Brother Rice coach Conte Stamas is on quite a two-season run.
There was both a challenge and expectation when Stamas was hired in August of 2022 to replace Brother Rice legend Bobby Frasor, the former coach and McDonald’s All-American as a player.
Stamas inherited a senior-dominated group that featured an all-stater at point guard in Division I-bound Ahmad Henderson. The expectation was a lot of wins.
The challenge was taking over a team built to win but that grew up with and was accustomed to Frasor. Throw in the fact Stamas was hired in late August, just two-plus months before the start of the season while missing the all-important month of June to install philosophy, and nothing was guaranteed.
The Crusaders, though, won a school-record 30 games last season.
Stamas lost six key seniors, including Henderson who is averaging 13 points a game as a freshman at Niagara. But here the Crusaders are pushing towards 30 wins again with a glitzy 26-3 record. That makes it 56-8 for Stamas in his return to high school coaching while grabbing a No. 2 sectional seed.
The recent run from the Crusaders should certainly put top-seeded Thornton on alert.
Brother Rice has lost just once since the calendar turned to 2024, an overtime defeat to highly-ranked DePaul Prep in January. They’ve won 11 out of 12 and logged quality wins over Marist and Mount Carmel during that stretch.
The balance Brother Rice has displayed all season has been impressive and what has driven them.
Whether it’s table-setting point guard Cale Cosme (11.7 ppg), emerging 6-3 junior Marcos Gonzales (14.5 ppg), the much-improved Zavier Fitch (15 ppg), newcomer Tyler Wooten (10.1 ppg), who transferred in from Thornwood, or dependable Caden Workman (8.2 ppg), it’s been a different player stepping up all season.
It should be really hard to sneak up on anybody when you’re Curie. There has just been too much success under coach Mike Oliver over the past two-plus decades, highlighted by the 2016 state championship.
But to some degree, Curie seems to do it all the time. This year is no exception and maybe even more.
It’s not as if Curie came into the season incognito. But last year’s solid but not great 20-11 season ended with a thud with an unexpected and uncharacteristic regional loss. They then entered this season ranked No. 7 in the preseason, so there were expectations, but it wasn’t a team that was expected to roll through the regular season –– and the Public League –– with a gaudy 27-2 record.
Oliver, fresh off winning Curie’s third city championship, deserves a great amount of credit and respect for the successful consistency of the Condors. The program has had a few big-name stars, but the majority of the successful seasons have come about with overlooked talent and dependable team cohesion and toughness.
Bolingbrook’s challenging road
When the brackets are released, it’s always interesting to seek out what talented, highly-ranked top seed has the most difficult road to the state finals.
That dubious honor this year goes to Bolingbrook.
The Raiders, awarded the No. 1 sectional seed, could face a potential true road game in the regional final at Yorkville –– if the eighth-seeded Foxes can first take care of West Aurora.
Yorkville has had a rollercoaster of a season, but the Foxes have five senior starters, including 6-10 Illinois recruit Jason Jakstys, the home court and some confidence with wins over Young, Romeoville, Metea Valley and Oswego East in the second half of the season. Their seed was pushed down to No. 8, thanks to a deep and loaded sectional.
Bolingbrook would likely get Benet (23-5), currently ranked No. 13 in the Super 25, in the sectional semis, and could face either No. 14 Waubonsie Valley (24-2) or Jack Stanton and No. 6 Downers Grove North (25-4) in the sectional final.
Then the Raiders would have to travel to Illinois State’s Redbird Arena for the super-sectional, where one of the three best teams in the state –– Quincy, Collinsville or Normal –– would be waiting.