BY AARON PATTERSON
It’s never too early to get a glimpse of what might be in store for the future of area basketball, and the inclusion of a new Junior High division in the 41st Annual Dustbowl Basketball Tournament gave fans a taste of what’s to come.
North Ridge Middle School eighth-grader Kendle Moore teamed up with fellow Ridge Runners Quinton Smith and Keontae Austin on iBall to defeat the Timberwolves 69-38 in the tournament’s opening game.
But they didn’t do it alone. The North Ridge trio had the help of Rantoul’s Malik Jones and Jaden Jones-Watkins, and Champaign’s Akieon Gill.
Despite lack of consistent team playing time, iBall didn’t lack team chemistry.
“Since we are skilled and have been practicing during the summer, we know our strengths and weaknesses,” Moore said.
iBall dominated The Timberwolves from the opening tip, and Moore single-handedly outscored the Timberwolves 15-14 in the first half en route to a 39-14 halftime lead.
Moore finished with a game-high 23 points and was just shy of a triple-double with seven rebounds and nine steals.
Jones added 18 points to go with nine rebounds and three steals, Austin scored 10, and Smith had eight. Smith and Austin each had five steals.
“This is the first time they have played together,” iBall coach Derrius Hightower said. “They played defense and all shared the ball. They shared the ball, had trust in each other, and that’s how we got the win.”
iBall forced the Timberwolves into 15 turnovers in the first half alone, and at one point led 20-2. As a team, they swiped 23 steals accounting for nearly all of the Timberwolves’ turnovers.
As dominating as the win might have seemed, Hightower and iBall aren’t getting any illusions that their path to Saturday’s championship will be a breeze.
In fact, Wednesday’s semifinal game should give them more of a challenge as they will take on the Champaign Heat at 8:30 p.m.
“I was really impressed,” Hightower said of his squad’s performance. “They played very good defense. We were kind of the favorite for that game, so I can’t wait to see how we play against some of the older kids and some of the better competition and see how we really stack up against them.”
The Champaign Heat — comprised of junior high players who will attend high school at Urbana, Champaign Central, Champaign Centennial, and Champaign St. Thomas More — defeated Team CPB 45-13. The Heat were led by Shawn Williams (10 points, seven rebounds, four steals), and Clavin Davis (10 points, three steals).