2017 Duster Thomas Hoops Classic Preview
By Doug Daniels
1351sports.com / duquoinsports.com / pinckneyvillesports.com / elveradosports.com
December 25, 2017
Rarely has there been a clear favorite to win the Duster Thomas Hoops Classic, the annual Pinckneyville high school boys holiday tournament which begins its' eleventh year in existence this December. But with a team loaded with talent, a No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press state poll, an unbeaten record, and a home court advantage, the host Panthers appear to be a strong candidate.
Pinckneyille lost only three games a season ago and has the bulk of that team back, including two members of the 2016 DTHC All-Tournament Team in Grant Jausel and J.C. Moll. That duo also received All-State and All-State honorable mention honors for their 2016-17 seasons, and have helped the Panthers race to a 9-0 start to 2017-18.
Among the contenders are the Benton Rangers, who lost to the Panthers in the DTHC championship game last year, then defeated them at their own tournament - the Benton Invitational Tournament - in January. The 2016-17 Rangers went 31-3 overall and won a Regional championship in Class 3A, but will not look like the same team when they take the floor at Thomas Gymnasium this winter. Gone are three graduated seniors who were all-tournament team selections - Timmy Henson, Derek Oxford and Austin Wills - but senior starters Hamilton Page (G, 6'1) and Parker Williams (F, 6'2) return along with sixth man Gehrig Wynn (G, 5'10).
Another team looking to make a run at their first DTHC title is Wesclin (Trenton, Ill.). The Warriors swept through the Mascoutah Thanksgiving Tournament by beating Waterloo, Mascoutach, Nashville and Columbia, and were 6-1 overall on the season when this program went to press.
Two-time DTHC winner Jersey (Jerseyville, Ill.) has their sights once again set on a trophy at Pinckneyville after starting 0-4 and rebounding to 4-5. The Jersey Panthers had fourth-quarter leads in four of their five losses and have won three straight heading into the Hoops Classic, which they won in 2012 and 2013.
Only one change to the list of 12 teams participating in the tournament occurs this season, as Elverado High School (Elkville, Ill.) replaces Gibault (Waterloo, Ill.), and will be tested thoroughly by tournament veterans Du Quoin and Jerseyville in pool play.
Past DTHC champions Olney and Carterville headline the rest of the teams participating, along with Roxana, Cissna Park, Greenville and Trico.
As mentioned above, the Rangers had a thoroughly successful run in 2016-17 including a 31-3 record, a Regional title, a 9-1 record in the Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference Ohio Division, championships at the Benton and Goreville tournaments, and a runner-up performance at last year's DTHC.
With three All-Conference (two All-South) players graduated from a season ago, Benton is a different team, but still having success thus far in 2017-18 with a 5-1 record and a second place showing at the Goreville Thanksgiving Tournament.
The Rangers do have two returning starters in Hamilton Page (G, 6'1) and Parker Williams (F, 6'2), and two additional players - Gehrig Wynn (G, 5'10) and Cade Thomas (G, 5'9) - that played in every game for them last year.
"Parker really evolved his game down the stretch last year," said Benton head coach Ron Winemiller. "I felt like in the Regional and Sectional he played with as much confidence as he did all year and I think that carried over to what we saw in the summer. He's got to be a consistent scorer for us."
"Gehrig is another kid that has to score for us, and Hamilton and Cade have got to be consistent in their scoring. They have to be around double figures every game and we have to know we're going to get that."
The Rangers will take on Cissna Park and Greenville in pool play with hopes of returning to the Gold Pool on Saturday, where last year they lost an epic battle with tournament host Pinckneyville.
"These guys want to prove they can do it," Winemiller said. "These guys feel they can do some of the same things we did last year, to carry it on and continue to win. People like it when expectations are high here and I think our kids strive upon that and hopefully we can build upon last year."
The Lions, like Benton, have seen recent success at the DTHC, winning it in 2014 and 2015 and finishing third a season ago. But unlike Benton, which has been able to keep winning despite losing a good chunk of a talented team, Carterville is struggling out of the gates in 2017-18 with a 1-7 record.
Part of that lackluster win-loss mark can likely be attributed to the Lions, who play alongside Pinckneyville and Du Quoin in the Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference Mississippi Division, playing several games without their leading scorer, Luke Ford (F, 6'6). A Division 1 football recruit, Ford is averaging right around 15 points per game thus far for Carterville. Right behind Ford is Justin Johnson (G, 6'3), another senior who is putting in 13.5 points per game.
"(Johnson) is a versatile three-year varsity starter," said Carterville head coach Shane Hawkins. "(Ford) provides us with some inside presence with great strength and agility."
Hawkins knows a thing or two about playing and coaching in Thomas Gymnasium. He is Pinckneyville’s all-time leading scorer and led the school to a state championship in 1994.
“It’s a rocking atmosphere,” said Hawkins. “Going back there isn’t a big deal. I know it gets played up a little bit more, but to me it’s another game. We’re going to approach every game like it’s the most important game of the season, because it is.”
"It’s going to be a grind. Four games in about 28 hours, so that’ll be a test for all 12 teams," Hawkins said. "Winning or losing, you’re going to know a lot about players 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 after those two days. We hope to continue to improve and play some quality opponents."
Making just their second trip to the Pinckneyville holiday tournament, Cissna Park of the Sangamon Valley Conference is a small Class 1A school in East Central Illinois that will embark on a 225-mile bus ride to the DTHC.
Last year, the Timberwolves finished the regular season 10-18 against a tough schedule of opponents, a fact that was made evident by the team advancing all the way to the Sectional championship where they lost to then-No. 1 ranked Ridgeview. This year, Cissna Park started 3-2, with both losses coming to larger Class 2A schools.
"We feel like we return a lot of key players, who as sophomores, had the opportunity last season to play on some big stages," said head coach Kevin Long. "Hopefully that experience will carry over and benefit us this season.
Among the key players for the 'Wolves are four returning lettermen who are all juniors - Conner Lober (G, 5'10), Brian Fehr (G, 6'2), Julian Stadeli (C, 6'7) and Christian Stadeli (C, 6'7). The Stadeli twins are both 6'7 and give Cissna Park a great inside presence. Christian Stadeli is the Timberwolves top returning scorer from a season ago when he set the school's field goal percentage record (66%). Lober and Fehr are both in their third year of playing varsity basketball. Fehr has been enduring an inflamed patella tendon, but Long hopes he'll be cleared to play in Pinckneyville.
"Last year was our first trip to Pinckneyville and we loved every minute of it," said Long. "We look forward to playing bigger schools and unfamiliar opponents. We would like to think that last year's experience at the DTHC had a lot to do with our post-season run. Our goals are to have a team building experience on our long road trip, and we simply want to compete and come home a better team as a result of our experience."
Despite losing their two leading scorers to graduation, the Indians hope to be an improved team in 2016-17 as their core of young talent begins to grow and mature. Topping the list of highly-skilled underclassmen is 6'7 sophomore Lamontay Daughtery, who is already drawing attention from college coaches due to his size, athleticism, and raw talent.
Daughtery was the third leading scorer for DHS as a freshman when he went down with an injury that sidelined him for seven weeks. He returned for the Indians' final game of the season, scoring ten points in a 63-52 loss in the regional championship to state-ranked Pinckneyville.
"He's one of the harder workers we have, he brings it every day at practice," said DHS head coach Justin Barrington. "If the gym is open for extra shots, he's there. The kids compete with him every single day, they want to guard 'Tay,' everybody wants that challenge. There's no days off for him, everyone's giving him their best shot in practice, which makes our team much better."
Two players that would have been major contributors but missed all of last season will return for the Indians this season - seniors Hank Stewart (G, 6'0) and Klayton Donoghue (G, 5'6), who both appear back at full strength after completing a ten-game football season.
"They bring some toughness to them," said Barrington. "A lot of times when a kid tears their ACL their junior year, their senior year they don't come back, or they come back and haven't gone through the rehab process thoroughly, and it shows. I think football season showed that they took their rehab seriously and used it as a way to make their bodies stronger. You can see a noticeable difference, they're both stronger. Hank is going to play three or four positions for us at different times. Klayton's going handle the ball for us at times, he's going to pressure the basketball, he's going to guard the opposing team's point guard. We're going to relay on those guys a lot this season."
Another sophomore putting up points for the Indians is Braeden Pursell (G/F, 6'3), who along with Daughtery was part of Du Quoin's 2016 junior high Class L SIJHSAA state championship team.
The Indians join Jerseyville and Elverado in Pool D when the DTHC begins on December 29.
Coming off one of the most successful varsity basketball campaigns in school history, the Class 1A Falcons amped up their non-conference schedule this year by joining the Pinckneyville holiday tournament after previously competing at Dongola during the Christmas season. A member of the South Egyptian Conference, Elverado is off to an 8-2 start a year after finishing 21-9, which came a year after a winless 0-25 season in 2015-16.
"We think by playing the competition that we will see at the Duster Thomas, that it will help us to compete better with teams at our level and in our conference," said EHS head coach Jacob Emling. "We only graduate one senior this season, so we hope by gaining all this experience this year, it will help us continue to build our program."
Aquntez Penn (G) runs the show for the Falcons and is averaging 24 points per game in 2017-18.
"Aquntez sets our tempo offensively and pushes us to go," Emling said of the junior guard.
Other key contributors include Samuel Alstat (G), who leads the team in rebounds with over 9 per game and whom Emling called the team's best defender. Isaac Floyd (C) has the ability to score inside and outside and is a solid interior defender. Dawson White (G) leads the team in three-point percentage.
"We want to see good competition like what we will see come regional time," Emling said. "We want to compete with bigger schools, and better prepare ourselves for the post season. We want our kids to experience things like our school has never gotten to be a part of in the past."
Greenville makes their second DTHC appearance this year, coming in with a record of 4-5 overall. The Comets, who play in the South Central Conference, are headlined by seniors Lucas Carlson (F, 6'4) and Christian Moss (F, 5'11).
"Those two are kind of our leaders," said Greenville head coach Todd Cantrill. "When things are going well for us, it's usually because of them. Their importance on the floor, at both ends, means a lot to us."
The Comets started off the season with three losses at the Kaskaskian Classic in Carlyle before defeating Hillsboro on the final day of the tournament.
"We're playing much better than we did early in the season," Cantrill said. "We had a stretch where we played some pretty tough teams, including several tough teams at the Carlyle Tournament, including Pinckneyville. We're playing better now, we're 2-0 in our conference."
The Comets went winless on pool play day at the DTHC last year, but bounced back to win the Bronze Pool in their first trip to Thomas Gym for the event.
"We absolutely loved the tournament the first year," Cantrill said. "It gives us an opportunity to play some competition from the deep south, see some different teams than we would normally see, hopefully some different styles that will prepare us for January and February."
Greenville will meet up with Cissna Park and Benton on day one of the tournament this time around.
The Jersey Panthers are two-time Duster Thomas Hoops Classic champions (2012, 2013) and sport the highest winning percentage of any team competing at the event for more than two years. A Class 3A school from the Mississippi Valley Conference, Jersey has settled into the year at 4-5 overall after an 0-4 start.
"We're about 12 points away from being 6-1," said head coach Stote Reeder, who pointed out that in four of his team's five losses, the Panthers had a fourth-quarter lead.
Reeder referred to Blake Wittman (F, 6'2) as his team's best athlete, and the senior's numbers back that up at almost 15 points per game with just over 4 rebounds per game.
Wittman is supported by junior Kurt Hall (G, 6'0), who is currently putting in 12 points per game, and senior Cody Gibson (G, 6'0), who dishes out 4.4 assists per game. Reeder also made mention of A.J. Shaw, who he considers as good a lock-down defender as anyone in the tournament.
"He's put on the other team's best player, regardless of how big they are," Reeder said of Shaw. "He's a very versatile player."
Being the biggest school at the DTHC, Reeder knows his Panthers are perennially expected to do well at the event.
"The goal is to win it," said Reeder, "but win or lose, I'm hoping to see some more consistency out of our offense. We've been kind of a roller coaster offensively."
Jersey draws tournament veteran Du Quoin and the lone newcomer, Elverado, in pool play.
OLNEY (RICHLAND COUNTY)
Aside from Pinckneyville, Olney has more wins at the Duster Thomas Hoops Classic than any other school, finishing in the top four each year of the tournament up until 2014. But the Tigers haven't been back to the Gold Pool since then, and hope that 2017 is the year they reestablish themselves as one of the event's marquee names.
Olney's 4-6 record is deceiving, as the Tigers have played one of the toughest schedules of anyone in the DTHC.
"We've played Mt. Carmel twice, Salem is good this year, Robinson is a tough matchup for us," said Olney head coach Rob Flanagan. "We've probably beaten the people we should have, and gotten beat by the people that should beat us. To be good, you've got to be able to win some of those games."
Last season, Flanagan said he had the smallest team (in terms of height) he'd ever coached at Olney. While still not the tallest bunch, the Tigers are bigger, listing seven players of 6'2 or above on their varsity roster. Two such players are Sutton Dunn (6'2) and Brent Hatten (6'3).
"(Dunn) is an athletic kid, he has to work at basketball, it's not a come-easy sport to him," Flanagan said. "He gives you solid effort every day. We see flashes from him that make us think he could be pretty good, and there's times where he slides back a bit, but he's certainly one of our main guys. When he's played well, we've won those games."
"(Hatten) could be a really, really nice player for us. He's grown a ton from last year when he played off the bench as pretty much a spot-up shooter. Excellent free throw shooter, 90-plus percent. He needs to get tougher, but he can score the ball, and has rebounded well for us lately."
Conner Zuber (6'1) missed the first few games of the year with a broken hand suffered during football season, but is back playing full strength.
"He can shoot it a little bit, plays hard, makes things happen," Flanagan said.
The Tigers didn't get the easiest draw - they'll face Roxana and Class 2A No. 2 ranked Pinckneyville on day one at the 2017 DTHC.
"It's a good chunk of games in a short amount of time," Flanagan said of the tournament. "Hopefully you grow a little bit. I've got a young team, so hopefully it will help us with some bonding and experiences down the road. I feel like if you play well (at Pinckneyville) it can really springboard you into the second half of the season."
Following an unbeaten conference season with an overall record of 29-3 and a Regional championship, and with two all-state starters returning for their senior season, Panther fans are gearing up for what many expect to be one of the most exciting seasons of Pinckneyville varsity basketball in the past decade.
The Panthers haven't disappointed thus far, remaining unbeaten through nine games including a 4-0 championship at the Kaskaskian Classic in Carlyle earlier this season.
Seniors Grant Jausel (G, 6'2) and J.C. Moll (G, 5'10) were both named to the All-South Team as juniors last season, and Jausel was a 2nd Team All-Stater while Moll received Honorable Mention. Both can score either from beyond the arc, or driving to the basket, and together form a tough challenge for any opposing defense. Bob Waggoner, entering his eleventh season as head coach of the Panthers, expects both players to improve upon their stellar junior campaigns.
"For Grant to grow as a player, he has to become a better defender," Waggoner said. "He has to be able to bounce better and attack people. The biggest key for him will be his rebounding. He's a senior, he's more physically mature, he understands angles of the game better. He should be a better rebounder both on the offensive and defensive end."
"I think J.C. has been our most improved player each year he's been in high school. I think he puts in more time than anybody else, his work ethic is better than other kids that have played. He's worked hard on his body. When you do those things, where you spend trying to develop into a better player, we expect him to have an even better season because of his desire not only to be a better high school player, but a player who goes on to play in college."
Kyle Luke (F, 6'2), Tyler Rice (F, 6'1), Dustin Bartnicki (F, 6'4), Kyle Kreger (G, 5'9) and Hunter Clark (G, 5'11) round out the list of returning seniors for PCHS. The last of the eight seniors on the varsity roster is a newcomer to the program, 6'6 Tanner Spihlmann, who transferred to Pinckneyville over the summer. Sophomores Dawson Yates (G, 6'1) and Devin Kitchen (F, 6'1) are other key contributors, specifically Yates, who is averaging in double figures as a starter.
The Panthers will begin their quest for a second straight DTHC championship against Roxana and Olney in pool play.
Making their fourth trip to Pinckneyville for the holiday tournament, the Shells have slowed to a 2-7 start to the season with a young roster that features just two seniors and two juniors.
"We are an extremely young and inexperienced group, but look forward to growing together as the season progresses," said Roxana head coach Mark Briggs.
"This is our fourth trip to the DTHC and we have enjoyed each and every trip. The tournament prepares us for the challenges we will face in the second half of the season. The hospitality and tradition embedded in Pinckneyville is definitely a great thing for our players to experience."
The Shells are led in scoring by a freshman, Gavin Huffman (G, 5'11), who is currently putting in just over 12 points per game. Sophomore Jacob Golenor (G, 6'0) is close behind at nearly 11 points per game, and another freshman, Andrew Beckham (G, 5'8) is averaging just over 9 points a night.
Roxana, a member of the South Central Conference, will have to tangle with two of the winningest schools in the history of the DTHC, Pinckneyville and Olney, in their pool.
The Pioneers, who play in the Black Diamond Conference, are off to a 4-4 start to their season and feature an experienced starting lineup of four seniors and a junior. Head coach Andrew Wilson pointed out Jared Meyerhoff, Carter Naile, and Seth Myers as three key ingredients to the team's success.
"Jared Meyerhoff has had a lot of varsity experience," said Wilson. "He's put on a lot of muscle this year, he's gotten quicker, more coordinated. He's a strong kid with good footwork inside, he's tough for teams to guard."
"(Naile) is our only starter that's not a senior. Point guard probably isn't his first position, but due to injuries he kind of took over that role for us last year. He's super-quick, finishes well around the basket, and one of our best defenders."
"I think (Myers) is a little bit underrated by a lot of teams, but he's gotten some confidence, getting a little bit more comfortable as a scorer, and that has helped us tremendously. He's another lock-down defender that's pretty tough to handle."
In a pool with former champions Carterville and a team many think will contend for the DTHC crown this year, Wesclin, the Pioneers have their hands full as one of the smallest schools at the event.
"Our goal coming in is to win at least three out of four, and that's not easy to do in that tournament," Wilson said. "We do have some depth, and we're going to play some tough competition, if we can go 3-1 that will be good for us. Right now we need some confidence, we're kind of on that bubble where our season could go downhill or uphill. We need to just push through and get a couple wins under our belt to get things going our way."
Winners of the Mascoutah Thanksgiving Tournament, the Warriors are 6-1 on the year and looking like a contender for not only the DTHC, but the rest of their season. Wesclin starts four seniors and a junior, all of whom return from the Regional championship team of 2016-17 that went 17-14 overall.
"Our scoring has been very balanced through the first four games as we nearly average four players in double figures," said Wesclin head coach Brent Brede. "We do not have a true post player but we do have size and some length."
In fact, all five of Wesclin's starters are 6'3 or taller - Mick Stephens (F, 6'3), Brandon Courtney (G, 6'4), Hunter Ottensmeier (F, 6'5), Justin Kellogg (G, 6'3) and Nate Brede (G, 6'6).
Brede said his team would love to break into the Gold Pool at the DTHC this season, but first they'll have to contend with former event winner Carterville and Trico on day one.
2017 Duster Thomas Hoops Classic
@ Pinckneyville Community High School
December 29 & 30
Pool A: Pinckneyville, Olney, Roxana
Pool B: Benton, Cissna Park, Greenville
Pool C: Wesclin, Carterville, Trico
Pool D: Jerseyville, Du Quoin, Elverado
9:00am: Wesclin vs. Trico (Thomas Gym); Roxana vs. Pinckneyville (Auxiliary Gym)
10:30am: Greenville vs. Cissna Park (Thomas Gym); Elverado vs. Jerseyville (Auxiliary Gym)
2:00pm: Olney vs. Roxana (Thomas Gym); Carterville vs. Wesclin (Auxiliary Gym)
3:30pm: Jerseyville vs. Du Quoin (Thomas Gym); Cissna Park vs. Benton (Auxiliary Gym)
7:00pm: Pinckneyville vs. Olney (Thomas Gym); Trico vs. Carterville (Auxiliary Gym)
8:30pm: Benton vs. Greenville (Thomas Gym); Du Quoin vs. Elverado (Auxiliary Gym)
Bronze Pool - Auxiliary Gym
9:00am: 3rd place Pool A vs. 3rd place Pool B
10:30am: 3rd place Pool C vs. 3rd place Pool D
4:00pm: 11th place game
5:30pm: 9th place game
Silver Pool - Thomas Gym
9:00am: 2nd place Pool A vs. 2nd place Pool B
10:30am: 2nd place Pool C vs. 2nd place Pool D
4:00pm: 7th place game
5:30pm: 5th place game
Gold Pool - Thomas Gym
12:00pm: 1st place Pool A vs. 1st place Pool B
1:30pm: 1st place Pool C vs. 1st place Pool D
7:00pm: 3rd place game
8:30pm: Championship game