time to perform and execute,” Kramer said. “I think we’re a contender [in the DuPage Valley] but you have to stay healthy and get a little lucky to have a chance. Our starters have some size which is a good way to start, but we know every night is going to be a battle.”

Ryan Antony spins, scores

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