CRYSTAL LAKE – Richmond-Burton basketball coach Brandon Creason balled his fingers into a solid fist and, punching his other hand for emphasis, he said, “I hope they throttle us.”
It was a strange comment for the coach to make before his Rockets took the court against Larkin on Friday afternoon in the Gary Collins Shootout at Crystal Lake South. It was almost like when U.S. soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann said it wasn’t “realistic” for the United States Men's National Team to win the World Cup.
But it had a purpose.
After losing three starting seniors from last season’s Big Northern Conference East Division championship squad, Creason’s Rockets are left with a young – and relatively inexperienced – core. Sam Kaufman will be the lone senior this season. Junior Reggie Banks is making strides from last year and is expected to be a first-year starter.
That means the other three vacant spots on the court will most likely come from sophomores.
“I think we’re going to need a huge lift from them,” Kaufman said. “We don’t even think of them as sophomores. They’re second-year varsity players.”
Those sophomores – excuse me – “second-year varsity players” will go through their growing pains. And the way Creason figured, better to have his younger players take their lumps in the summer when they are wearing untucked pinnies and mismatched basketball shorts, rather than when the temperatures fall and the stakes rise.
When the Rockets turned the ball over less than 30 second into the game, it was clear that Creason would get the throttling he asked for. Larkin was physically dominant. The Royals jumped out to a 17-4 lead with an in-your-face defense, easy penetration to the basket and several rim-rattling dunks, which produced much “ohhhhh”-ing from the Larkin bench.
“We’re not used to playing that kind of speed,” said 6-foot-9 sophomore Joey St. Pierre, a starter last season who Creason said needs to develop into more of a scoring threat. “They’re a lot stronger and faster than us.”
The Rockets lost, 59-44. The official scorekeepers stopped keeping track of the Royals’ individual statistics, and they weren’t even completely sure the 59 was right – a sign of how little the score really meant and also how much Larkin dominated at times.
And Creason loved it.
Although this outcome, and the 57-43 loss to Wauconda in the game that followed, were lopsided scores. Creason much preferred it to the double-digit drubbing his Rockets put on Woodstock North in their first game of the day.
He already knows his team has talent. When the 10th-graders were in eighth grade, they lost just one game. Creason would go to watch and “it was a waste of time. They were winning by 30 points.”
Some of that potential was shown Friday. St. Pierre pinned a blocked shot against the backboard. Jesse Hill-Male grabbed more boards than a 5-foot-9 player should. Blaine Bayer handled the ball and didn’t panic despite almost constant pressure.
But the Rockets will have to get those types of performances more consistently if they plan to keep up with teams like Larkin, a squad that lost just four games last season.
“That is what I was hoping to get coming here,” Creason said. “We’re playing bigger schools this season for that reason. We’re in bigger shootouts than we’ve been because we have younger guys that need to get adjusted to the speed.”
He added: “They don’t play like that in eighth grade. I guarantee it.”