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Jalen Quinn and Ty Pence have yet to cross paths in a high school boys’ basketball game.

Quinn’s freshman season with Tuscola included a Class 2A regional semifinal game with St. Joseph-Ogden, in which Quinn and the seventh-seeded Warriors stunned the top-seeded Spartans 58-55 in mid-February 2019.

But Pence was only in eighth grade at the time and wouldn’t join the SJ-O roster until the following season.

The Spartans and Warriors didn’t meet during the 2019-2020 season. Or during the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign, either.

And with Tuscola shifting to the Class 1A postseason this winter while SJ-O stays in 2A, it was possible east central Illinois’ prep basketball fans could be deprived of a showdown between two of the area’s top talents.

Enter the Christie Clinic Shootout in St. Joseph.

SJ-O will host seven games on Saturday, with Pence’s Spartans (12-2) going up against Quinn’s Warriors (12-3) at 8 p.m. in arguably the shootout’s marquee game.

“For both of us, it’s kind of a game we’ve had highlighted on our calendar and (is) just a game we’re looking forward to,” said Pence, a 6-foot-6 junior wing with a dozen Division I offers. “So it’ll be fun out there.”

“Me and Ty know it’s a big game for us and our teams, but we’re just out there to hopefully get a win,” added Quinn, a 6-3 senior guard. “That’s the ultimate goal. We’re not going out there and trying to one-up each other.”

The basketball abilities of Pence and Quinn are well known both locally and beyond Illinois’ borders. Both have received multiple Division I and Power 6 offers during their prep careers.

Quinn signed with Loyola Chicago back in November. Pence is still mulling over his college future and holds offers from Loyola, Illinois, Iowa State, Wake Forest, DePaul and Butler, among others.

What may be less known is the two are actually close friends and have been for roughly half a decade.

Pence credits SJ-O senior Coby Miller, a mutual buddy of Pence and Quinn, for bringing the two stars together beyond the court.

“Over time, we’ve created a bond together, and it’s gotten really good,” Pence said. “He’s one of my best friends now.”

The duo also shared the hardwood together in the past as AAU teammates.

“Ty is just one of the nicest kids you can be around,” Quinn said. “He’s somebody who I enjoy being around. Just joking around and being able to have fun without basketball was basically the biggest key. We’ve been best friends ever since and don’t plan on changing that.”

Since their on-court interactions thus far have been limited outside the high school ranks, it makes sense Quinn and Pence’s favorite basketball moment together comes from the AAU realm. Quinn was in eighth grade, while Pence was playing up one level as a seventh-grader.

“We played this one maroon team ... and they were talking a lot of trash, and (Quinn) was just killing them out there,” Pence said. “We were working well together on the court ... and I just think, for me personally, that was one of the most fun times I’ve had on a basketball court.”

“I remember that,” Quinn added. “Just seeing (Pence) be able to dominate at that young of an age and seeing him succeed, and we’re both having the same level of success ... was pretty cool.”

Quinn and Pence recognize their good fortune in crossing paths, considering they come from relatively small communities that typically aren’t flooded with future D-I athletes.

“In the past, having two players like this wasn’t common. But now we have it, and we’re such good friends,” Pence said. “I’m able to lean my back on him when I’m down with basketball, and I can look up to him by example just because he’s older and he’s kind of been someone I’ve looked up to.”

When discussing the basketball attributes they observe in one another, Pence and Quinn can’t help but connect their thoughts to Saturday night’s game.

“He’s a really good playmaker,” Pence said of Quinn. “He makes everyone around him better on the court, and not only just the scoring. ... We’re going to have a tough matchup with him, and we will have to figure out a way to try to limit him because with a player as good as him, you really can’t stop him.”

“He’s got so many tricks in his bag,” Quinn said of Pence. “His size at 6-6 and being able to handle the ball and his athleticism also is super tough to stop. And add a jump shot, as well, it’s super hard to guard. So I’d just say containing him is going to be what we have to do.”

No matter the result of Saturday’s game, the next question surrounding Quinn and Pence will be about them possibly sharing a college home.

Pence received his Loyola offer less than one month before Quinn inked his National Letter of Intent with coach Drew Valentine’s Ramblers.

“I’ve always wanted to play with Jalen ... and I’ve really been able to look after him in my recruiting as well,” Pence said. “But overall, when I make a decision, we’re still going to be best friends whether I end up at Loyola or not.”

Quinn is straddling the line of good friend and good recruiter for his future college basketball home.

“I’m not trying to push it too much. Obviously, I’m there for any questions he has,” Quinn said. “But obviously, I’m trying to push a little bit toward Loyola. ... Us being able to play together at the highest level of basketball is something I’ve obviously dreamed of. So it’s pretty cool to think it could happen, and whatever he decides to do, I’ll be happy for him.”

Colin Likas is the preps coordinator at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at clikas@news-gazette.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

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