The other day, via a phone call, Lake Forest High School head boys basketball coach Phil LaScala couldn’t get his words out fast enough.
The effusive veteran coach was leading an oral fast break … for a kid who averaged a mere 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds per game.
LaScala couldn’t stop singing the praises of a true unsung: senior forward Michael Bogdanowicz.
“An unbelievable kid,” said the likeable LaScala, just getting started.
Bogdanowicz, as you will find out, is an unbelievable kid with an unwavering spirit.
Basketball should’ve been history for “Bogs” years ago. But the kid was too stubborn to take a hint.
Pink, meet slip.
“Here’s a kid who was cut as a fifth-grader and then again as a sixth-grader, seventh-grader and eighth-grader,” shared LaScala.
Message … not taken.
Bogdanowicz officially became a glutton for “just go away and take your basketball with you” punishments. Tryouts with the Deer Path Middle School Braves and Lake Forest Scouts feeder teams were … trying. Getting cut … cut him to the core.
“It was tough. Emotionally upsetting,” admitted Bogdanowicz. “But my parents helped me through it.”
The word, “no”, might be in his last name — but not in his vocabulary.
“He kept at it,” LaScala said.
Bogdanowicz eventually made a breakthrough. Similar to getting an office in the basement next to the mailroom, he made the LFHS freshman B Team.
To him, the letter B never sounded so good.
Can you hear him? “Dad… Mom. I made the team!”
“I just remember being so excited,” Bogdanowicz fondly recalled. “Finally, I got an opportunity, and I planned to pounce on it.”
But, not so fast.
He made the team “by the skin of his teeth”.
“Sophomore year,” LaScala informed. “He was the last guy that we kept, and he didn’t play a lot.
“Junior year,” the coach added. “Pretty much the same thing.”
He was disappointed, maybe. But not dissuaded.
Bogdanowicz never stopped keeping at it.
It would be cool, at this point, to write that Bogdanowicz turned into a bona fide star for the Scouts this past season. That he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Instead, the kid, who wore a trademark long-sleeved T-shirt under his No. 24 game jersey, averaged an unspectacular 2.1 and 1.4. But he didn’t fly under LaScala’s radar.
Which is why LaScala came up with a brilliant idea for the team banquet at Exmoor Country Club last month. He gave the floor over to Bogdanowicz.
“I asked him if he would get up and talk about his story,” LaScala said.
An eager Bogdanowicz obliged. In fact, the slender 6-foot-2, 182-pound forward, dressed in a tie and sports coat, went to the podium and took it to another level that night.
He was eloquent. He was funny. Forgive him for going off script a little. His prepared three-minute speech turned into a 9-minute, 29-second Night at the Improbable (it’s been posted on Twitter).
“I went long,” admitted Bogdanowicz. “I went on and on. It all just came to me. I didn’t even look at my script.”
He had plenty to say.
While he fought for playing time, his dad, Andrew Bogdanowicz, spent the winter courageously fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer. Being tough and persevering runs deep in this family.
“Mostly, I talked about how much more determined I became after every cut, and how I tried to improve every year,” said Bogdanowicz, who capped his season in a cool way, advancing to the state finals of the three-point shooting contest in Peoria — with teammate Justin McMahon.
The turning point in Bogdanowicz’s season came at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic Tournament at York High School during Christmas break.
“We just got killed by Stagg,” said LaScala, referring to a 42-26 setback on Dec. 26.
LaScala went looking for answers. So he huddled with one of his trusted assistants, Austin Scott.
“Austin tells me, ‘We’ve got to play ‘Bogs’. When he’s out there, something good always happens,’ ” said LaScala. “ ‘Bogs’ got quality minutes after that.”
And “Bogs” wound up pacing the Scouts (12-16, 7-7) in several unsung statistical categories.
“He ended up leading our team in charges taken,” said LaScala. “Shoot, he probably led the league in charges taken.
“True story,” the LF coach added. “Last summer, I told him if he didn’t learn how to take a charge, that it would be a long winter for him.”
Message heard — and taken.
“I remember the first one I took,” said Bogdanowicz, flashing back to a summer league game. “I thought, This is pretty fun. I just kept doing it. Teammates and fans go crazy when you take charges.”
Along the way — and at LaScala’s insistence — Bogdanowicz also got serious about “blocking out” on rebounds. He had to.
“That was probably one of the hardest things to work on, especially when you play in our league [North Suburban Conference],” said Bogdanowicz. “But I think I got pretty good at it.
“I just tried to contribute in any way possible.”
“That’s the thing with ‘Bogs,’ ” said LaScala. “He didn’t show a lot on the stat sheet, but he did a lot of things for us. He knew our stuff like the back of his hand. And he became a great leader for us with a great attitude. “
And the LF coach added: “He never had a bad day.”
Bogdanowicz was the epitome of the unsung hoopster this winter. But he was hardly alone.
Other players fell into this category:
- Glenbrook North senior guard Luke Amen.
- Glenbrook South senior guard George Arvanitis.
- New Trier senior forward James Connors.
- Lake Forest Academy senior guard Tyler Grumhaus.
- Loyola Academy senior forward Matt Sechman.
- Highland Park senior guard Luke Zemelis.
These players — some were starters, some were not — might not have been team MVPs. But cases can be made that they played extremely valuable roles on their respective teams.
He didn’t receive a lot of acclaim for his play on the basketball court this winter.
His numbers — 5.25 points and 1.5 assists per game — were not off the charts. Those averages won’t knock you over.
But a basketball team can always find room for an unsung player like Luke Amen. Heady and high-character three-sport athletes are assets.
Amen was exactly that for Glenbrook North.
“He’s not super flashy,” said GBN head coach David Weber. “But he’s a player that you can always count on.”
His athletic ability is unquestioned. In the fall, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior stood out on the GBN football team, earning all-Central Suburban North accolades as a defensive back.
In the spring, Amen will be showing off his sprinter’s speed at a nearby track. He took second in the 400 meters (50.86) at last year’s CSL North outdoor championships.
His explosiveness — and his ability to anticipate — frequently surfaced on the basketball floor.
“One of the best parts of his game was his quick first step,” Weber said. “He’s as fast as anyone at getting to the basket [especially in a fast-break situation].”
Amen also displayed unique versatility.
“He played multiple positions for us. He played the 1, the 2, the 3 and [even] the 4,” said Weber. “And he didn’t need two or three practices to learn an inbounds play.”
Being highly intelligent — and having a head for the game — served him well. Strong academics got him into Dartmouth University.
“He loves playing sports, but he would say that academics is No. 1 with him,” said Weber. “He has things together. He led us by example. He was always on time for practices. He’s just very reliable in every thing he does in life.”
“Flair” should have been this guy’s nickname.
Glenbrook South’s season finale — a 70-47 setback to host Maine West in a Class 4A regional semifinal on Feb. 27 — wasn’t a thing of beauty.
But this particular play by George Arvanitis was.
Late in the second quarter, Arvanitis made a steal, raced downcourt and flipped a slick behind-the-back pass to tee up an easy layup for Dominic Martinelli.
It was buried treasure in a one-sided game.
Arvanitis did not get a lot of “pub” this season. But the unheralded point guard made his share of dazzling plays this season.
The stylish 5-foot-11 senior averaged a team-best 3.0 assists per game.
“He’s an incredibly good passer,” said Glenbrook South coach Ben Widner, who resigned as head coach after the season. “He does a great job of reading defenses. He’s got the ability to make uncanny, last-second decisions with the ball.”
Handling defensive pressure was hardly a concern with Arvanitis.
“He was trustworthy with the ball,” said Widner. “He could handedly beat man-to-man pressure.”
Two of his best overall games came in the Wheeling Hardwood Classic. Arvanitis scored a team-high 16 points against Waukegan on Dec. 27. One night later, he came up with 12 points and three steals against Naperville Central.
Here’s a strong candidate for the Sixth Man Award.
James Connors emerged as a strong player off the bench for New Trier coach Scott Fricke.
The 6-foot-5 senior wing certainly was a spark, when he hit a pair of three-pointers on his way to scoring eight points in NT’s 50-48 surprise win over the host Zee-Bees in a Class 4A regional semifinal on March 1.
“All year, he brought a lot energy to the court,” said Fricke.
With his length, he had the ability to swat down shots. And with his shooting eye and quick release, he could shoot from way out and expand a defense.
Thus, Connors could impact a game at both ends of the court.
It especially was fun when James Connors turned into Chuck Connors … of The Rifleman fame — like he did against host Loyola Academy in Game Three of the 2016-17 season.
Connors had his picture-perfect three-ball working that night. He came off the bench to nail a trio of threes in Trevians’ 56-54 overtime win over Loyola Academy in the NT/LA Thanksgiving Tournament on Nov. 23.
“A deadeye shooter,” Fricke said.
Staying healthy was a bit of an issue with Connors. After missing a big chunk of his junior season with a stress fracture in his lower back, he sat out five games this winter with back soreness.
“I’ve tried to play through [the injuries],” he said. “When you have injuries, it’s hard to develop your game.”
“I don’t know. Maybe a little,” said Connors. “But I’ve always had confidence in my game.”
That was pretty evident to teammate Aaron Peltz.
“James definitely was a key player for us,” said the all-CSL South guard. “It’s almost unfair that his name wasn’t heard more often.”
It would’ve been easy for fans to miss Tyler Grumhaus.
When you watched a Lake Forest Academy game this winter, your eyes automatically turned to No. 23: Chris Harris.
The high-flying Harris could captivate an audience. Watching him was like watching a tightrope artist. Playing above the rim, he was dangerously good and Barnum-and-Bailey entertaining.
Grumhaus’ role? Feed the frenzy.
Alley-oops dunks were routine with Harris. And Grumhaus was on the delivering end of many those spectacular plays.
“He got very good at finding Chris,” noted Caxys head coach Matt Vaughn.
More importantly, Grumhaus got very good at understanding his complementary role on this talented LFA squad (17-6). He wasn’t interested in the limelight.
“Tyler had no aspirations in being a 20-point scorer. He didn’t need to take 15 to 20 shots a game,” Vaughn said. “He was more of an intangible kind of player. He was a glue guy. He was always doing positive things.
“He really turned into a good player for us,” the LFA coach added. “I didn’t take him out much this season — because I knew he wasn’t going to hurt us.”
Cousin of Peter Grumhaus, a former star swimmer at Lake Forest High School, the 6-foot guard will begin another chapter in his basketball life next season at Division III Grinnell College in Iowa.
Buckle up. Grumhaus is in for some rollicking, rip-roaring fun.
Grinnell, which completed the 2016-17 season with a 16-7 record, averaged 115.2 points per game (2nd in the nation). The Pioneers fired up 1,245 three-point attempts (2nd in the nation).
When you stand 6-foot-6, it’s kind of hard to get lost in the shuffle.
Yes, the glare of the neon lights at Loyola Academy usually fell on three-year starter and Maryville University recruit Ramar Evans. It also landed on all-conference players Kevin Cunningham and Julian DeGuzman.
But Sechman’s game didn’t go unnoticed.
But not undervalued.
With his frame and athleticism, Sechman has caught the attention of several Division III schools.
“His best basketball is 100 percent ahead of him,” offered LA head coach Tom Livatino, mentioning that Sechman recently had a great visit with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater staff. “You can see the potential in him.”
Sechman, who didn’t see much time as a junior, wasn’t a stat stuffer like honorable mention all-stater Evans. But he definitely did his part. He finished in the top five in five of LA’s statistical categories: 1st in blocks (14), 2nd in rebounds (116), 4th in assists (53), 4th in deflections (65) and 5th in points (131).
“He was at the middle, in the center, of our best stretches of basketball this season,” said Livatino, who guided the Ramblers to a 22-9 record. “He could hit the 17-footer and also get to the basket.
“And, as the season went along, he got more and more consistent,” the coach added.
Arguably, his best games of his season came in the Class 4A Zion-Benton Regional. In a 43-36 semifinal win over Highland Park, Sechman tallied 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Three days later, in a LA’s 43-40 victory over New Trier in the regional title game, he had four points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Defensive aces do this: They infuse energy.
During the stretch run of the 2016-17 season, Luke Zemelis started doing that on a regular basis for the Highland Park High School boys basketball team.
“Luke definitely was playing his best basketball at the end of the year,” said HP head coach Paul Harris.
Defense was his calling card. By season’s end, Zemelis got pretty good at disrupting the opponent.
“His defense is what got him on the floor,” said Harris.
In a late regular-season game — a come-from-behind 46-43 win at New Trier on Feb. 21 — Zemelis went from being a reserve to a “difference maker” by reeling off three rebounds and one steal in the final six minutes.
“Luke has a good feel for the game,” Harris said. “He’s got good instincts.”
Despite seeing only limited playing time, Zemelis finished fifth on his team in deflections (19) and tied for sixth in rebounds (28). He can thank his long arms and quickness for that.
“The great thing about Luke is that he embraced his role,” said Harris. “He did everything he could to help the team become successful.
“The same was true of our whole senior group,” added the HP coach, referring to fellow bench players Sam Goshen, Kobe Mandell, Charlie Fleisher and Thano Fourlas. “We had different guys on different nights come through for us. All of them were highly unselfish. These are the guys who have stuck it out. They’re the backbone of our program.”