Benet Academy boys basketball has had many great teams over the history of their program. In the last eight years alone, they were a 4A state runner up both in 2014 and 2016 as well as a super-sectional qualifier in 2018. In 2020, the Redwings made it to the 3A sectional semifinal against Hinsdale South before their season was canceled hours before tip-off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This season has been yet another memorable one for Benet Academy boys basketball, but this team is hoping to achieve what the others could not. Learn more in this Team Profile presented by Advantage Acura.
Gene Heidkamp: “I think we’re getting better as the season goes on. Our guard play and our big guys are starting to mesh really well together. I think our defense has really improved throughout the course of the season and that’s been a big part of the success. And also we’ve started to limit our turnovers.”
Head coach Gene Heidkamp has enjoyed plenty of success during his career at Benet Academy boys basketball and has led his team to an 8-0 record in the ESCC and 19-5 overall this season. After a recent win against Notre Dame, the Redwings clinched a share of the regular season conference title for the first time since 2016 and are looking to clinch it outright for the first time since 2013 when they face St. Viator in their final game before the playoffs.
Heidkamp: “If they’re able to do something like that, I think that’s pretty special because our league is so strong. There’s so many great teams and coaches in our league that whenever you’re able to win a conference championship, it’s pretty special. That achievement itself draws some special recognition or attention.”
Brady Kunka: “It’s definitely been one of the best experiences I’ve had playing basketball across my life. I mean it’s super special always to win a conference championship. I mean it was a goal we had from day one. We kind of knew this year we would be in the top three or four teams in the conference. It’s just been a great season to be a part of.”
This Benet squad has a ton of experience. The roster is made up of mostly juniors and seniors like Brady Kunka, Brennan White, Sam Driscoll, Ben Romenesko, Kyle Thomas, Nikola Abusara, and Weston Stephens. Kunka is one of their leading scorers.
Kunka: “I think I’ve just been put in a good spot by Coach and by other guys. We had a good offseason and obviously the edition of Kyle helped us out a lot. I’ve developed a lot over the offseason and we kind of meshed with other guys. I’ve been put in a good position to score a lot, I guess, get other guys open as well, and just kind of thrive off of that.”
Senior Kyle Thomas, standing at 6’10”, transferred to Benet before the season after his previous school St. Joseph closed in April last year. His father Daryl, a former St. Joe’s standout himself, was a starter for Indiana basketball under legendary coach Bob Knight back when the Hoosiers won the national championship over Syracuse in 1987. Tragically, Daryl Thomas passed away from a heart attack in 2018. With a chance for a fresh start, Kyle’s addition has played a huge part in the Redwings’ success this season.
Kyle Thomas: “It was different at the start. I mean it’s a different type of system to play in, completely. Really my main focus was to just try and help the team as much as possible and get them as far into the season as possible.”
Division 1 teams across the country and the state of Illinois have recruited Thomas for years. But it will be Eastern Illinois earning his services as he committed to the Panthers last month. Until then, he knows there is still work to be done for this Benet team as the season ramps up.
Thomas: “I just want to help the team win. We play as a team. When we play as a team, it’s hard to beat us. I mean, I’m a big part of the team. Everybody has their own part to play. I’m going to play mine to the best of my ability.”
With the playoffs right around the corner, Coach Heidkamp still wants his players to improve in two areas as the games become more important.
Heidkamp: “We can definitely get better defensively. There’s no doubt. Even though we are getting better, I think there’s a ways to go there. Our decision making is something that is a work in progress and I think that’s something that’s also getting better. But those two areas as far as limiting turnovers and defending with purpose I think are really important for us if we’re going to be successful down the stretch of the season.”
The goal for this team at season’s end is simple.
Thomas: “We want to win. We want to win everything we can. We want to be as selfish when it comes down to winning as possible. It’s no ifs, ands or buts.”
For Naperville Sports Weekly, I’m Josiah Schueneman.