Disabato: Oak Forest steps up into Top 10 in boys basketball
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @disabato January 22, 2014 8:54PM
Oak Forest's Jason Roland (14) drives to the basket while defended by Shepard's Jacob Littleton (4) in Oak Forest Friday, December, 13, 2013. | Jim Boyce/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 24, 2014 1:17PM
For those perusing the weekly SouthtownStar boys basketball Top 10, I want to assure you that your eyes are not deceiving you.
Hang up the phone. There’s no need to dial the optometrist.
That’s Oak Forest, a program that has as many winning seasons (3) as winless seasons (3) the past 26 years, taking residence in our Top 10.
It’s not by accident.
The Bengals, at No. 8, are legit — despite stubbing their toe Tuesday night against Illiana Christian.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been in the Top 10 during my 13 years in the program,” Oak Forest coach Matt Manzke said. “It’s a nice honor and I know it means a lot to the kids and the students. But the key is staying (in the Top 10) the rest of the season, which will mean we’re winning.”
Oak Forest is 14-3. Until Friday’s 64-62 victory over Richards, many skeptics questioned the Bengals’ legitimacy.
I wasn’t one of them. In fact, I referred to the Bengals as my “sleeper” during the preseason inside the pages of this very newspaper. The Bengals, despite a 12-17 record, were vastly improved at the end of last season and were returning much of the same personnel for the 2013-14 campaign.
The win over Richards was the Bengals’ coming-out party. Not so much the win itself, but how they won.
Oak Forest trailed by 12 points after one quarter. In most seasons, the opponent’s bus would be warming up and the fat lady would be singing.
Not this season.
Seniors Tom Shute, Jason Roland and Dylan Ross, along with juniors Kyle Flanagan and David Gray, are not discouraged by deficits, no matter how large. Against Richards, reserves Armon Williams and Christian Tidball came off the bench and provided valuable minutes.
“We all play hard, and we don’t stop,” said Roland, the young man who directs the assault from the point. “Everyone contributes. We have a bunch of guys who can step up.”
Make no mistake, the Bengals’ scoring depth is a major asset.
Flanagan, Shute and Roland all average double digits in scoring, and Gray is knocking on the door. I’ll tell you what. If Gray would continue to show the explosiveness he did taking Richards’ Josh Meier to the rack for an easy layup, I have no doubt he easily could up his scoring average.
With Shute, Roland and Gray commanding opponents’ respect from the perimeter and the 6-foot-8 Flanagan emerging as a dangerous post presence, Oak Forest poses serious match-up problems.
Especially when considering Flanagan is shooting 80 percent from the free-throw line. The Hack-A-Shaq strategy is futile against the Bengals’ big man.
“It’s really, really important,” Manzke said of Flanagan’s free-throw shooting accuracy. “To have a post player like Kyle who can knock down free throws is huge. When teams start fouling him at the end of games after a rebound, he can make the free throws.”
Here’s the other key: The Bengals appear void of egos. It doesn’t matter who registers the most points. It’s all about the “W”.
That’s a credit to Manzke, who has done a fine job instilling a team first attitude.
“These are really great kids,” Manzke said. “They feed off each other and only care about winning. It’s fun coaching these guys.”
The big test, of course, arrives when Hillcrest comes to town Feb. 14. The Bengals would like to send the Hawks back to Country Club Hills with a loss. Hillcrest hasn’t won 25 consecutive conference championships by accident.
Manzke insists the Bengals aren’t looking that far ahead, even if Bengal Nation already has the date circled.
“We can’t afford to look ahead,” Manzke said. “We have to just focus on the game in hand. We need to take care of our end to make sure that game means something.”