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Aurora Christian returns talent, experience

Junior Johnathan Harrell is one several experienced players returning for AurorChristian this season. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media

Junior Johnathan Harrell is one of several experienced players returning for Aurora Christian this season. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media

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Aurora Christian

Coach: Pat McNamara

Last year: 18-8

Top returners: Cory Windle, Sr., Ryan McQuade, Sr., Ryan Suttle, Sr., Chad Beebe, Sr., Johnathan Harrell, Jr.

Updated: December 19, 2012 12:58PM

Like most perennial state football powers, Aurora Christian gets into the basketball season a little slower than most schools.

With the Eagles set to take on Sterling Newman Saturday in a Class 3A state semifinal, and a potential second straight state title game appearance in Champaign awaiting next week, several of the players who will make up the basketball roster will just be turning in their football equipment when other schools already have a few games under their belts.

It wasn’t a problem last winter, when Christian went 18-8 after winning a state football title, and new coach Pat McNamara expects a pretty smooth transition this year as well. He doesn’t mind waiting because the players coming in match up well to his coaching philosophy of defending, blocking out and “hustling like crazy.”

“I like football players,” McNamara said. “They are more rugged guys and they want to win. I’m hoping the guys (Ryan McQuade, Cory Windle, Chad Beebe and Ryan Suttle) will be ready by Christmas time.”

The Eagles return several players from last year, and that should help. Suttle, a 6-foot guard, is a three-year starter, McQuade (6-4) has started for two seasons, Windle (6-4) was the sixth man a year ago and Beebe contributed off the bench. They will join 6-3 junior Johnathan Harrell — a two-year starter — as part of a heavy-minutes rotation that will be able to call on its experience and familiarity to help with the transition.

Hitting the ground running will be a key as the early schedule doesn’t do Christian any favors. The Eagles face Suburban Christian foes Wheaton Academy, St. Francis and Aurora Central in a span of 11 days in early December, and coupled with an always tough Newark squad and five games at the Plano Christmas Classic, the team will see some pretty stiff tests right out of the box.

“We have a tough schedule early on,” McNamara acknowledged. “We’ve got to get it together in a hurry or we will get knocked out of the league early.”

McNamara joins the program after spending the last several years as an assistant to Nate Drye at Aurora Central. Prior to that he was the head coach at Marmion and Plano, where he won a combined 112 games in eight seasons.

He feels like this team has a lot of potential once it hits its stride later on in the year.

“We have enough size and shooters, but we have to get everyone to buy into the idea of putting the team first,” said McNamara. “I think the issue for us will be to play defense and share the ball. I like to play 10 guys and I think we have that many guys to do that. Then you just put pressure on the other team and make them beat you.”

Aurora Christian opens the season hosting IMSA, Joliet Catholic, Montini and St. Edward in the Burney Wilkie Classic. The Eagles will take on IMSA in their first game Nov. 27.

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