CHAMPAIGN – They won 21 games. They were ranked in the Class 3A state poll throughout the season. And they return four starters, along with several key reserves.
Even as one season ended for the Centennial Chargers on Friday night, there was reason to eagerly anticipate the next.
"I told them, 'Be proud of what we did. We had a great season' " coach Tim Lavin said in the wake of his Chargers' 81-69 regional championship-game loss to Champaign Central. "We lost to a really good team, but we'll be back."
Among the returnees will be Rayvonte Rice, who might have been the best player on the court this night. Besides scoring a career-high 31 points – six more than his previous best – the 6-foot-3 sophomore grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Rice did his offensive damage inside and outside. His five-three pointers led a Charger attack that connected on 11 shots from beyond the arc.
"Man, he's an explosive player," Central forward Donald Stewart said. "He can shoot the ball, get to the bucket. He had a real nice game tonight."
Rice was the epitome of consistency, too, scoring at least six points in every quarter.
"He's getting better and better," Lavin said, "and I think he's going to get better and better.
"He had created some mismatches that I thought he could take advantage of, and he did. He did a nice job, and he did a nice job on the boards."
Junior James Kinney added 16 points for the Chargers (21-8). Other returning starters include sophomore center Jeff Johnson (nine points, six rebounds) and junior guard Bryson Davis-Johnson (five points).
Add in a handful of non-senior reserves and Centennial can expect to be considered among the title favorites in the next Big 12 race after finishing third this season.
Lavin won't disagree, although he points out several other conference rivals also will return the bulk of their rosters, too, next season.
"There's a lot of younger teams in the conference, so I reiterated (to his team) we're going to have to work hard in the summer," Lavin said. "But we've got a nice core to start with, and we'll work hard in the summer and hopefully good things will happen."