Can "Casey and the Midgets" snap the North Chicago jinx and win a sectional championship for the first time in school history?
That's the question that Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe is asking as he prepares his 20-8 team for Friday night's Class 3A regional championship game against Grayslake North. If the Rams win, they'll likely meet old nemesis North Chicago in a sectional semifinal next Tuesday.
"How do we get by North Chicago? Can we ever beat them?" Moe said. "That's been our trend--to lose to North Chicago in the sectional. They are a big challenge for us. They've been there. They've won a sectional. They have a great coach in Gerald Coleman and a great player in Aaron Simpson. They put up a lot of points. We have to try to figure out a way to slow them down."
Grayslake Central's history against North Chicago is full of woulda, shoulda, coulda, close but no cigar. Last year, the Rams lost to North Chicago by four. Three years ago, they were tied with three minutes to play. In the State Farm Classic in Bloomington last December, they led by five at halftime. It all adds up to a lot of frustration.
"We have to make them work for baskets and be patient on offense," Moe said. "They do a great job of making you take shots that you aren't used to taking."
Moe, a 1989 graduate of Glenbrook South, is in his fourth year at Grayslake Central. He played basketball at Augustana on a team that reached the Final Four in Division III. After teaching and coaching at Glenbrook North, Mundelein and Wauconda, he was hired at Grayslake Central.
He has won 20 or more games in three of his four years. He lost to North Chicago in the sectional final in 2008. His 21-10 team lost to Vernon Hills at the buzzer in the sectional. He was 21-7 in 2010. Last year's 17-13 squad lost to North Chicago in the sectional semifinal.
But this year's 20-8 squad might be different. The Rams beat highly rated Huntley in the Fox Valley Conference cross-over game last Friday, sending a message to future opponents--and maybe North Chicago--that they have to be taken for real.
"Potentially, this is the best team I have had," Moe said. "We have a 6-foot-9 center, a shooter, a scorer and we play good team defense. We play man-to-man full-court and pressure the ball. We share the ball and play together. We play six seniors and a junior. We have a lot of experience."
Grayslake Central is led by 5-foot-7 senior guard Jordan Taylor (19 ppg), a three-year starter who is the team leader and has scored more than 1,000 points in his career. But Taylor is closer to 5-foot-5 than 5-foot-7.
Other starters are 6-foot-9 senior Casey Boyle (13.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg), who has some Division II offers, 6-foot senior point guard Sayvonte McWilliams (7.6 ppg, 3 assists, 4 rpg), 5-foot-10 junior Danny Reed (7.5 ppg, 3 rpg), and 6-foot-2 senior Tyler Smith (6.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg).
"Smith is our wild card," Moe said. "When he plays well, we look good. He is athletic and long and attacks the basket. But when he struggles, we struggle, too.
"The big thing we have to do is rebound. We are 'Casey and the Midgets.'Rebounding has been an issue for us. When Casey was out for four games with an ankle sprain in the last few weeks, we went 1-3. Now he's back and we hope he gives us an edge."
The four-class system may have a lot of critics but Moe isn't one of them. He has won the conference or regional in each of his four years and hopes to sweep both of them--and the sectional--for the first time this season.
"We have benefited from the four-class system," he said. "We are able to dodge Warren, Mundelein, Libertyville and Zion-Benton in the regional, the big Class 4A schools. Playing in Class 3A has been helpful to us. That's where we belong, With an enrollment of 1,300, it is perfect for us. We can't compete against schools with enrollments of 4,000 on a consistent basis."