BY AARON PATTERSON
No bond is greater than a relationship forged between family members. It will always be deeper and stronger than any friendship. And when a family’s territory is intruded upon or disrespected, a first reaction is usually to defend the family’s honor.
Of the 14 members of the Danville Area Community College men’s basketball team, none are related, and all come from different high schools. But as far as they are concerned, they might all be distant relatives. It’s been that way since the beginning of the season, and has been magnified during the Jaguars’ current winning streak.
The 12th-ranked Jaguars have not lost a game since December 15 against Lincoln Trail, and extended their winning streak to 11 games on Saturday with a 68-55 win over rival Parkland College.
It is easy to look at stats and suggest the hot streak is simply a result of good play, but the Jaguars have little doubt as to why they have had so much success.
“Sticking together,” DACC sophomore guard Chris Whitehead said. “You can’t win the game with one person thinking they can do it all. That’s what we’ve stressed all season.”
While the win was earned with contributions from all, it was hard to not notice the dominating presence of the Jaguars’ big brother, Ronnie White. For the third time this season, the 6-foot-9 center from Chicago recorded eight blocks, tying the school record he set in his very first game as a Jaguar.
Though his primary responsibility is to play defense, his motivation is simple.
“I’ve got to protect our family,” White said. “We are all a family. When anybody tries to penetrate on the paint, I just do my best to let them know that they can’t get to the rim. I just try to keep it in my head that I have to protect my family. I feel like whenever they try to drive and they are going at us, that’s disrespecting us, even though that’s the game. I just feel like I’ve got to protect our family.”
White has now recorded at least one block in 22 games this season, and has a total of 92. On Wednesday against No. 6 Rend Lake, the freshman center swatted five shot attempts and set the school’s all-time career record for blocks. The record was previously held by Matt Sisley who recorded 82 for DACC during the 1990-1992 seasons.
Six of White’s blocks on Saturday came in the first half as the Jaguars built a 35-26 lead at the break. It didn’t last long, however, as the Cobras pulled to within 46-45 with nine minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the second half. Fortunately for the Jaguars, they responded with an 18-4 run of their own, and eventually regained their 10-point advantage.
“It’s becoming like clockwork this season,” DACC coach Mike Carpenter said. “We’ve done this every conference game. We’ve gotten up in the second half. This conference is good enough that anybody can beat anybody. If you relax, if you don’t play as hard as you played to get that lead, any team in this league is capable of making a run at you. Parkland showed that tonight. They played with heart, and they gave it everything they could and they made some runs at us. But, our kids didn’t panic and they kept playing. I think our experience showed through at the end.”
The Jaguars’ experience showed in a defensive effort that held the Cobras to only 18 percent shooting from behind the three-point arc, and in the post where Parkland center Cedric Smith was held to six points after scoring 16 in the previous meeting. White realized the adjustments he had to make in order to prevent Smith from scoring at will.
“Since I’m a shot blocker, I tend to jump a lot,” White said. “I have just been practicing all week, telling myself to stay down and stay low and just show a hand. I’m tall. I’ve got a 7-5 wingspan. I don’t have to jump out. I just have to stay back and show. That will throw them off. My coaches just keep telling me, ‘Ronnie, you don’t have to jump every time.’ When I jump, that’s what helps them get past me, or they draw me out and make a move to get past me. I might not be as fast, but if I stand my ground, I will be OK.”
In addition to the defensive effort, DACC began to rebuild its lead when Raheem Jackson came off the bench to hit a three that extended the advantage to 53-49, and Bobby Blackwell later scored his only points of the game on his first shot attempt on a three to put the Jaguars up 58-49.
White finished the game with seven points and 10 rebounds while Mike Ryce (10 points), Evan Blackmon (11 points, six rebounds, three assists), Derek Shouse (11 points, three assists), and Whitehead (18 points, five steals, four assists) all scored in double figures.
DACC has only five games remaining on the schedule before the region tournament begins. The Jaguars hope to keep their hot streak going and eventually reach the NJCAA national tournament.
“I think we have a lot of confidence,” Whitehead said. “Everybody on the team has confidence. We’re just trying to stick together. There’s five games left and the sophomores know this is our last chance in JUCO ball playing at DACC. We’re trying to make the most of it.”