Neuqua Valley guard Chris Srbinov didn’t see a lot of playing time last season.
There were two good reasons for that. Srbinov was the backup to then-senior Jayden Dean, an all-area first team and unanimous all-conference pick, and there also was a major shortcoming in his game.
“He never played because he didn’t play defense last year,” Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton said. “You don’t play defense, you don’t play.
“Nope, not going to happen.”
Srbinov took that to heart and worked hard over the summer.
The results have been stellar. The 6-foot-1 senior is a starter who is playing well at both ends of the floor.
“He’s had some very good games,” Sutton said. “At Naperville North last Friday, he was extremely good, and he makes his free throws down the stretch. He’s making some great plays for us.”
Srbinov made several great plays — and a bunch of nice shots — to lead the Wildcats to a hard-fought 64-59 DuPage Valley Conference victory at Naperville Central on Friday. He sank eight of his first nine shots and finished with a team-high 19 points.
Junior guard Luke Kinkade, who chipped in 16 points, was glad to see it.
“Chris has been great all season,” Kinkade said. “Running the court, the fast-break layups really help us, and his steals are key. And his jump shot got so much better from last year. He can really shoot the ball now.”
Srbinov made five shots, including a 3-pointer, to help the Wildcats (6-2, 2-0) outscore the Redhawks (4-5, 0-2) by 19 points in the second quarter. He ended the first half by making a steal with three seconds left and racing up the court for a buzzer-beating layup to give Neuqua Valley a 38-24 cushion.
“I just started clicking,” Srbinov said. “No one was making shots. I decided to step up and take some shots. At the end of the half, I got that steal and layup, and that definitely set the tone for the second half.”
Srbinov began the third quarter by making a pull-up jumper and another layup, and he wound up with four steals. But that wasn’t what impressed Sutton.
“Defense isn’t about steals,” Sutton said. “That’s NBA defense. Real defense is keeping your man out of the lane and helping recover. That’s where he’s improved. He’ll tell you that too.”
Indeed, Srbinov said he has really focused on improving his defense, and he isn’t particular about where he gets assistance.
News updates from the Naperville area delivered every Monday and Wednesday
“Last year I sat behind Jayden, and I learned a lot,” he said. “Being in the gym with Todd Sutton helps. He teaches you a lot about defense at practice. I still have to get better at taking charges.”
Even there, Srbinov has a good mentor in senior forward Nic Lendino, a defensive-minded player if ever there was one.
“I’ve been playing with him since elementary school,” Srbinov said. “Watching him play defense, you can see how much heart he really puts into it, and you can take away from that.”
The Wildcats showed heart after the Redhawks used an 11-0 run to take a 55-51 lead in the fourth quarter. Kinkade hit two free throws and a 3-pointer, and Srbinov followed with a steal and made both ends of a 1-and-1 to give the Wildcats a 58-55 lead with 1:54 remaining.
Srbinov, who had a career-high 22 points in a 76-56 win against Morton that began Neuqua Valley’s current four-game winning streak, is scoring consistently. Kinkade is not surprised.
“In summer league, he had probably 10-plus every game, maybe 15,” Kinkade said. “His shot got a whole bunch better. He’s a great player.”
Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.