Illinois Old School helping put Park Ridge basketball on map
Maine East's Ezeke Omeke (right) puts up a shot against Highland Park's Ross Chukerman during CSL North action. | Tracy Allen~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 13, 2012 7:15AM
PARK RIDGE — While AAU summer basketball has its share of critics, it’s become an almost essential component of young players’ development.
During his first two seasons as the Maine East boys basketball coach, Dave Genis lamented that few of his players participated in AAU programs. Most of the CSL teams the Blue Demons faced were loaded with veterans of the AAU circuit.
Genis made it a priority to change that. Now Blue Demons are part of the Illinois Old School AAU program, which conducts practices in the Maine East gym.
Started two years ago by Glenbrook North assistant Scott Lidskin and St. Charles East head coach Patrick Woods, Illinois Old School is run differently than many AAU programs. Nearly all its staff also coaches at the high school level. They also stress fundamentals, improvement and team basketball.
“We wanted our guys to be getting coached by guys who do this, who are educators, who know how to handle kids and are doing this for a living,” said Genis, who is an assistant coach for the program’s 15U Elite. “Not just guys off the street who think they can start a team and start coaching.”
Genis said 12 to 13 players from Maine East competed on Old School teams during the spring. This summer, two talented Blue Demons — incoming sophomores Ezeke Omeke and Abby George — are teammates on the 15U Elite coached by Genis and head coach Chris Powell, who also assists at St. Charles East.
The 15U Elites are scheduled to participate this weekend in the King James Summer Showcase, at Trinity International University, in Deerfield. The squad also will play at the Joy of the Game Summer Classic, in Deerfield, before completing its summer at the GRBA Tournament in Ft. Wayne, Ind.
Both Omeke, a 6-foot-3 forward, and George, a 5-6 guard, spent last month with Maine East at high school summer leagues and tournaments. Genis said the spring season of AAU ball had done wonders for the players, who both saw quality varsity minutes as freshmen.
“Ezeke’s game has progressed quite a bit,” Genis said. “His ability to bang around inside with much bigger guys ... you can see the difference in him after having played a spring of AAU ball and then coming to play with us in high school. There was very little that came off the rim defensively that he didn’t get. He was going up against 6-5, 6-6 kids and he played right with them. They couldn’t keep him off the boards.
“He’s still learning his way around the offensive part of playing inside, but he’s been dominant on the boards.”
With height running in his family, Omeke might not be done growing. But the youngster said it’s vital to become more versatile, so he continues to work on his outside shooting and ballhandling.
“I think it’s very important to get down all the fundamentals in case you don’t grow,” Omeke said. “You might have to play wing, but if you do grow, you’ll have to play post.”
One of the main concerns for Maine East last season was a lack of true ballhandlers on the varsity. Then George was promoted from the freshman team for the second half of the season.
He received a crash course in varsity basketball during his debut against eventual CSL North champ Glenbrook North. But the trial by fire served him well, and he continued to progress while playing for Old School in the spring.
“Handling the ball against AAU players pressing has improved my dribbling skills and my ability to break the press,” George said. “I can handle the press with bigger, stronger players on me.”
These skills were put on display repeatedly during the high school summer season, especially against Waukegan’s swarming press during the Stevenson High School Summer League. Maine East, with just six players, actually led by 11 points, before running out of gas.
“Abby has learned very quickly how to handle the bumping and grinding up the floor, without turning the ball over,” Genis said. “We’re really confident in his ability to handle the ball under pressure. He’s getting better every time he does it. I’m looking forward to him handling the ball and managing the floor for us (at Maine East).”