By Joe Henricksen
What a weekend for high school basketball in Peoria. No, there wasn't a dominant high school team in Illinois this year, but for pure entertainment value it was tough top the drama that took place in Carver Arena this past weekend.
The Class 3A semifinal games and title matchup featured perhaps the craziest statistic of the weekend: the three biggest games of the year were decided by a total of four points. And to top it off, the game-winning shots came like this...
• Champaign Centennial upset North Lawndale 66-65 on a basket with :02 seconds remaining.
• Oswego upset Leo on a three-pointer at the buzzer for a 56-55 win.
• Champaign Centennial edged Oswego on a basket with 6.5 seconds remaining.
In Class 4A, star Jereme Richmond put on a show in his opening act on Friday night, while Whitney Young overcame a 16-2 early deficit to pull out a 59-54 come-from-behind semifinal win over No. 1 ranked Thornton. Then in a back-and-forth 4A title game, it was Michael Jordan's son, Marcus Jordan, playing perhaps his best game as a Whitney Young Dolphin in leading his team to a state championship.
Here is a look back at the weekend in Peoria.
Best Individual Performance
There was no player in the two days that did more for their team and opened the eyes of fans and college coaches in attendance than Champaign Centennial's Rayvonte Rice. The 6-3 junior was a dominant force who made big play after big play throughout the weekend in leading his team to the Class 3A state championship. He was the star of the weekend.
In a 66-65 semifinal win over North Lawndale, Rice recorded a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also blocked two shots, recorded three steals and knocked down a couple of three-pointers. Most importantly, it was Rice's putback basket with :02 remaining that gave Centennial the dramatic win.
In the final on Saturday afternoon, Rice provided two key steals in the final seconds of the game. The first steal led to Rice's game-winning basket, while the second steal preserved the win. He scored a game-high 21 points and finished the big school tournament as the 3A/4A field's leading scorer.
The Hoops Report, who sees Rice as a more skilled version of former Peoria Manual star Sergio McClain, has moved the talented wing into the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2010. Rice says the only offer he has received is from Oregon State. There will be more to follow -- and very soon.
He doesn't fit the mold with his body type, and he doesn't do any one thing off-the-charts, but he's so productive and gets so much done. As his perimeter skills continue to evolve and improve, he could become one of the elite players in the state. It will be interesting to see how the career of the two-sport star -- he's also a super talented college football prospect -- plays out.
How can you top Oswego's run to the state championship game in Class 3A? People didn't realize just what this team was capable of, but they showed they belonged in this 3A field. Yes, you can say Oswego came out of nowhere. However, as the Hoops Report pointed out in a previous blog, the Panthers were better than every team it faced throughout regional, sectional and supersectional play. And to their credit they took care of business. Then when it was time to play with the state's best in 3A, they nearly stole the show.
The IHSA should send a giant thank you card to the Oswego School District and the Oswego community. The crowd Oswego brought was the lone bright spot in terms of attendance in the two Class 3A sessions over the weekend. Without Oswego playing the Class 3A sessions in Carver Arena, the place would have been cold, empty and lifeless.
Best Fans II
Oswego certainly had a whole lot more to cheer about than Dundee-Crown, a Class 4A representative. However, Dundee-Crown's crowd was not only large but it was ridiculously loyal even in the lopsided defeats. Kudos go out to the Charger faithful who were into it no matter what the score of the game was.
The technical fouls called on North Lawndale to start each game due to the stripe on their uniform was ridiculous. There are two sides to the story in regard to when North Lawndale was notified of wearing improper uniforms, but this much the Hoops Report knows.
First, North Lawndale was allowed to play all their regional, sectional and supersectional games in those uniforms. If the uniforms were fine for five state tournament games leading up to Peoria, they should be fine in the two games in Peoria. Second, this judgment came from the same organization that just 10 days earlier overturned a technical foul call to allow an individual player to play in a sectional game he was supposed to be sitting out. Lets see, two technical fouls on a player (no matter how bad the calls may have been) or a stripe on a uniform being a tad bit too wide?
Hello, my name is....
These players opened some eyes with their play in Peoria this past weekend.
Trevell Rivers, Thornton
The Hoops Report has raved about how vital senior Trevell Rivers has been to this Thornton team all season long, calling him "the best unsung player" in the state. He's more than just a role player. There is no player in the state that plays bigger than his size. While he's an undersized four-man at 6-3, Rivers was an eye-opener Friday night in the loss to Whitney Young (11 points, 11 rebounds). His body and athleticism is absolutely off the charts.
Aaron Johnson and Quan Connor, Waukegan
With the star power coming from the 1-2 punch of Jereme Richmond and Colin Nickerson in the Friday win over Dundee-Crown, it was time for Aaron Johnson and Quan Connor to provide a lift in Saturday's title game. Johnson is a talented sophomore who flat-out finds ways to put the ball in the basket. Connor left absolutely everything he had on the floor and scored 17 points in the title game loss. Johnson and Connor, who is just a junior, will be back next season.
Jordan Mitchell, Oswego
"Who is that kid?" That was a common question in Peoria after Mitchell, a 6-2 junior, scored 16 and 22 points in two games in Peoria. More eye-opening, however, was his three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Leo. That shot was the electrifying moment on Friday. Mitchell was the unsung star of the weekend.
Andrew Ziemnik, Oswego
In the state tournament preview blog the Hoops Report listed Ziemnik as one of the five players to watch in Peoria, saying "watch him for one quarter and you'll love what he brings to the table. The 6-4 junior showed it again in the state championship game, where he scored 22 points, pulled down 9 rebounds and showcased his versatility to bang and use his body around the basket and step out and knock down the three.
Jeff Johnson, Champaign Centennial
He struggled a bit in the semifinal win over North Lawndale, but the 6-8, 230-pound junior showed why he's a big man to keep an eye on this offseason. Johnson played a pivotal role in Centennial's win over Oswego in the 3A title game. He scored 12 points and showcased his range by hitting two deep three-pointers. he pulled down seven rebounds and had a game-high seven assists.