Libertyville's season became a personal testing ground for Aidyn Boone, whether he intended it or not.
Over 35 games, the senior forward blossomed into the best player on the best team in Lake County.
“All I was hoping for was to make a positive impact to better the team,” Boone said. “None of this would have been possible without my teammates.”
In fact, Boone was surrounded by four other senior starters. But after one season as the Wildcats' sixth man, he quickly proved to be the missing link that kept the entire operation buzzing like clockwork.
Boone, the 2022-23 News-Sun Boys Basketball Player of the Year, averaged 16.0 points and 6.0 rebounds as Libertyville (29-6) set a school record for wins and reached the Class 4A Hoffman Estates Supersectional. He scored at least 20 points 10 times, scored a career-high 30 points against Zion-Benton on Jan. 10 and had seven double-doubles.
He was selected to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's Class 4A all-state third team and was named all-conference in the North Suburban.
The team achievements were also numerous. Libertyville won the Wheeling Hardwood Classic in December, the conference title and its first sectional championship since 1994.
The final milestone was reached when Boone hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Barrington on February 28.
“If you take Aidyn out of the picture, we're not the same team at all,” Libertyville coach Brian Zyrkowski said. “He's a win-first kind of guy who does all the intangibles. But the way he defends and what he can do on offense makes him really tough to deal with.”
Boone's versatility sets him apart. His 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame allows him to be physical in the paint, both finishing at the rim and effectively working the glass.
But Boone is also quick enough to be effective on the perimeter. If an opponent gives him space, Boone can knock down a jumper, and if someone gets too close, he'll blow by or kick to a teammate.
“I take pride in being able to guard different positions,” Boone said. “And in the offseason I really focused on shooting and being more physical.”
Boone led the Wildcats' summer shoot calendar and was a fixture in the gym. He also broke into the starting lineup for his talented Full Package AAU team, where Dmitry Pirshin was his coach.
“We've had everybody bring the ball up, and for him to show that he could do that showed a universal nature to his game,” said Pirshin, who also coaches at Carmel. “You could see his confidence grow.”
Boone's fall workouts got him in top shape and set the stage for him to shine in the sport his mother, Sarah Buckley, played at suburban Detroit powerhouse Marian.
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Boone's unique devotion to basketball may be surprising. He played football more than any other sport while growing up, and his father, Alfonso, was a defensive lineman in the NFL for 10 seasons, including six for the Chicago Bears.
But basketball eventually won Boone's favor.
“Football was never really on the table, unless he wanted to be the kicker,” Buckley said. “He grew out of football and basketball was an afterthought when he was younger. But as his confidence grew, so did his love for the game. It's been a fun journey and now we're thinking about the next step.”
Boone's “next steps” include playing in college. Determining where his primary leisure activity is this spring. Boone has received interest from 10 to 15 programs at multiple levels, including NCAA Division III, NAIA and junior college.
Having those options puts Boone in a much different position than he was in before the season. But he's not necessarily surprised.
“Even though I was a late bloomer, I always hoped to play in college,” Boone said. “I appreciate the people who pushed me, and there was a lot of self-will. The competition drives that.”
Steve Reaven is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.
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