Bloom senior Keshawn Williams was already in the air, ready to throw down another dunk. Suddenly a Thornton defender was in his way. The sold-out crowd in Chicago Heights gasped with anticipation of a mid-air clash, a challenged slam.
Williams, in mid-air, simply pulled the ball back, floated around the defender and put it in off the glass.
There are players all over the area with tremendous leaping ability, but that kind of body control is extremely rare in high school players.
Most of Williams’ teammates have other high-level skills. That’s why the Blazing Trojans were the preseason top-ranked team, why the expectations around the team are so high.
But two and a half months into the season Bloom hadn’t been living up to those lofty goals.
That may have started to change on Tuesday. The No. 5 Blazing Trojans knocked off undefeated No. 2 Thornton 74-57 in front of a loud, raging crowd.
“It hasn’t been like this in a long time,” Bloom coach Dante Maddox Sr. said. “It’s a 100-year old rivalry so it makes it real fun. Now that our fans are out they will be out all the way through the playoffs.”
Williams scored 23 points, 11 in the fourth quarter. He wasn’t especially impressed by that dazzling aerial move though.
“Coach always says your core is everything so we work on our core all the time,” Williams said. “I didn’t even really feel like I did anything.”
Maddox worried in the preseason that his team, loaded with five Division-I players, might lack the toughness and grit to make a run to the state title. He said they might be too nice.
That grit came out against Thornton, which beat Bloom in December in Harvey.
“They were the only undefeated team left in the area and they talked so much on social media,” Williams said. “It definitely made us not nice. We needed that. Everyone says we are soft. That brought some toughness to the program.”
Thornton (21-1, 9-1 Southland) led 29-28 at halftime. Bloom (20-5, 9-1) took control with a 14-5 run to close the third quarter.
“We have to get out of the bubble that we are confident, that we are more talented than most teams we play against,” senior Dante Maddox Jr. said. “If we don’t bring the effort and the mentality we are going to keep getting those one and two point losses.”
Maddox Jr. scored 20 points and senior Christian Shumate added 13 points and 14 rebounds. Williams’ aerial show left an impression on his teammate.
“It was special,” Maddox Jr. said. “[Williams] is one of the best players I’ve seen in Illinois and I’ve been around this game of basketball since I was three. The stuff he has to go through with people talking, you don’t understand. So for him to give us the spark we needed. It represents how mentally strong he is as a person.”
Ari Brown led the Wildcats with 23 points and seven rebounds. Donald Coates and Sean Burress each added eight points.
“They are talented as heck,” Thornton coach Tai Streets said. “It was going to be tough to come over here and beat them. They won this battle. That was a good game. Hopefully down the road we will see them again.”
The two teams could possibly meet again in Chicago Heights in the Class 4A sectionals in March.
“They talked so much on social media, they were disrespectful,” Maddox Sr. said. “That brought the best out of us. Keep talking. I’m more about showing. That is why it was so spicy. We look forward to seeing them in sectionals.”