MACHESNEY PARK — Mike Winters, who had won big at Boylan, Rock Falls and Jefferson, brought great hope to Harlem when he was hired last year. Especially when the new coach was followed by transfer guards Andre White Jr. and Treye Tucker.
But White, whom Hononegah coach Mike Miller predicted would be the best NIC-10 guard since Fred VanVleet of the Toronto Raptors, moved on to his fourth school in four years after only 10 games at Harlem and Tucker missed six games and was never healthy.
“Not knowing him last year, I never realized how unhealthy Treye was,” Winters said. “His energy level now is night-and-day compared to last year.”
Even with a diminished Tucker and no White, Harlem improved, going 6-10 in the league after being 7-41 the previous three years. Now Tucker and fellow senior guard David Williams lead an even more improved version of the Huskies. Williams, the only returning first-team all-conference player in the NIC-10, ranked third with 15.8 points as a junior. Tucker averaged 10.4 and led in assists at 5.1.
Tre’Shaun Jones, a 6-7 senior who was inconsistent as a junior, also gives the Huskies one of the league’s better big men. Together, those three and Bryson Thomas, who averaged 6.2 points as a freshman last year, give Harlem a shot at one of its best seasons in a long time. The Huskies haven’t finished in the top half of the conference since 2009, nor won 20 games since 1994, nor more than 20 since 1956.
“We hope to be in the mix,” Winters said. “The league is really, really good this year, top to bottom. There are not a lot of gimmes. I’m not sure you can say that in most years.
“We’re going to go as far as our willingness to defend will take us. That’s a big question mark. Are we really, really willing to defend? If we are, we can be up there with everybody else. If not, we’ll be in the middle- to bottom-half again.”
Matt Trowbridge: 815-987-1383; firstname.lastname@example.org; @matttrowbridge
Huskies at a glance
Coach: Mike Winters (2nd year, 9-20 at Harlem, 313-132 overall)
Last season: 9-20 (6-10)
Predicted finish: 6th
Returning starters: David Williams (6-0 Sr. G), Treye Tucker (5-11 Sr. G), Dom Renteria (5-10 Sr. G), Tre’Shaun Jones (6-7 Sr. C).
Strengths: Harlem returns 73 percent of its scoring and can score in a variety of ways.
Weaknesses: Defense and rebounding.
Outlook: David Williams (16.0 points, 3.9 rebounds), Treye Tucker (10.4 points, 5.1 assists), Bryson Thomas (6.2 points as a freshman) and Tre’Shaun Jones (4.6 points, 4.3 rebounds) give the Huskies top-end talent, and Blake Gribble returns after missing last year with two shoulder surgeries. The Huskies have more pieces to the puzzle than they have had in any recent year but have to put them together. “If we buy in on the defensive end and on the glass, we could be very good,” coach Mike Winters said.