FISHER – Deon Mennenga is trying to build a basketball power at Fisher.
So far, he is making progress.
In his first season, the coach led the Bunnies to 13 wins. Last season, they won 16 games.
A win Friday night against rival Gibson City-Melvin Sibley would be Fisher's eighth this season, putting it far ahead of last season's pace. Mennenga has visions of his program regularly competing for state titles. If it reaches that level, he can look back at his current group of seniors as the foundation.
Mitch Elkins, Sam Estes and Jared Hayden were sophomore starters during Mennenga's first season, and they are the main reason why the Bunnies are off to a 7-3 start.
"They're really just the heart and soul of our program," Mennenga said. "They are exactly the kinds of players you want to start your program with."
The 6-foot-4 Elkins is averaging 17.8 points and nearly nine rebounds a game. Hayden's contributing 11.5 points a game, with Elkins at 9.5.
"We're just so much more experienced now than we were when we were sophomores," Elkins said. "It's all just coming together for us now."
Watch the three work together in practice and you'll realize why they've had so much success. At a recent session, Estes led a fast break. He tossed the ball behind his head to a streaking Elkins, who quickly tipped it to Hayden for an easy layup. That kind of teamwork is a product of them playing together since they were 7.
"I love playing with these guys," Elkins said. "We always know what each other is thinking all the time. We know where to hit the pass."
It's not just the basketball court where the three click. They study together during finals week. They play video games together. They even attend Illini football games in a pack.
"We're big-time Illinois football fans," Hayden said. "We go to every game together. But we just do whatever. Anything there is to do, we'll do it."
Elkins, Estes and Hayden researched going to the Rose Bowl when it was announced Illinois would be playing, but finances – not the fact that it was basketball season – kept them from going.
"I wish we could go," Hayden said. "I definitely wouldn't mind missing some practices."