Sports Editor MATT DANIELS catches up with St. Joseph-Ogden, Mahomet-Seymour and Judah Christian before a busy weekend of action on the area scene tips off:
1 ST. JOSEPH — It’s not quite at the level, say, of what the Shootout at the Hall was.No future Illini will play at Saturday’s third annual Christie Clinic Shootout in St. Joseph. Nor will State Farm Center host any games.
But if St. Joseph-Ogden boys’ basketball coach Kiel Duval has any say, he’d love for the 14-team event the Spartans host to one day have the same type of pull the aforementioned event had in the late 2000s in Champaign County.
“That’s the goal long-term is to try and bring in the top teams in the state and get them at a central location where it’s not too far of a travel for everybody because it is centrally located,” Duval said. “Seeing some of the schools that you never get the chance to see, in your own gym, is one thing our kids are excited about.”
The hope from Duval, along with SJ-O athletic director Justin Franzen, is to create that same sort of anticipation from area basketball fans.
Saturday’s event tips off at 11 a.m. when Mahomet-Seymour, featuring Milwaukee signee Grant Coleman, faces Crete-Monee, and six more games ensue, with a mix of small-school programs and large-school programs spread throughout the state.
The planning for Saturday’s event begins months prior, and this year’s shootout has expanded after the first two had 12 teams each, with the 2020 lineup finalized last summer.
“We come up with a list of teams that we would like to bring in and send out some feelers well ahead of time,” Duval said. “Once we get a certain group, we kind of sit down and talk about which matchups kind of work out the best and how the teams compare and how they match up. We want all of the games to be competitive, good games.”
Crete-Monee, Kankakee, Rich Central and Maine South will all travel to St. Joseph from the Chicago suburbs.
Danville, a Class 4A sectional finalist a season ago, will meet Kankakee, a 3A regional finalist a season ago, at 12:30 p.m. This is the third consecutive season the Vikings — who have Division I prospects in junior guards Tevin Smith and Nathanael Hoskins — have participated in the Christie Clinic Shootout.
Rich Central plays Champaign Central, with the Maroons boasting dynamic senior guard Pryce Punkay and high-flying junior Khailieo Terry, at 2 p.m. in a matchup of two programs that won 3A regional championships last season.
Cissna Park, the reigning state runner-up in 1A, faces Monticello at 3:30 p.m. Pleasant Plains, which advanecd to a 2A super-sectional last season and lost to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in the Elite Eight, squares off against La Salette at 5 p.m.
Host SJ-O caps off more than 10 hours of basketball on Saturday by facing Farmington at 8 p.m. in the final game.
For Duval, he spends part of his day watching the games more from a casual fan perspective and also as a chance to get some advance scouting done on any potential 2A teams the Spartans may face in the postseason.
“You want to make sure your team is ready to go and play,” Duval said. “That’s a big focus for me. Our administration does a great job of handling everything. It’s a busy day, but one that’s fun because of all the different types of teams.”2 MAHOMET — Eli Warren and Cole Lener fill integral roles for the Mahomet-Seymour boys’ basketball team.Just ask Effingham. The two guards for the Bulldogs came up with crucial buckets, key defensive stops and solid ball-handling during a 71-67 Apollo Conference road win against the Flaming Hearts on Tuesday.
“Both of those kids have just done a phenomenal job of setting the tone on both sides of the floor,” M-S coach Ryan Bosch said. “Cole usually guards the best player on the other team, and both contribute in ways that don’t necessarily show up in the box score. We don’t sub them out for very long, either. Luckily, they’ve got the motor to keep playing hard at all times.”
Grant Coleman is the unquestioned headliner for M-S, and the Milwaukee signee scored 30 points during Tuesday night’s win that kept the Bulldogs (8-6, 4-0 Apollo) undefeated in league play. The perfect conference record for M-S will be put to the test with a 7:30 p.m. home game on Friday against perennial power Lincoln (13-1, 5-0).
“They’re a great program over a lot of years,” Bosch said of the Railsplitters. “What I’ve been impressed with this season is just how defensive-minded they are. They’re so interchangelabe and they share the ball so well with each other. It’s a huge test.”
M-S already passed one test with its win against Effingham. Warren (15 points, five assists) and Lener (six points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals) came up big against the Flaming Hearts. So did senior forward Kobe Essien (13 points).
The Bulldogs will need their core to keep up their solid production if they want to stay near the top of the Apollo.
“We certainly want to still be one of the teams that still stresses the conference race,” Bosch said. “These are huge rivarly games for our guys. They’re going up against kids that they’re super familiar with. Any team that can win the Apollo is going to be a team to be reckoned with in the postseason as well.”
The challenge continues for M-S, with a quick turnaround on Saturday in facing Crete-Monee at 11 a.m. at the Christie Clinic Shootout in St. Joseph.
“You get contrasting styles in Lincoln and Crete-Monee,” Bosch said. “Plus, you get to put yourself in front of some different folks that normally don’t see you. That shootout has got a really cool feel to it.”3 CHAMPAIGN — Winning consecutive Class 1A regional championships has certainly elevated the profile of the Judah Christian boys’ basketball program.Which second-year Tribe coach Bill Ipsen has no problem with.
Neither do his players.
“I think they have high expectations for themselves, too,” Ipsen said. “They know they have to kind of carry it on. We talked it about it last year after the end of the Cissna Park game with the older kids there and the returnees there as well. They wanted to keep this going in the right direction.”
The 2019-2020 season hasn’t seen a drop-off, either, for the Tribe. Judah Christian (12-4) finished second at the 12-team BSN Classic on Dec. 28, losing only to undefeated Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin in the championship game. One of the Tribe’s other losses is also to an undefeated team in Tuscola.
Plus, Judah Christian has handed a 10-3 Salt Fork team two of its losses this season.
“I consider Salt Fork to be a pretty good team, and Bismarck is a heck of a team,” Ipsen said. “We learned a lot from our game against Tuscola, too.”
The pace to the first two weeks in January has only seen Judah Christian play once, with a 51-35 home win against Armstrong-Potomac last Friday night. The Tribe return to its home court at 7:30 p.m. with a game against nearby rival Uni High (1-12).
“There’s a friendly rivarly between the two teams,” Ipsen said. “We’ve got kids that maybe go to church together or some socialize together. But our kids know that when you step on the basketball court, it’s us versus them. Last year was the first game that I’ve been involved in with the rivalry, and that was in Kenney Gym. It was pretty cool to experience an old-time gym like that, and this year, they’re coming to our place. I know our kids are ready for it.”
Two key pieces of last year’s team that finished 29-3 and advanced to a Class 1A sectional title game before losing to eventual state runner-up Cissna Park are contributing significantly this season.
Senior forward Noah Jackson and senior center Tyler Grenda give Judah Christian two athletic 6-foot-4 veterans who can contribute from outside and near the basket.
“We like to say that Noah is just smooth,” Ipsen said. “He can lull you to sleep and then rip it and go right past you. He can elevate pretty quickly, but still shoot it from deep. He’s a pretty complete player.”
Grenda gives Judah Christian experience inside and proven leadership.
“One word about Tyler would be toughness,” Ipsen said. “He does a good job of getting in the lane, contesting shots and grabbing rebounds. We’ve rebounded well, and it’s mainly because of those two down near the basket.”
Add in quality minutes from sophomore guards Isaiah Thompson, Khani Thomas, Jacob Jones and senior guard Joseph Linsner, among others, and don’t be surprised if the Tribe can continue their postseason run of success.
Uni High is the next challenge for the Tribe, but having a solid foundation upon which to build and keep the program in contention for a deep run possibly into March isn’t lost on Ipsen.
“You’ve got to set the bar high,” he said, “and that’s where we want it.”