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Warren basketball’s tradition of excellence will continue

Warren guard James Betori has zone-busting range like any Blue Devil who wants see court plays in-your-face defense. | SUN-TIMES

Warren guard James Betori has zone-busting range and, like any Blue Devil who wants to see the court, plays in-your-face defense. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO

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Last Year: 17-12 (6-6 North Suburban Conference Lake Division); lost to St. Viator 63-53 in IHSA 4A regional final.

Aarias Austin was a constant in a lineup head coach Ryan Webber juggled throughout the year, but most of Warren’s departing players had an impact at various points in the season.

The good news is that where the Blue Devils entered last season with essentially no varsity experience, this year’s team features three seniors with plenty of minutes under their belts. Adrian Deere was a scoring machine for quarters or halves last season, and has the potential to extend that effort this year when needed. James Betori returns as a long-range threat. 5-7 point guard Eric Gillespie, used as a reserve last year, has the ability to get hot from long range but also showed an improved ability to create play with penetration in the finale of the Stevenson Summer League a week ago. In wins over Vernon Hills (44-38) and Barrington (49-36), the Blue Devils showed they have plenty of players with a nose for the basket and were at their best sharing the wealth and converting defensive stops into quick points.

In a division that will be led by teams with Jalen Brunson (Stevenson) and Milik Yarbrough (Zion-Benton), this edition of the Blue Devils is far from sexy. What Warren can be, however, is deceptively effective. Last Wednesday, the scoreboard revealed a team that was better than it often looked. Although they won’t blow teams away with their athleticism, they had five good athletes on the floor at all times at Stevenson, which at least partially helped make up for their lack of size.

One of the questions the Blue Devils still have to answer is where their leadership will come from. There were no obvious leaders in their summer league finale, and while Deere and Betori have the experience for the role, neither have demonstrated outgoing court personalities. During the grueling NSC Lake season, having a player who can lift the team emotionally is an edge the teams trying to chase down Stevenson and Zion-Benton will need to have.

Updated: August 12, 2013 11:21AM

At this time a year ago, we knew next to nothing about the future of Warren High School basketball.

The coach was new and the players were new.

What we’ve found out in the ensuing 12 months is that the new coach — Ryan Webber — can coach, and the new players have game.

The result was a 17-win season that included a victory over Stevenson, which wound up finishing second in the Class 4A state tournament. That’s not to say that Warren could have finished second in state, as well.

But the Blue Devils did get the max out of what they had as Blue Devil fans learned to cheer for new names and a new coach. You could argue that Warren got as much out of its season last year in terms of the ratio of talent to wins as any team this side of Stevenson.

Now comes Year 2 for Webber, and this time, he has three players back with whom fans are very familiar.

Adrian Deere scores like Nate Robinson did for the Bulls last year — in bunches. Also back is long-range bomber James Betori, and he’s alongside point guard Eric Gillespie.

That’s a nice starting point for this year’s team.

“Our approach this summer has just been to work hard. We know we’re going to be even smaller than last year, as hard as that is to believe.” said Deere. “I don’t think any of us have anything against the guys who graduated, but we think we have the potential to improve on what we did last year. We know there are going to be people who count us out, but we’re not going to make it easy on anybody.”

That seems to be the personality of Webber’s squads. They’re going to play everybody tough. There seems to be a team unity that is worth X number of points per game, either in points scored for or in points denied the opposition.

“Team camaraderie,” said Deere when asked to pinpoint the area of biggest improvement from last season. “Last year everybody was pretty much new to varsity basketball. It was hard for us to jell while trying to learn a new system. In our second year we’re a lot more familiar with it, guys are buying in, and that’s made it easier to come together as a team.”

Coach Webber puts great emphasis on togetherness.

“We just have to rely on each other and really play together. I think our kids really like each other, and that’s going to work out well for us,” the coach said. “Our chemistry is very good. I don’t think it’s a team that really cares who scores or how we get it done, they just want to win.”

And win they will.

“Adrian (Deere) and Eric Gillespie have had great summers for us. James Betori has had a really good summer,” Webber said. “Those are three seniors that saw a lot of minutes last year. Each game, there are some kids from the junior class that play really well, and then the next game there will be some things they learn from playing poorly while two other guys step up.

“The summer has been good. We’ve gotten to see a lot of kids and go to a lot of different places. You just want to play a lot of games and evaluate at this stage of the game, see which combinations work well together, and give the kids some freedom to showcase their game or areas where they’ve improved. You’re not really coaching the summer games like you would the regular season per se, you’re giving them more freedom within the concepts you’re trying to get across.”

The one area — besides not having a 7-footer to defend the rim, and who has that anyway? — that might be lacking is having a vocal leader. The Warren roster has a lot of nice kids ... nice, quiet kids.

“Last year, we had guys who were more natural leaders,” said Deere. “I know that’s something I have to work on, both leading by example and leading vocally.”

His coach agreed.

“It’s not really his personality, but we would like it to be Adrian,” Webber said. “I think James Betori can be a vocal guy for us. That’s the biggest thing coming out of the summer, the biggest question mark and the biggest frustration: we don’t talk. I love our team. We have the best kids in the world. They have outstanding character. But they are too quiet. That has to change.”

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