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Spartans hoop to keep the good times rolling

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By Randy Whalen
Correspondent

The recent string of success for the Oak Lawn boys basketball team is something that hasn’t been seen at the school in 50 years.

Now, with the edition of Xavier Sulaiman, who scored 38 points in an 86-85 travel team loss in mid-July, the Spartans have the potential to be even better.

“Xavier is a senior guard who can move the ball very quickly,” said Rhodes of Sulaiman, who played at Marist last season. “He can shoot the three, handle the ball and does a great job attacking the basket. He’s a good kid.”

Sulaiman made the 2022 East Suburban Catholic All-Conference Team and was named on the Honorable Mention list of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Class 4A All-State team.

Last season, the Spartans went 25-7 overall and captured the South Suburban Conference Red for their first conference championship since 1983.

“We’ve been gunning for that for a long time,” Rhodes said of the conference title. “It’s special to finally check that box of conference champions, since that’s been a program goal of ours since I started here (in the 2011-12 season).”

Last season’s 25 victories marked the most wins by the Spartans since the 1970-71 team finished 30-3. That squad was the state runner-up to Quinn Buckner-led Thornridge in the final season of the single-class system.

The 2022-23 Spartans will attempt reach 20-plus wins for the third time in four years. The preparation for that all starts in the summer, and Oak Lawn had an excellent summer. The Spartans won the nine-team South(West) Suburban Summer League on June 29 with a 69-67 victory over Stagg in the final.

Nine players from last year’s team graduated but there is plenty of talent coming back.

“We have a good group of guys,” Rhodes said. “Ayham Salah was all-conference last year. He’s quick and crafty and is the quarterback on the football team. Robert Wagner is a senior who placed eighth in the state (Class 3A) in the high jump.

“We are guard-heavy, but Henry Martinez is a junior who is 6-foot-6. Eduardo Chiquito is a senior forward and Corey Lee is a junior point guard who is going to be special for us.”

Last season, Oak Lawn lost to Kenwood, 55-26, in the Oak Lawn Regional title game. Kenwood won the subsequent sectional crown.

“That was just a tough matchup,” Rhodes said of playing Kenwood. “Our sectional was so tough, and to win one of those you have to be really, really good.”

With Sulaiman and other talented players in the fold, will the Spartans be good enough to win a regional this coming season? They broke through with the conference championship this past campaign and they haven’t won a regional since the 1987-88 season, a span of 35 years.

“To win a regional is the next thing we can check off,” Rhodes said. “But I no longer set those goals. I just want to go out and control what we can on the court and the rest will be a byproduct of that.

“I just want us to be the best team we can be.”

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