Circle this date on your calendar: Jan. 25.
Bogan at Simeon. Showdown in the Public League's Red-South. The nation's top-ranked team against...well, how good is Bogan?
"This is my best team," said Bogan coach Arthur Goodwin. "We're not big but we've played together for four years. We are well-disciplined, fast and play hard-nosed man-to-man defense. We have seven good players, including four Division I players."
Bogan was 20-7 in Goodwin's first year, 19-8 in his second, including a 69-60 loss to Simeon. After Wednesday's 66-42 victory over Du Sable, the Bengals are 5-0 and rated among the top 10 teams in the Chicago area. They'll meet Rockford Guilford on Saturday at the Peoria Shootout.
"The key to our success is doing fundamental things right, make the extra pass, play tough defense, box out," Goodwin said. "And we need Buckner to control the team and be the leader."
Buckner is Ronnell Buckner, a 5-foot-10 senior whom Goodwin claims is one of the top five point guards in the state. A three-year starter, he averages nine points and four steals per game. He also carries a 4.0 grade point average on a 4.0 scale. He wants to be an optometrist. At the daily team study hall, he tutors other players.
"He is flying under the radar now," said Goodwin, pointing out that Buckner has scholarship offers from Southeast Louisiana and Davenport University in Iowa, an NAIA school.
Buckner played football until fifth grade. Then a friend showed him a promotional card that informed him that Michigan State star Shannon Brown and Illinois star Dee Brown would be at Foster Park Fieldhouse for a tryout for 12-year-old small fry.
"They inspired me to play basketball," Buckner said. "Football was too physical for me. I stopped playing football and began to concentrate on basketball."
His role is to demonstrate his leadership, control the team, be a coach on the floor. "I prefer passing to shooting. I make the next play look good. And I also enjoy stealing the ball and playing defense," he said.
Buckner leaves the scoring to 6-foot-3 senior DeVaughn Johnson (12 ppg), 6-foot-1 senior Kendall Wesley (15 ppg), 6-foot-5 senior Donte Jackson (10 ppg) and 5-foot-10 freshman Luwane Pipkins (7 ppg). Curiously, the team's leading scorer, 6-foot-3 senior Devonte Smith (17 ppg), comes off the bench. Johnson had 30 points and eight rebounds in the victory over Du Sable.
Goodwin believes Buckner, Johnson, Pipkins and Smith are Division I players. He insists Pipkins is one of the best freshmen in the state. He describes Johnson as a sleeper who is coming on strong.
"Two years ago, we won the regional against Morgan Park and Wayne Blackshear. It was our first regional championship ever," Goodwin said. "This team can be better."
Goodwin started at Du Sable, then played for Don Pittman at South Shore and graduated in 1985. After playing basketball at Valparaiso, he returned to Chicago to coach at Perspectives for four years. He took a new charter school that won only one game in its first year, a bunch of kids who had no basketball skills, and produced a 13-game winner in his second season. Three years ago, he moved to Bogan.
"I knew Bogan didn't have a basketball reputation," he said. "I brought in some volunteer coaches with connections to the grammar schools. And I put my handprint on the program--work hard, discipline and play together.
"I didn't think about what they had done before. I knew Bogan was a football school in the 1980s and 1990s. There are a lot of football trophies in the school. Now we want to get some basketball trophies."
Goodwin doesn't waste any words in professing that he has what it takes to build a winning program at Bogan.
"I'm a point guard, a born leader. I've been a floor leader all my life," he said. "I have a natural eye for the game. I'm a good bench coach. I always liked to scout because I had a good eye for what players could do."
Players like Buckner, who has bought into Goodwin's philosophy.
"We are together. All of the players are in the same accord. It's all about defense. We want to go Downstate," he said. "Guard play is key for us We must handle pressure. In three years on the varsity, we have handled pressure before. We know how to handle situations. We know how to make the right decisions."
Bogan never has advanced beyond the sectional. Two years ago, the Bengals lost to Mount Carmel in the sectional. Last year, they lost to St. Rita in the regional. They know Simeon, Morgan Park and Harlan await them in the Red-South.
"We have to stay focused and make good decisions down the stretch," Buckner said. "I think we have more quickness than other teams.
"We have a lot support, too. For our first game, it was sold out. Kids were making posters. There were flags on cars, things we never saw before."
Remember the date, Jan. 25.