The Kaneland boys basketball team will head into Saturday’s matchup against Geneva at the United Center on a high note.
The Knights (7-3) dropped their first game of the Plano Christmas Classic, then strung together three consecutive wins to earn a ninth-place finish in the tournament. More importantly, though, Kaneland built momentum heading into a tough stretch of its schedule. Coach Brian Johnson structured the schedule to match up his team against some of the top competition in the area.
“We’re gonna have a good test here on Saturday against Geneva, who is in my opinion one of the better teams in the state of Illinois,” Johnson said. “And then you throw on top of that Morris, who’s going to be in the championship (at Plano), and then Burlington Central after that, who’s in the final four. We’ve got a tough schedule, and it was made that way for a purpose.”
The matchup against Geneva (12-3), which will be at 2 p.m Saturday at the United Center, was a long time in the making. Johnson, who is in his fifth season as Kaneland’s coach, jumped at the opportunity to play at the venue.
“My first year we did the same thing with [Geneva], and then with the conference change and their schedule, we kind of delayed it,” Johnson said. “Then last year (Geneva coach) Phil (Ralston) approached me about playing the game, so it was a no-brainer.”
Johnson knows his team will have its hands full with a tough Geneva team that is coming off a tournament championship in the East Aurora Holiday Tournament.
“We’re going to have to figure out what we’re going to do and hopefully we’re going to come out and compete,” Johnson said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Senior forward John Pruett is looking forward to renewing the old Western Sun Conference rivalry. He said the Knights has been looking forward to the game all year, both because of the opponent and the change of scenery.
“We used to play Geneva,” Pruett said. “They were our rival. Geneva is a premier team in the area and the state.”
The rivalry game will be further amplified by the opportunity to play on NBA hardwood.
“I’ve been [to the United Center] before for a (Bulls) game and it’s crazy,” Pruett said. “I could only imagine how it’s going to be playing on the court.”
Pruett will only have to wait a few more days before the dream of competing in the arena will become a reality.
Johnson views the game as a strong step for Kaneland’s basketball program.
“It’s cool, the kids love it,” Johnson said. “My goal this year was to bump up our schedule and do some things that were neat that the kids can remember.”
Given the way the two teams have been playing as of late, the matchup is looking like it will be a memorable one. Pruett, along with senior guard Ty Carlson, have emerged as leaders for a Kaneland team that has had to play recently without guard Dylan Vaca and 6-foot-5 center Jacob Gomes, both out with injuries. Johnson hopes to have Vaca (wrist) and Gomes (ankle) back by the end of the month.
In the meantime, Pruett, Carlson and Co. will look to build on their final three games in Plano and establish a consistent high level of play, something Johnson said the Knights have been lacking. Johnson hopes his team will recognize Saturday’s game as a model for how the postseason games will shape up.
“We’re trying to get a regional atmosphere,” Johnson said. “Granted, the United Center’s not going to be packed, but it’s still a big gym. It’s going to be an awesome experience, the boys are all excited about it.”