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Boys basketball: Larkin fired up and ready to go

Larkin's Kendale McCullum celebrates after scoring basket last season. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media

Larkin's Kendale McCullum celebrates after scoring a basket last season. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 13, 2013 6:12AM

For the past few months, the Larkin boys basketball team’s Twitter feed sent out a periodic countdown to some important dates on the calendar.

The Royals still have two weeks until their first game and 38 days until their first meeting with rival Elgin, but the wait is over for one important milestone as the first day of practice Monday marked the official start of the 2013-14 season throughout the state.

“We’ve been buzzing about this and waiting for this to come,” Larkin senior Kendale McCullum said. “We’re ready to bring it and excited to get things started.”

Losing the top two scorers from last year’s team to graduation hasn’t diminished the outlook at Larkin.

In fact, expectations are higher than ever after an influx of young talent combined with a group of savvy veterans to produce a dominant 29-2 run through summer league action. While nowhere near as intense as the regular season, the success in the summer is a sign the Royals are ready to raise the bar after posting the program’s highest win total since 1993 with last year’s 23-6 finish.

“We’ll talk briefly about last year, but that is over and so is our summer,” Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. “I think our guys are excited about writing their own chapter.”

McCullum is a key piece of the puzzle as he returns for his third varsity season at point guard after averaging 11.2 points, 5.0 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 3.9 steals last year. Senior guard Derrick Streety is on board for his fourth varsity season, senior forward Drew Jones is a three-year varsity starter and senior forward Brayden Royse is also back in the starting lineup.

That experience should serve the Royals well, as will the arrival of freshman phenom Christian Negron, who figures to make an immediate impact with his ability to play around the rim. Sophomore guards Keyvon Kyles and Trell Mardis are two other newcomers eyeing spots in the rotation.

“We threw a lot of young guys in there during the summer to see what they can do, and so far they’ve been responding really well,” Streety said. “We need to keep instilling in them what we’ve gotten going the last year or so.”

Larkin isn’t the only local team with lofty goals this year. Belmont recruit Amanze Egekeze looks to guide Huntley to its fourth straight Fox Valley Valley title, and St. Edward will try to continue its upward trajectory after finishing 20-8 last season.

But no team will be wearing a target as big as Larkin.

“I think some of us will be ready for it, but some of the people on our team who don’t have the varsity experience don’t know what’s going to happen,” McCullum said. “We’re going to have to make sure everyone can stay under control and that we’re not forcing anything.”

Geneva and St. Charles East look like the two teams with the best chance of dethroning the Royals as Upstate Eight River champions. Larkin also knows nothing will come easy in the postseason after the thrill of capturing the program’s first regional title since 2006 quickly gave way to the disappointment of a sectional semifinal loss to Rockford Jefferson last year.

Before worrying about winning championships, the Royals will use the next two weeks of practice to lay the foundation for the long winter ahead.

“Everything is new,” Carter said. “Even if it is something we did last year, we have a new combination of guys doing it now. I look at Day 1 as the day we start building so we can be as good as we can be come the end of February and the beginning of March.”

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