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Boys basketball notes: Lyons, Nazareth working on team identity

Boys basketball notes: Lyons, Nazareth working on team identity
Lyons coach Tom Sloan talks with Lazarius Williams (11) during the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic on Dec. 26 at York. (Steve Johnston/Pioneer Press)

There are bigger, faster and more skilled boys basketball teams than Lyons' squad this winter.

To counteract those disadvantages, the Lions have focused on outworking their opponents and playing selfless basketball.

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And based on the buy-in from the players so far, this team could do some special things in 2018.

"We have to earn what we get," Lyons coach Tom Sloan said. "But these guys have been team-first from the get-go. They're very accepting of coaching and dedicated to working hard at both ends."

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On offense, the Lions derive a good chunk of their points from experienced perimeter players Tyrese Shines, Nolan Niego and Lazarius Williams. The rest of the rotation largely has had to adjust to increased roles this season.

So far, the results have been positive. Through 10 games, five players had at least 20 assists.

"We've gotten much better at taking care of the ball and making the extra pass to get a better shot," said Niego, a Western Springs resident. "It's all about being poised and staying clear-minded through the whole play."

That's also sage advice on defense, where the Lions take pride in their 1-2-2 zone, which has made opponents uncomfortable.

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"The key for us is talking to each other," said Shines, who resides in La Grange. "If we play well together, I feel we have an opportunity to do really well the rest of the way."

Roadrunners preach accountability

When Sean Pearson agreed to take over the boys basketball program at his alma mater in May 2016, he wasn't interested in engineering a quick fix.

Rather, the 1991 graduate and Nazareth Athletic Hall of Fame member had his eyes on long-term, sustainable success.

His first year-and-a-half back in La Grange Park has been more about crafting a system built around accountability than winning games.

"I understood that we wouldn't be winning championships right away, but the foundation we're building is valuable for when it does happen," said Pearson, who played college basketball at Kansas.

Pearson said the players have committed to his formula that looks to change the mindset from "me-first" to "team-first."

And soon, the Roadrunners hope to change some losses into wins.

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After 11 wins combined in the two seasons prior to Pearson's arrival, the Roadrunners tallied five wins a year ago and had three entering the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York.

Count senior wing Michael Adams among those who recognize the progress being made.

"Our style of play is different now. We're smarter," Adams said. "We're sacrificing for our teammates, setting screens, cutting to the basket. There's no more one-on-one play."

Nazareth's basketball players look to their own football team as a model of long-term success. The Roadrunners have played for a football state title three times in the last four seasons.

Senior guard Jake Santi said he and his teammates think about the school's football success "almost every day." The hardcourt Roadrunners aren't jealous of their gridiron counterparts but are confident that similar success could be coming their way.

"Last year, losing was OK for us. When we walked into a gym, we weren't thinking about winning," said Santi, who resides in Western Springs. "We're truly competing for wins now. Even if it doesn't happen for us, we want the future to be better."

Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

Twitter @Pioneer_Press

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