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Boys Basketball: Khali Saunders, Knights claim tournament championship

Two-way football star making an impact on the basketball court

Khali Saunders was a standout two-way player for the IC Catholic Prep football team that captured a second straight state title in November.

Now the junior is showing that he can have an impact on the hardcourt as well.

Though admitting that he is still huffing and puffing a bit after a late start to the basketball season, Saunders nevertheless seemed to be in midseason form on Friday.

The 6-foot-3 forward tallied 15 points and 11 rebounds in a 56-52 victory against Montini which handed the Knights the ICCP/Westmont Christmas Classic championship.

It was the program's fourth first-place trophy in the seven years of the event.

"It took me a while to get back into the groove," said Saunders, when asked about transitioning from football to basketball. "Its definitely different and it took me a couple of weeks to get my wind. But I played a lot of basketball growing up, though I have kind of faded away from it in high school. It's just a great feeling to be out there and help out on the court."

Saunders explained that he actually started playing basketball at a younger age then football, thanks in large part to the influence of his twin sisters. Five years older, both are playing basketball in college.

"I grew up playing basketball first," he said. "I didn't start playing football until like fourth grade. I was really a basketball player who played football. Now I'm more of a football player who plays basketball."

Saunders received plenty of support from his teammates in the tourney finale, with Kevin Cheng netting 17 points and Alex Meurer chipping in with 12.

"We had a chip on our shoulder," Cheng said. "We had a bitter taste after losing in the third-place game last year. We were dialed in and ready for this tournament since it started. We had a little drought here the last couple of years.

"We were just all meshing. We are all friends here, we love each other. Even when we get angry at each other, we are still friends. It's just great being on the court with four of my friends."

The team, which is finally playing with a complete roster, also notched wins over Elmwood Park, Latin and Christ the King at the tournament and improved to 11-4 on the season.

"Four games in four days is tough," ICCP coach T.J. Tyrrell said. "I thought defensively we really stepped up this week."

Montini fell to 10-4 with the loss. The Broncos, who earlier defeated Fenton, Chicago Perspectives and Westmont, were led by the 17 points of Anthony Thompson.

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