Experience, depth keys off Trevians’ bench

cbmemqeukaaz7e4They sit in a sea of blue warm-ups with rolling waves of varying heights. In a line of chairs extending to the baseline of the home gym, sits a group that on quieter nights equals the size of the student cheering section sitting directly across from them.

The 14-man unit made up of six seniors and eight juniors await their turn.

“You just keep that faith in the coaching staff that they know what they’re doing,” said Joe Akason, a bench player and one of the team’s senior captains. “You’ve got to keep your faith in the other players, know the guys are going to do a good job, but know that if your name is called you’ve got to go out there and contribute.”

The Trevians’ starting lineup features two sophomores, representing a bright future for the program. But so far this season, it has been their bench providing valuable depth, experience, leadership and ultimately, the team’s identity.

New Trier High School has over 3,000 students, one of the top twenty largest high schools in the state of Illinois, which is why it isn’t unique for the Trevians to have a varsity team like this season’s, 19 deep. Their practices are a sight, with all 19 players dressed, rotating lineups and alternating sides of the floor in a massive scrimmage they call “Firemen.”

And they’ve needed everyone ready, starting the season playing four games in six days. New Trier’s coach Scott Fricke has not only been able to take advantage of his depth early in the year, but also utilizes the flexibility the bench allots them.

“It’s a feel thing for me,” said Fricke, now in his ninth season as head coach after serving as an assistant for 10 years. “If I feel like this kid is playing hard in practice and playing well and confident, then he’s going to get the nod that day. Depending on what kind of game we’re playing, [if it’s] a team where I think we need shooters, I’ll go with more of the shooters. If it’s more of a toughness game, I’ll go with more of our tough guys.”

And so they know that every time they get into a game they have a chance to make an impact. It’s a versatile, cohesive group, most of whom have been playing together since middle school or earlier, with individual specializations and yet roles that remain fluid.

Senior James Connors, the leading scorer off the bench, is shooting 40 percent from three-point range. Senior Teddy McGregor, with his athletic frame and long arms, is the focal point of the team’s 1-3-1 defense. Connors, McGregor and junior Griffin Ryan have combined for 16 steals in just four games.

“We don’t really have a star player,” said Connors. “It’s just more of a good group of guys that know how to play together as a team and that’s what we’re all about.”

The bench has been a major factor in every one of New Trier’s games this season. In their win over Mather, they scored 42 of the team’s 69 points. In their overtime victory over Loyola, Connors and McGregor combined for 13 points on 3-for-7 shooting from three. After being down by nine to U-High, Ryan and senior Jack French led New Trier on a 9-2 run to cut the lead down to one.

“It’s a huge help,” said sophomore Spencer Boehm, one of the team’s young starters.  “Everybody’s ready to play at all times. Nobody’s mad about playing time or anything. Everybody’s always locked in so when they come in and score it’s a huge boost because everybody on the team can play.”

That belief from the coaches and starters has given them the confidence to play the way they have. But it is also due in part to the maturity the Trevians have coming off their bench with so many upperclassmen. So as they sit knowing their name can be called at any moment, players say they are making observations, seeing the holes in the game and anticipating their opportunities.

They’ve bought in to being a part of something bigger, a way of basketball that has become the identity of New Trier.

“We’re trying to do what’s best for the team and sometimes you’re going to have a lot of minutes and sometimes you’re not,” Fricke said. “And the way we respond to that is the kind of team we’re going to be.”