A year ago the preseason breakout senior list included Barrington’s Will Grudzinski. Boy did he ever exceed that expectation.
Despite a productive junior season, he was unknown outside the Mid-Suburban League and northwest suburbs heading into last season. But he put in four big months of high-level basketball. By the end of his senior season he was leading the Broncos on a magical March run and a Class 4A fourth-place finish in Champaign.
There are so many players with the potential to rise to the occasion with expanded roles and by simply becoming experienced seniors. Some have dazzled in small sample sizes, either last season or over the course of the offseason.
Here is a short list of seniors set to be heard from this season and who we will see big jumps from in 2022-23.
Drew Scharnowski, Burlington Central
How did a player ranked among the top dozen prospects in the senior class who was an offseason sensation and is headed to Belmont in the Missouri Valley Conference get on this list?
Because he didn’t even average double figures as a junior last season as Burlington Central rolled to a school record 31 wins.
Thus, the 6-8 Scharnowski must be included and is undoubtedly set to be one the breakout players this season.
Scharnowski is a fluid big man who can run the floor, sink a three and handle the ball on the perimeter. He had a big offseason for Breakaway on the club basketball scene and, between his play in June and July had nearly two dozen offers to choose from by the end of the summer.
Arius Alijosius, Riverside-Brookfield
After graduating four of five starters from a 23-win regional championship team, Alijosius steps in and is fully prepared to add a whole lot to his plate. He provided offensive punch off the bench last year as a junior and has taken a big step forward.
When you talk about a few of the state’s top shooters, Alijosius is among the best. The 6-3 guard is an absolute flame-thrower from three — he shot 49% from beyond the arc a year ago. He lit up the summer with his three-point shooting and signed with Division II Winona State earlier this month.
Tsvet Sotirov, Rolling Meadows
Just wait until you see the rapidly improving Sotirov, a marksman from the perimeter who is inching close to 6-8.
This is arguably the biggest sleeper in the senior class. Sotirov is one of the most improved players, even since the summer, and he’s ready to break out.
Yes, this is undeniably Cameron Christie’s team, the star senior who will put up massive numbers this season. And there is plenty of other overlooked talent on this roster, but Sotirov has size, length and can stretch the floor with his catch-and-shoot ability from three.
While the numbers likely won’t be huge with Christie and so much talent on this roster, Sotirov will prove to be a no-brainer scholarship player over the course of the season.
Brayden Fagbemi, Benet
While his teammate Niko Abusara broke out over the spring and summer and garnered Division I interest, Fagbemi remains a complete unknown. He emerged as a small college recruiting target this past summer who committed to Division III Johns Hopkins.
He played sparingly off the bench for Benet last year. But he will step in as the lead guard and showcase his natural feel and poise for the position and provide some scoring punch. The 5-11 senior can do both: score and distribute.
Ryan Johnson, Oswego East
A role player a year ago, the 6-6 Johnson put together a strong summer and ever since has become one of the biggest Division III recruiting targets, along with some Division II interest. That’s after averaging just five points last season as a junior.
Johnson moves well, runs the floor and can knock down shots. He will play a prominent role with offensive aggression for a team that will need his added production.
Jackson Kotecki, St. Ignatius
The name is familiar — the 6-8 forward has been ranked and has had eyes on him since he entered high school — but the production has been modest as he continues to develop. Last year he put up 6.2 points and four rebounds.
After a breakthrough offseason and added confidence that warranted Division I interest, Kotecki is set to up those numbers and be an impactful player for a ranked team. Kotecki is headed to Miami-Ohio next year.
DJ Wallace, Hoffman Estates
Even with his body still developing and some rough edges around his game last season, Wallace still managed to average 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Wallace is disruptive defensively, shows a soft touch out to the three-point line and can play above the rim. The long, wiry 6-8 Wallace should make another considerable jump and possibly help Hoffman Estates exceed expectations after losing four starters and 80 percent of its scoring from last year’s 24-win team.