Usually by early December, I've seen the St. Thomas More boys' basketball team play at least one game and it would be during the week of the Thanksgiving-week Hilltopper Classic, in Danville.
This year, I missed that event. I also missed seeing a good team.
Coach Todd Anderson's Sabers are an impressive bunch, even though they fell to Robinson 49-42 in the third-annual Shootout at the Hall Saturday at the UI Assembly Hall.
St. Thomas More gave the Maroons -- and 6-foot-11 UI recruit Meyers Leonard -- all they could handle. The Sabers roster is an interesting mix of players standing between 5-10 and 6-2. Eleven of the 14 Sabers are either 6-0 or 6-1.
Nate Freeman surely opened some eyes with his game-high 18-point performance against Robinson. Anderson said that was one point of the shootout.
"The bigger picture is that this was an opportunity to get kids some collegiate notice," he said.
St. Thomas More, despite its size disadvantage, held a 36-24 rebounding edge. Zach Johnson had six offensive boards, more than Robinson's entire team.
Clark Schmidt scored 11 points and showed some poise while shooting.
The Sabers are 6-2 for the season and looking like a potential 20-win team. They did a great job of hanging tough against Robinson. Neither team held a lead of more than five points until the last 10 seconds.
In Saturday's tournament opener, Olympia handed Mahomet-Seymour a 68-54 Corn Belt Conference setback.
One trend in the game was that Olympia progressively scored fewer points in each succeeding quarter, going from 21 to 19 to 16 to 12 while M-S was increasing its scoring each period, going from 9 to 10 to 16 to 19.
The Bulldogs were without head coach Chad Benedict, but fourth-year coach Ryan Martin filled in admirably.
He said Benedict, who had a death in the family, told Martin to coach as he would and not how he thought Benedict would. Other than Benedict giving Martin the starting lineup, the interim coach was on his own.
The Assembly Hall experience was as meaningful for him as it was the players.
"Pretty neat," Martin said, "to be on the court coaching where I've watched games since I was a kid."
Luke Radliff, the 6-foot-5 M-S forward who scored a game-high 21 points said the day was special for him as well.
"I had goose bumps," he said.
Radliff put down the first dunk during the seven-game extravaganza and said, "that was a good moment." If college coaches didn't already know it, they learned Saturday: Radliff is a player.
The ony thing he would change, if he had a do-over, was the outcome.
"We played really bad," Radliff said, "but I had a good time."
M-S is 5-3 for the season and will have a rematch with Olympia later.
"We would prepare the exact same way," Martin said. "We'll look forward to the rematch."
The current Bulldog team looks like one which can be competitive against most opponents the remainder of the season.
The Shootout was a highlight for more than players and the coaches. Garrett Halm, who first started taking pictures for the Mahomet Citizen as a high junior junior, had his first chance to shoot a basketball game at the Assembly Hall.
He recently completed his eighth year taking pictures for the Citizen. We'll look forward to seeing his photographs in an upcoming issue.