At this time last summer, St. Viator guard Connor Kochera was a rising junior with minimal college attention.
On a talented Lions team that included two Division I seniors in Jeremiah Hernandez (Kent State) and Trey Calvin (Wright State), Kochera was relegated to being the third option in the team's offense.
Fast forward a year later and St. Viator is Kochera's team now. The rising senior has improved his overall floor game -- becoming more than just a perimeter specialist that some previously labeled him.
The improvement in the 6-foot-4 Kochera this spring and summer helped make him the Chicagoland area's breakout player during the month of June as he doubled his scholarship offers and became a must-see attraction for mid-major schools as the July Live Evaluation Period approaches next week.
Before the two-week June Live Evaluation Period started at Riverside-Brookfield, Kochera only had offers from Cleveland State, Lafayette and Western Illinois. Following two blistering weeks at Riverside-Brookfield and Ridgewood and Kochera has added scholarship offers from Brown, Furman, Illinois State, Wofford and Wright State.
During the brand-new June Live Evaluation Period, no player in Illinois benefitted more than Kochera as many college coaches had positive things to say about him after the period.
"I've kind of switched to the role of being leader and I'm trying to lead by example, with my communication, and make sure everyone is involved," Kochera said. "But also, during parts of the game, I have to keep everyone focused, make sure everyone knows what they're doing and then at some points I take over. You do what you have to do to get buckets and win the game."
Playing for a depleted St. Viator team dealing with three regular starters playing other sports during the summer, the Lions still made deep runs in two of the best events in Illinois as Kochera had some monster individual efforts. Kochera poured in 35 points against Hillcrest and knocked down five first-half three-pointers on his way to 25 points in a win over Morton. When Bogan tried to attack Kochera with multiple perimeter defenders, he still found a way to score 26 points against last season's Class 3A runner-up.
More than just a shooter now, Kochera is working hard to become a well-rounded, all-around perimeter threat as he's helping the Lions adjust to life without Calvin and Hernandez.
"It's definitely an adjustment. Obviously having Jerry and Trey, they were having the ball in their hands primarily and they could get us a bucket when we needed it most," Kochera said. "But it's definitely different. I'm looking forward to the adjustment. I think it's going to make me a better player overall."
Both St. Viator coach Quin Hayes and Kochera's AAU coach, Fundamental U's Mike Weinstein, rave about Kochera's work ethic and leadership. The senior has matured into a natural on-court communicator who is figuring out when to let others get shots and when to hunt his own offense.
The results of Kochera's gym-rat mentality are also clearly starting to show as he heads into an important stretch of July. Now that Kochera has become a hot name, coaches will continue to track every game he plays in July as shooting is always at a premium.
Kochera already visited the campuses of Colgate, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Penn, Siena and Western Illinois as he's still working his way through the recruiting process.
"I'm looking for a school where not only I can excel on the basketball court but academically as well. I definitely take pride in what I do in the classroom," Kochera said.
It's hard to say where St. Viator stands among the area's top teams for next season since they were without so many key parts during the summer. The Lions are far from a complete team at this point in the process.
But they have a breakout star in Kochera who is looking like a serious preseason All-Area candidate as he's grown into one of the most productive players in the area.