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Monday, January 30, 2023

One Step From Peoria, Bolingbrook Next Test For Naperville North


Without question, Naperville North put its name out over the state’s radar with its Jan. 21 overtime upset of No. 2 Evanston.

Now with the program’s first sectional title in 19 years in hand, opportunity once again is knocking at the door in the form of 28-1 Bolingbrook.

Whether or not the Huskies (25-5) can pin a second loss on the Raiders’ impressive tote in DeKalb remains to be seen.

But they remain steadfast in what has gotten them to the brink of their first-ever trip downstate

“Man, it’s great,” senior guard Youcef Merabet said. “I’m just so happy. Us seniors – we care way too much about this team and this program and we love Coach (Jeff Powers). We don’t want this season to end anytime soon, so we just did it for him. Coach got our back and we got his.”

Naperville North senior Mitch Lewis.

Senior guard/forward Mitch Lewis is coming off his eighth 20-point game of the season after putting up 21 points in Friday’s 77-72 victory over Wheaton North.

As Raiders’ coach Rob Brost views it, the 6-6 Lewis – who averages a team-high 14.9 points a game – is just the start of the problems Naperville North poses.

“Man, a lot of things impress me about Naperville North,” Brost said. “First off, the Lewis kid is a load. He’s one of the best players in the state. … They have the two interior guys. Lewis can go inside-out, obviously. He’s an all-around player and one of the best players in the state.”

Lewis was just one of four Huskies to reach double figures against the Falcons – with Tom Welch (18), Youcef Merabet (13) and Chris Johnson (11) joining him.

The presence of the 6-7 Johnson, the 6-6 Lewis and the 6-5 Welch is one area where Naperville North might be able to exploit Bolingbrook’s speed and athleticism.

“The other big kid, the 6-7 kid (Johnson), is going to be a tough matchup for us,” Brost said. … “I mean, (Tom Welch) is good, too. Their overall size, I mean, they’re bigger than we are overall and that’s going to create some issues for us. They like that high-low action, which is hard to guard sometimes.

“And they’re a solid all-around team and they’ve already proven that they can beat elite competition – having beat Evanston – and so they’re well-coached, well-seasoned. They’re – up to this point – the best team we’ve played.”

Led by Nebraska-bound guard Nana Akenten, five different Bolingbrook players have recorded at least 20 points in a game this year.

Led by Akenten’s 14.9 points per game, three other Raiders – Malik Binns, Kaleb Thornton and Joseph Yesufu – are all averaging at least 10.1 points per game.

The Raiders’ lone loss came to Lincoln-Way East on Feb. 17 and they’re seeking their second trip to Peoria in the last three years – having finished third in 2014-15.

“I know they’re talented,” Powers said of the Raiders. “They’re quick as hell as everybody says. But I really don’t know them that well. … It looks like they start three guards. … I heard (Akenten) catches the ball and shoots it extremely well from the three from my coaching buddies.”

Blake Baumgartner
Blake Baumgartner
Raised in Naperville, Blake Baumgartner is a 2001 Naperville Central alumnus and a 2005 graduate of Michigan State's School of Journalism. Since March 2010, he has covered football, boys' basketball and baseball for both The Naperville Sun and Positively Naperville. Follow him on Twitter @BFBaumgartner.