The talk started last summer.
Verbal, yet friendly, banter between Travis Britt and Reid Farchmin ensued while both traveled along Interstate 74 toward Peoria for practices with the Peoria Irish, the AAU boys' basketball team both played on.
The two often carpooled on the two-hour-plus trip and usually rode together with Farchmin's parents to any Midwestern tournament.
Back and forth it went on two topics close to each player's heart.
First, who would win the Corn Belt Conference? Mahomet-Seymour came into the 2011-12 season as the two-time defending league champion. Second, who would win when their respective high schools — Rantoul for Britt and Mahomet-Seymour for Farchmin — met on the court?
Mahomet-Seymour swept Rantoul in both meetings last season.
"He seemed pretty confident that his team was going to be really good," said Britt, a senior guard. "I was confident that our team was going to be really good."
Britt's words proved prophetic.
The two players who formed a tight bond last summer in their first year with the Irish will square off at 7:30 p.m. Friday for the first time since playing together on the AAU circuit last summer.
Rantoul (12-3, 4-1 Corn Belt) will host the Bulldogs (8-8, 4-2) in a game that not only has strong implications in the Corn Belt standings and in the postseason picture — the Eagles and Bulldogs are in the Class 3A Champaign Central Regional — but also for Britt and Farchmin, the leaders of their respective teams.
Recordwise, Farchmin — a senior forward — and the Bulldogs don't stack up with the Eagles heading into Friday, but records don't seem to matter in this rivalry.
"Both programs have respect for each other," Rantoul coach Brett Frerichs said. "I think the distance helps it become a natural rivalry. We want to beat them just as bad as they want to beat us. I know both teams get up for that game, and the communities get up for that game."
Britt said he's heard of Farchmin since seventh grade but didn't get a chance to befriend him until playing with the Irish.
He came away impressed not only with his demeanor and personality but also his game.
"He was really mobile," Britt said. "He never stood around or anything. He had range out to 15 feet, he really hit the boards hard and is a really good defender. I was actually doing some scouting while we were playing just for something for us to look out for. He's actually really good at running the floor. For a big man, he likes to beat the other guy down the floor for easy run-out layups. I know if we put him on the line, he'll make us pay."
Farchmin said the long trips back and forth to Peoria and the number of games the duo played with the Irish helped him develop a friendship with Britt.
"He's a cool guy," Farchmin said. "He was fun to hang out with. Since I was with him most of the time, he was one of the guys I really enjoyed talking to because I did know him better than most of the other guys. He's just one of the guys that on the AAU team was one of my closer buds."
Farchmin and the Bulldogs pulled out two close wins last season against the Eagles, winning 65-61 at Rantoul before ending the regular season with a 69-63 win in Mahomet.
Farchmin had 19 points in the second win last season and 11 in the first game, while Britt poured in 17 in the first game and seven in the second game.
Expect those numbers to possibly even increase Friday. Farchmin is averaging 19.8 points per game, and Britt isn't far behind at 17.8 ppg at the season's midway point.
Both players have sparkled at times this season. They're used to seeing gimmick defenses thrown at them in an effort to contain their talents and know that if they don't have productive games their teams might suffer.
Britt jumps the opening tip for the Eagles and at 6 feet, 4 inches is the Eagles' tallest player. He'll also bring the ball up the floor if needed, post up down low, slam home a thunderous dunk to energize the crowd or drain a three-pointer from NBA range. There's not much in his offensive repertoire he can't do.
Frerichs said Britt realizes the Eagles are his team this season.
"He settled a lot last year," Frerichs said. "This year, he's become that leader on the court. He's become aggressive. He knows he's the go-to guy."
Britt said he relishes that aspect, and his teammates often look for him at critical junctures when a clutch shot is needed.
"I kind of embrace it," Britt said. "I like having it on my shoulders. At first, it was a lot of pressure, but now I've gotten used to the guys. They make it easy for me to handle the role. Even if I'm struggling, they'll be saying in the huddle, 'Travis, just let it come to you. Just play the game.' I listen to them, and it works. We've been successful ever since."
Late-season success by Rantoul last year spurred the Eagles to a regional title for the first time since 1990, and their postseason run ended with a loss in a Class 2A sectional title game despite winning only 10 regular season games that culminated in a 13-17 overall record. Rantoul already has eclipsed that win total this season, and Britt said the senior-laden Eagles have their sights set on accomplishing more.
"I've known these guys since I was so little," he said. "That's all we've talked about is our senior year being good at sports. Now that the time has come and it's basically our time, I've got to show up every night and play. Whether it's going out and getting 20 points or 10 rebounds, I have to do something that's going to have an impact on the game."
Farchmin, who enjoyed a breakout junior season, is someone opponents pay close attention to as well. He has the capability of knocking down a midrange jump shot or getting to the basket and causing havoc inside with his sturdy 6-5 frame.
"This year teams have collapsed on me because last year I had a pretty good year," Farchmin said. "This year I've realized it's not as much about points and stats with me. If they are doubling me, I will gladly get the assist or make the extra pass to make it easier on my team. It's not like I need to score. If I get open, I'll take the shot. If not, my team can have it."
Farchmin said it's easy to stay focused for a game like this one. Whenever the Eagles and Bulldogs meet in any sport, no love is lost between either team. In the geographically spread-out Corn Belt, with Bloomington-Normal as the center, roughly 20 miles separate these two schools that are used to long bus rides in the league.
"We know that Rantoul is going to play hard," M-S coach Chad Benedict said. "They're going to play with lots of effort. They're going to be passionate about it. There's not a night off in the Corn Belt. You can take that times 10 when we play Rantoul."
Both coaches said all the right things last week about not looking past other opponents before Friday's game, yet both realize they'll need to be aware of where Farchmin and Britt are on the court at all times.
"He's tough to stop," Frerichs said of Farchmin. "He's a good all-around player. He had a great game against us last year and over the summer. We definitely know about Reid. He can score and defend. He just knows the game, and he makes his teammates better."
Benedict said he realized last year that Britt, in his first season with the Eagles, had plenty of talent. He said Britt's play has improved this winter.
"He's gotten better," Benedict said. "Sometimes when good players are good, they will plateau, and Travis hasn't done that. That's a credit to himself and his coaches that they've continued to mature and get better. I think the thing that makes him so good is he's a little bit like Reid. He's extremely versatile on the offensive end. He can score off the dribble, he can shoot it, he can post. He's got a multitude of ways he can get a basket."
Both players are generating college interest. Britt has received scholarship offers from Eastern Illinois and Ball State, along with Division II schools in Southern Indiana and Quincy. Britt said last week Wright State also has contacted him, and Lake Land College, a junior college in Mattoon, has shown interest.
Britt had probably his best game of the season in the Eagles' 64-61 loss to Chicago Hope Academy on Dec. 10 at Parkland College with Illinois coach Bruce Weber and assistant coach Jerrance Howard 20 feet away. Britt scored 26 points and made seven three-pointers to help the Eagles keep pace against Hope.
"I just got to take what they give me," Britt said about his recruitment. "I think I'm playing really good right now, but I can't force the issue and stress myself over it."
Farchmin said he has talked with Southern Indiana, but a host of Division III schools, like Hope College in Holland, Mich., and in-state D-III schools like Millikin, Augustana and Illinois Wesleyan have shown the most interest.
"He scored very well on his ACT, so right now it looks like he wants to go into engineering," Benedict said. "There's been some schools that could offer some money, but he's also had some very good engineering schools check into him. We've talked about the big picture, 30 years down the road, that degree from an engineering school could be just as good as a scholarship. He's definitely going to have opportunities."
Where that ends up being, Farchmin doesn't seem to mind.
"If I have the chance, I'd love to play, but I'd say it's not my No. 1 goal," he said. "I know I'm not going to be playing basketball my whole life."