Talented basketball players like Charles Matthews have their choice of high-profile high school programs. They are heavily recruited throughout junior high and it doesn’t end there. Every offseason players transfer, looking for the best possible fit to showcase their talents.
Matthews chose St. Rita, an unusual pick at the time. Then he stayed and played a key role in making the Mustangs a powerhouse. St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare started that process in 2009 when he arrived from New York.
Friday at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, St. Rita officially climbed the mountain. The No. 5 Mustangs earned one of the biggest wins in school history, beating No. 2 Simeon 51-46 in a nationally televised game on ESPN2.
“About five years ago, St. Rita was a nobody,” Mustangs point guard Armani Chaney said.
Matthews, a Kentucky recruit, controlled the game. He finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. The performance can’t be quantified, though. He was a constant threat, creating shots for himself and his teammates, battling for every rebound and loose ball.
“My mouth is bloody, arm bloody, they put up a fight,” Matthews said. “It was a battle. We came to fight. We hit them, they hit us back. We hit a little harder.”
Every St. Rita player seemed to rebound with intensity, while just Edward Morrow (11 points, 16 rebounds) did the same for Simeon. The Mustangs outrebounded the Wolverines 49-35.
“I don’t think I’ve seen the team get on the floor so much,” Matthews said.
The Mustangs showed how much they wanted the victory while on the floor. Afterwards, they all downplayed the significance.
“They are all big, a win is a win,” Matthews said. “I’m trying to get a ring on my finger.”
St. Rita (5-1) led 24-20 at the half and built a 15-point lead near the end of the third quarter. Simeon wasn’t able to penetrate the Mustangs’ zone defense and shot 1-for-18 from three-point range.
“They had a good game plan,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “They felt like if they stopped [Morrow] they would stop us. We got a little stagnant, we couldn’t get him going.”
Simeon switched to a full-court press in the final six minutes. St. Rita didn’t manage a field goal and turned the ball over seven times after the change. The Mustangs did get to the line, where they shot 9-for-13, good enough to seal the win.
“That’s probably something we should have done earlier in the game,” Smith said.
Chaney finished with 10 points and Kain Harris added 16 points and six rebounds for St. Rita. Center Myles Carter was a key factor in limiting Morrow. He added two points and nine rebounds.
Junior guard Zack Norvell scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter to help Simeon cut the score to 44-43 with 1:39 to play. But the Wolverines (5-1) didn’t manage another basket until the final 13 seconds.
“We struggled offensively,” Smith said. “We have to go back to the drawing board.”