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West Aurora looks poised for a big year

Junior guard Jontrel Walker is “definitely go-guy” for West Auroraccording veteran head coach Gordie Kerkman. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

Junior guard Jontrel Walker is “definitely a go-to guy” for West Aurora, according to veteran head coach Gordie Kerkman. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Coach: Gordie Kerkman

Last year: 25-6, 11-3 DuPage Valley.

Key returnees: Jayquan Lee, Sr. G; Jontrel Walker, Jr. G; Josh McAuley, Sr. C; Chandler Thomas, Sr. F; Spencer Thomas, Sr. F; Rey Acevedo, Sr. C.

Top newcomers: Matt Williams, Jr. F; Matt Dunn, Soph. G; Roland Griffin, Soph. G; Tommie Koth, Soph. G.

Updated: December 20, 2012 6:27AM

The big gun — four-year varsity starter and Beacon-News Player of the Year Juwan Starks — may be gone, but plenty of weapons remain at West Aurora.

That’s why veteran coach Gordie Kerkman is not surprised many consider his Blackhawks favorites to return to the top of the DuPage Valley Conference. They return four starters from a team that advanced to the Hinsdale Central Supersectional last season before falling to eventual Class 4A runner-up Proviso East.

“I think they have a right to,” said Kerkman, noting the importance of guard play in high school basketball and pointing out the return of 6-foot junior Jontrel Walker and 6-0 senior Jayquan Lee.

This will be the third year in a row they have been paired in the West backcourt. Walker was second on the team in scoring to Starks’ 17.3 points per game, averaging 13.6 while Lee was third at 6.8.

Other returning starters are 6-1 senior forward Chandler Thomas and 6-7 senior post Josh McAuley, and they’re joined by Chandler’s twin, 6-1 Spencer, who played starter-like minutes off the bench for West.

Walker also pulled down 3.1 rebounds, dished out 3.4 assists and had 1.3 steals last season for a team that finished 25-6 overall and 11-3, runner-up to Naperville North in the DVC.

“He had a visit to Iowa last week and I know he’s gotten letters from Marquette and DePaul, I’m not sure of the other schools that are interested in him but there will probably be more,” Kerkman said.

A point of emphasis Kerkman assistant Paul Kiefer will make with Walker and Lee, as it has been for each of the past two seasons, is continuing to improve their ballhandling skills.

“(Walker) has been shooting exceptionally well (in preseason workouts), but one of the big things to emphasize to everybody is that I think he’ll do a better job of handling the ball,” Kerkman said.

“He made a lot of progress last year. I really thought he did a better job of handling Proviso East’s press than the guards from Simeon did (in the state title matchup with the Pirates). He had some turnovers in that game, but most of them came in the halfcourt sets after we got the ball across midcourt.”

Walker will likely carry the load on offense for West.

“Although I’m usually able to hold most of these kids (scoring averages) down, somewhat by design,” noted Kerkman. “Jontrel is definitely a go-to guy.”

Lee can be a force on offense, too, but “he’s one of our better defenders on the perimeter,” continued the coach. “He plays awfully hard and runs a little bit hot and cold as a shooter but he is a good shooter, who can go on a run. He’s one of the stoppers on defense.”

McAuley, who averaged 5.0 points and 4.5 rebounds, looked much more aggressive in early summer with the Blackhawks and then played well for the Illinois Attack of former East Aurora and NIU standout Rodney Davis in summer AAU ball.

“He is much more assertive and has the potential to be a dominant player for us,” said Kerkman, whose assistant Dan Batka tutors the big men. “He had some outstanding defensive games for us last year. Against Curie he went up against a 6-8 kid and did really well and he held his own really well against (Naperville Central standout Nick) Czarnowski. With his long arms, he plays taller than 6-7.”

The twins — Chandler averaged 6.3 points and 5.6 boards while Spencer had 5.5 and 4.0 averages — both play bigger than 6-1, thanks to good positioning and wise use of their physical talents.

“If everybody (on the team) played as hard as they did, it would be a question of who we play in Peoria,” Kerkman said.

The Blackhawks’ bench will also be key with 6-5 veteran Rey Acevedo likely backing up McAuley and 6-2 junior forward Matt Williams coming off the bench.

“Rey’s a very aggressive kid and a good defender,” Kerkman said. “And Williams is a guy who has looked real good. He’s been shooting the ball well, has grown some and could be fighting for a starting spot.”

Then there’s a trio of three sophomores Kerkman has promoted, including 5-8 guard Matt Dunn, 6-3 wing Roland Griffin and 6-2 guard Tommie Koth. All three will be expected to contribute, especially with key reserves from last year — Aaron Kennebrew and Booker Ross — deciding not to come out this year.

Blackhawk fans will get a treat early on this year as the team opens its season with a Rock Island Tournament game at home against Chicago Tilden Wednesday night, thanks to a scheduling conflict at the host school. West will then play Friday and Saturday out west.

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