By Mark Gregory
It has been the standard that when a team makes it to the IHSA state finals, the players from that team that have been invited to the Voyager Media Prep Shootout do not play in the game due mainly to pure exhaustion.
After all, those players have just played two of the hardest games of the season on back-to-back nights and more than likely returned to a community celebration that Sunday afternoon.
This season, however, that trend was bucked as two of the players from Bolingbrook’s Class 4A third place team – Cameron Harris and Nana Akenten – did show up and play in the game.
Akenten, who played 59 of the 64 possible minutes in Peoria, came out and put on a highlight show at the Shootout with jaw dropping dunks.
“I just love the game,” he said that night.
On the season, the Nebraska-bound senior averaged 14.8 point and 5.7 rebounds per game, was named to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Class 3A/4A first team and led the Raiders to its second third-place trophy in three seasons.
For that, he is the 2017 Voyager Media Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
Akenten was part of both the trophy winning clubs, but he had a much different role the last time around.
“My sophomore year, I was the guy that was supposed to come off the bench and do what I was told and I got really limited minutes,” he said. “I think that really helped me for this year. I saw what it took and I saw Prentiss (Nixon) and Brodric (Thomas) and my brother (Dimitri Akenten ) and all the seniors. They had the same mentality and they were on the same page all the time. I understood what kind of determination it took to get down here.
“Being a senior and being able to lead my team down here is amazing. In the beginning of the season, we had a lot of doubters who didn’t think we could be very good, but we just took that as motivation and we strived for the best.”
Akenten always strived for the best in his own game as well.
Unlike some of the players like Nixon and current sophomore Joseph Yesufu who have been on scouts’ radar since junior high, Akenten took his raw ability and molded it into a Division-I type player via hard work.
“It was a lot of hard work,” he said. “There is a point where skill is just not enough. If all I know how to do is shoot and my opponent is in the gym learning to defend me, he will prosper instead of me.”
Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost compares Akenten’s rise to that of Ben Moore, who recently finished his career in the NCAA tournament with Southern Methodist University.
“He is very similar to Ben Moore and what happened with him,” Brost said. “We are fortunate to have had a couple kids do what Nana has done. We have had kids like Prentiss and Joe (Yesufu) and people know who they are before they even get to Bolingbrook High School, but we take pride in how we develop our kids and they players they become and especially the people that they are.
“He has matured so much and a human being even more than a player and obviously, he is a great player. He has worked his way into being a first team all stater, McDonald’s All-American candidate, Gatorade Player of the Year nominee and all the stuff he is getting and then he is going to play in the Big 10, which speaks for itself. The best thing about him is that he is humble, he trusts the coaches and he cares about his teammates.”
Akenten credits that team bond to helping the success this season.
“Having a team like this is a blessing,” he said. “I have never played on a team like this before. Not even the basketball aspect, but just the love around the team. We are truly a family. We spend a lot of time together off the court.”
The rest of the First Team is:
He averaged 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game for the sectional finalist Tigers.
The MVP of the Voyager Media Prep Shootout was named to the IBCA Class 3A/4A All-State third team. He will play next season at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Binns will focus on baseball in college and in his final season as a basketball player, he helped the Raiders placed third in the state averaging 13.4 points and a team-best 7.1 points per game.
He was selected to the IBCA Class 3A/4A special mention team.
Senior averaged 17.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.1 steals per game for the 21-9 Indians.
He was named MVP of the WJOL Thanksgiving Tournament and was named to the all-tournament teams at the York and Galesburg MLK tournaments.
“Words cannot explain the importance and significance that Jonny Butler has meant to the Minooka basketball program,” said Minooka coach Scott Tanaka.
Grubbs averaged 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists per game this season. He was named to the IBCA Class 3A/4A All-State fourth team as well as the WJOL and State Farm Classic all tournament teams. He was named to the first team all-conference in the Southwest Prairie Conference.
“Jose was a pleasure to coach because of how hard his played for his teammates,” said coach Lawrence Thompson, Jr.
Leading scorer for the best team in school history averaged 19.3 points, 4.5 assists and 2.7 assists per game this season. He was named to the IBCA Class 3A/4A All-State second team.
McGrath, headed to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to play football, averaged 18.5 points and 6.8 rebounds to lead Lisle to its first regional championship since 2005.
He ended his career as the program’s second-leading scorer was named to the IBCA Class 1A/2A All-State fourth team.
Nolan averaged 18 points per game this season and connected on 88 3-point field goals and was named to the IBCA Class 3A/4A All-State third team.
Junior guard averaged 19.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and five assists per game this season. He was voted MVP of the Lane Thanksgiving Tournament and was named to the IBCA Class 3A/4A All-State third team.
He helped the Raiders to a third-place finish in the state by averaging 12.4 points, 4.3 assists and 2.2 rebounds on the season. He was selected to the IBCA Class 3A/4A third team.
A three-year starter for the Mustangs, Alibegovic nailed 90 3-point field goals this season and averaged 17.5 points per game.
A Western Michigan University commit, Clifford averaged 11.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, while helping the Mustangs win the WSC Gold title.
Senior captain averaged 10.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the Hillmen. He was named to the Aurora Christian All-Tournament team.
“Donovan’s Defense was a key to our success,” JCA coach Joe Gura said. “He guarded 3’s 4’s and 5’s. He was also a great scorer inside and out. He is as quality a human being as you will find.”
Senior averaged 14 points, five rebounds and three steals per game for the Wolves.
Junior guard has been a three-year starter for the Spartans and has averaged 12.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.3 steals per game this season.
He averaged 16.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and two steals per game for the Trojans.
“Bryan has been our go to player the entire year,” said North coach Jim Thomas. “He has delivered on multiple occasions down the stretch of games. With two game winners at the buzzer and two more go ahead baskets to put us up.
“He has been clutch all year long.”
Lyman averaged 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while often defending the opposing team’s top player.
Hilltopper captain averaged 13.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and two assists per game this season. He was named to the all-tournament teams at both Aurora Christian and East Aurora and was a member of the East Suburban Catholic Conference all-conference team.
“Pete plays the game as hard as anyone I coached he willed us to victory some nights,” said JCA coach Joe Gura.
The winner of the Voyager Media Jeremy Izzo Character Award, the Porter point guard led the team in scoring (11.4 points per game), steals (1.4 steals per game) and rebounding (4.8 rebounds per game)
Sophomore averaged 10.1 points per game while adding 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists for the 30-2 Raiders this season.