Kankakee spoils the debut of Rich’s combined basketball program

A new era began on Friday in Richton Park. Rich East has closed and Rich South and Rich Central’s buildings are now the two campuses of Rich Township. Suddenly, three high school basketball teams have become one.

SHARE Kankakee spoils the debut of Rich’s combined basketball program
Rich’s Devonta Blevins (0) takes on Kankakee’s Willie Strickland at the top of the key.

Rich’s Devonta Blevins (0) takes on Kankakee’s Willie Strickland at the top of the key.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Rich East, Rich South and Rich Central each had a proud basketball history.

South hosted the South Suburbs’ premier high school basketball event, the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament. NBA and Illinois star Kendall Gill is a Rich Central graduate and Rich East produced former Bull Craig Hodges and was once coached by Steve Fisher.

But a new era began on Friday in Richton Park. Rich East has closed and Rich South and Rich Central’s buildings are now the two campuses of Rich Township. Suddenly, three high school basketball teams have become one.

“Rich East has to trust Rich South and Rich South has to trust Rich Central,” Raptors senior Gary Clay said. “We are going to get there. We played against them for three years so it is just a process of getting everybody together and getting the chemistry together.”

Clay scored 20 points in Rich’s first-ever game, a 65-58 loss to No. 24 Kankakee.

Every team in the area is struggling after being off for 11 months and only having a week of practice before starting up games. But the challenge is unique at Rich. Raptors coach Cornelius Crossley, formerly the coach at Rich Central, has to mold together an entirely new team of former rivals.

“Yeah, it is challenging to bring three teams together,” Crossley said. “But I’m focused on trying to build a culture. That’s the big thing. We’ve got a month to really determine how we are going to move forward. Because we can’t go backwards.”

If not for COVID-19, Rich’s first game would have been a major event in the South Suburbs. Instead, there were no fans at all.

“It really put a damper on us,” Rich Township Athletic Director Matthew Shank said. “A lot of the things we had planned to bring our teams together just couldn’t happen. But the consolidation has been great. I’m a Rich East graduate and an employee of the district for almost 20 years. The experiences we are going to be able to offer our athletes now is something we wouldn’t have been able to do if we had remained separate.”

Kankakee’s Amarion Osbourne (2) splits two Rich defenders to finish a coast-to-coast-drive to the basket.

Kankakee’s Amarion Osbourne (2) splits two Rich defenders to finish a coast-to-coast-drive to the basket.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

The Raptors (0-1, 0-1 Southland) fell in an early hole but fought back and led Kankakee (1-0, 1-0) by two at halftime. Kays senior Amarion Osbourne, a Vocational transfer, made three three-pointers in the first few minutes of the third quarter and that turned the tide permanently.

“I had to get on him at halftime,” Kankakee coach Chris Pickett said. “We rely on his high IQ and his playmaking and he just wasn’t attacking in the first half. Those threes got us going. If he and the other guys come with intensity for 32 minutes we can be as good as we’ve been the last three years.”

Osbourne and Willie Strickland each scored 14 for the Kays and Rashard Harris added 13 points and eight rebounds.

Rich is led by Clay and fellow seniors Devonta Blevins (12 points, seven rebounds) and Semaj Greer, who missed the game due to a family emergency.

Junior Jeremiah Dunklin scored the first basket in Rich history, although it may not be remembered as long as the first one that fans actually see in Rich South’s redone gym.

“You need your crowd, you need your student body,” Crossley said. “We are happy to be playing but we are missing the stuff that really energizes you.”

Watch the final minute of Kankakee at Rich:

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