Orr, revitalized Reggie Strong take down Corliss

It was the kind of play that most kids just can’t make. Orr senior Reggie Strong had his shot blocked in the air, but then was able to grab the ball and dunk it forcefully.

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Corliss’ Na’Shawn Townsen (2) pushes past Orr’s Reggie Strong (23).

Corliss’ Na’Shawn Townsen (2) pushes past Orr’s Reggie Strong (23).

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

It was the kind of play that most kids just can’t make. Orr senior Reggie Strong had his shot blocked in the air, but then was able to grab the ball and dunk it forcefully.

It was a mind-blowing flash of skill and athleticism and a reminder of just how highly-regarded Strong used to be by the recruiting establishment.

Strong was a freshman phenom at Farragut. He spend his first two seasons of high school ranked among the state’s top prospects. He transferred to St. Joseph his junior year and things started to tail off.

Now he’s with the Spartans looking to reclaim his spot in the upper-echelon of the senior class and help his team win city and state.

“[Strong’s recruiting] is kind of rough right now,” Orr coach Lou Adams said. “A lot of people backed off. But since he’s been with us he’s been a model kid. Life is built on second chances. He’s a kid. Adults make mistakes sometimes too.”

Strong scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds to help the Spartans beat visiting Corliss 64-49 in the second round of the Public League playoffs on Thursday.

Strong is the only player ever to be coached by the trio of Gene Pingatore, William Nelson and Lou Adams. That’s a star-studded group that has produced several dozen college stars, multiple NBA players and won a basket full of state championships.

“It’s been a real good experience under all of those coaches,” Strong said. “They definitely have very different systems of playing.”

“Ping is probably the best coach he ever played for and then [Nelson] had [Kevin] Garnett and [Ronnie] Fields,” Adams said. “I’m probably the worst coach he ever played for. We are just trying to get Reggie to come into his own.”

That is starting to happen. And 6-6 senior Demarius Splunge has been a force in the post all season. He finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.

“That’s my role on this team, I’m the big,” Splunge said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help us win.”

Orr (16-6) led by 15 at halftime. The Trojans (14-10) forced several turnovers and closed the gap to just six late in the third quarter but couldn’t get any closer.

“We just had a mental lapse,” Corliss coach Harvey Jones said. “We were so excited about getting back into the game that we weren’t getting back on defense and those guys made shots.”

Junior Sincere Malone led the Spartans with 15 points and seven rebounds. Senior Jayden Williams added 10 points and eight rebounds.

Orr has won three consecutive Class 2A state championships. The teams have largely been built with transfers. Senior Shaun Harris is a rarity. He’s a four-year player for the Spartans and he’s been a rock this season, turning in solid games while all the new players found their place.

Harris led the way with 21 points and five rebounds against Corliss.

“All those guys I played with the last three years are in college now,” Harris said. “This is my time to step up.”

Corliss and Orr could meet again in the Joliet Central Class 2A supersectional.

“Now we just have to get ready for state,” Jones said. “We can make a good run. I like our chances.”

Orr will face top-ranked Curie in the quarterfinals of the city playoffs on Tuesday.

“Right now we are playing our best basketball and we are gonna play the best team,” Adams said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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