By Mark Gregory
Joliet West coach Nick DiForti was his normal cool, calm and collected self during his post game interviews after a heartbreaking 78-66 loss to top-seed Bolingbrook, who used a 20-2 run to erase a 12 point Tiger lead and claim the Lincoln Way East Sectional title.
When asked about his senior class, however, DiForti was hit with emotion.
His eyes swelled and he paused to reflect on the impact the four players had on the West program.
“They are special,” he said. “They have had so much pressure the last two years that a young man has never experienced. But, through the game of basketball, they have experienced so much pressure and handled it so well. Starting last year as juniors, the pressure that was put on these guys – it hasn’t been around Joliet in some time. Not only pressure from Joliet – but pressure from outside venues – which allowed us to get really nice games.
“They have had all this pressure the last two years and have made a name for themselves and will go down as one of the best Joliet teams ever.”
The senior class was comprised of Trevian Bell and Teyvion Kirk, who played on varsity for West their entire sophomore year, along with Tabyous Casterberry and Elijah Ward, who were called up at the end of their sophomore season.
In the past two seasons, the seniors posted a record of 47-14, recording only the second back-to-back 20 win seasons in Joliet West history and first two since the combined Joliet Township teams did so in 1993-94 and 1994-95.
The 26 wins this season are the most ever by a Joliet West team and this year’s Tigers are only the ninth group in the 112 year history of District 204 basketball to win 25 games in a season. Adding in Joliet Catholic, the 2017 Tigers are only the 14th team ever to win 25 games while representing the city of Joliet.
The West seniors are one of only three groups to ever win back-to-back regional titles and claimed one of only three Tiger sectional titles.
West lost to Bolingbrook this season, behind a game high 23 points from Bell and 12 from Kirk, a team poised to make a run at a state trophy and fell to state runner-up Benet a year ago.
The players also gained a lot more than just wins and school records.
“It has been a privilege playing with these guys. They are my brothers,” Kirk said. “The coaches are great. The fans, the security guards, the teachers, they have all been so great. The whole environment has been such a blessing.”
That environment, Bell said has helped the seniors in their growth.
“I could ask for a better support system or better teammates, it has been a blessing,” he said. “I have a great relationship with my coaches, I love them and I love them. We have built such a great relationship in my three years on varsity – it is great.”
That growth over four years, on and off the court, is something DiForti is most proud of.
“I am so proud of these guys,” DiForti said. “They have matured as young men. I couldn’t be more proud of them. (The loss) is hard for them because of the passion they have for this game, but the maturation process in basketball is unbelievable. There are adults that don’t handle pressure like these kids do and that is through the simple game of basketball.”
The game of basketball will continue for all four of the seniors will play next season.
Bell will continue his career at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, while Kirk is weighing his options after decommitting from Drake early in the season when Ray Giacoletti resigned as coach. He is being recruited by several Division-I schools, including St. Bonaventure, Boston College and Northern Illinois.
Kirk and Casterberry will first head to the junior college ranks, in hopes to follow in the footsteps of Morris Dunnigan, another West standout that went the JuCo direction and landed with D-I Houston this season.
“Our four seniors are playing basketball after high school and that is not something a lot of teams can say,” Bell said. “There is an end to everything and unfortunately this was ours. They deserved it and we deserved it. We have to look past it eventually – we can’t dwell on it.”