Niles North boys varsity basketball hoops to a historic start; prepared for postseason


Lucas Nolte

The Niles North varsity boys basketball program has seen its fair share of success in recent years. From winning the Central Suburban League North multiple times to producing an NBA player (Boston Celtics forward Abdel Nader) the Vikings are no slouches when it comes to Illinois high school basketball. Despite this recent success, the team has remained a somewhat unknown commodity, with little preseason hype or media acclaim accompanying their wins. This is not the case for the 2017-18 boys basketball team, who for the first time have garnered attention both locally and at the state level.

Before the season, the Vikings were ranked as the sixth best team in the state of Illinois by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Michael O’Brien. This ranking came after a 2016-17 season in which the Vikings were a young, talented team who appeared poised to make noise in their sectional. The Vikings lost a heartbreaking thriller against Notre Dame College Prep to end their season, but instead of wallowing in this disappointment, the teams’ returning core immediately got to work to improve on their already successful regular season.

Lead by DaMaria Franklin, Jamal Stephenson, and Dravon Clayborn, all three of whom are returning seniors, it is easy to see why the Vikings were praised before the season even started. The impressive displays of skill and athleticism that these three put on each game makes Niles North basketball games a premier attraction for students and the community alike. Aided by other strong players such as Demarion Bariffe-Smith and freshman Jalen Butler, the Vikings are not only an appealing team to watch but also a team that is hard to beat.

The Vikings began the season in an incredible fashion, posting 13 consecutive victories without a loss. This stretch of games included a tournament win at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic, as well as a victory against perennial powerhouse Evanston at home.

The victory against Evanston was particularly noteworthy in that the Vikings were down more than 10 points in the second quarter yet later rallied to achieve a 64-52 win.

After this victory, the Vikings appeared the early favorites to take the CSL South, but after a controversial loss in a conference game against New Trier High School and then a second loss to the Maine South Redhawks, the Vikings road to a conference title has become a bit more difficult.

However, the players on the team remain optimistic about the rest of their season and and maintain that they are right where they want to be at the season’s midpoint.

With the talents of the aforementioned trio of Franklin, Stephenson, and Clayborn as well as the great depth provided by a variety of seniors and juniors, the Vikings have the ability to compete with any team in Illinois.

“Obviously we have a strong senior core and they’re the leaders, but us juniors and other younger players are expected to step up and make plays when Coach Olsen calls our number. I really think we have a shot to go far in the IHSA state playoffs and it’s good to be able to learn from a talented group of seniors.” Omar Policape, junior guard, said.

After an impressive victory against rivals Niles West by a score of 79-40, the team’s second large win of the season against Niles West, the team’s confidence is at a high and players are looking forward to the postseason.

There is still a lot of basketball to played before the much anticipated sectional finals, so remaining focused is imperative according to coach Olson.

“I’ve been telling my guys since the beginning of the year that they just need to play their game and do what they need to do and success will come, and now it’s more important than ever to keep playing hard and build on our victories as well as learn from our losses.” Olson said.

Featured Image courtesy of Niles North Athletics Department