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By Randy Whalen

Entering her second season as head girls basketball coach at Joliet West, Bre Blackmon knows how she wants to mold the Tigers.

She also knows that that all begins in the summer.

"I'm trying to build Tiger Pride," Blackmon said. "That family attitude and family concept. We're doing that with open gym and spirit days. Just giving them a break from the basketball (competition) reality and that's good."

When Joliet West got together four times during the week of June 16, not only was varsity represented at the Summer Camp, but so were the lower levels. 

"I feel like us all being together gives the other girls a taste of this and make sure we're on the same page," Makayla Chism said. "It helps to make sure that we have a better mentality and the whole program is a family."

Chism is the top returner for the Tigers, who finished 16-13 last season. Now a senior, the guard was a key player on last season's squad which took Lincoln-Way East down to the wire in a Class 4A regional title game at Joliet Central. Chism had a team-high 14 points but Joliet West lost 50-43 to the second-seeded Griffins (28-6). 

"Makela is back, is a real standout player, and will be vocal and be a leader," Blackmon said. "My first season as a head coach was very neat and I couldn't ask for more. I think we shocked some people."

The Tigers certainly did that in last season's regional. They were the No. 10-seed but beat No. 7-seeded Bloom Township 57-48 in the regional semifinal. The Blazing Trojans (21-9) led most of the game, including 20-16 after the first quarter, 29-27 at halftime, and 43-40 after three. But Joliet West rallied big time in the fourth quarter.

Maziah Shelton, who had a game-high 21 points and added eight rebounds, scored on a rebound basket to open the fourth quarter and start a deciding 13-0 run. Brooke Schwall, who was a beast in the game with career-highs of 18 points and 18 rebounds, scored seven points in the spurt. Chism added nine points in the game.

But Schwall, who was a 3-sport standout, and Shelton, who scored over 1,000 points, have graduated. So some new people have to step in this season.

One of them is Natalie Clemente, who is now a junior. She's nearly 6 feet tall and plays guard. 

"I like everything but I've been a taller guard," Clemente said of playing the different positions in basketball. "I can play either or, I just like to play as strong as I can. For me personally, I'm just trying to be a leader and step up. I've always wanted to play varsity basketball.

"I think it's a pertty big step. There are big shoes to fill and we have to adapt and talk more. I'm excited to be around the best. You have to cherish everything on varsity girls' basketball. It'll be here before you know it and time flies by."

While there are mostly just the summer camp gatherings for the Tigers this June, there are a couple of scrimmages against other teams. The first of those is on Tuesday, June 25 against Plainfield South. Then the team will travel to Oswego East on Friday, June 28 for a shootout. 

"To face Plainfield South and the Oswego East Shootout will be good matchups," Chism said. "It will give us an idea of what's coming next. It will help us get into that mentality and show us what we have to work on."

Being a veteran, Chism knows that the seeds of success are planted in these summer practices. 

"I've started since I was a sophomore," Chism said. "It (summer) is about getting behind the leaders. It's about being a Tiger, showing what a Tiger means, and learning what we need to know. 

"We have some great underclassmen and I like showing them what to do."

During the summer camp, Blackmon was wearing a Joliet West Girls Basketball tee-shirt from last year that read, "no off season." That's exactly what the 2008 Joliet West graduate, who played for the combined Joliet Township team back in that day, wants to instill in this group in the mid-20s decade.

"I'm excited for Year No. 2," Blackmon said. "I still like to get out there and play with them on the court. I want them to know that I have their back and it's all about making that connection."

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