Breese Central's Brandon Book is a big-timer

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Breese Central's Brandon Book is a big-timer

Every once in a while, while observing the small-school basketball tournaments, you see a player who has what it takes to compete at the mid-major or even the major Division I level in college.

Breese Central's Brandon Book is one of those players.

Whether he is as good or better than some of the small-school standouts of the past -- Lawrenceville's Jay Shidler and Marty Simmons, Normal University's Jim Crews, Eldorado's Mike Duff, Cairo's Tyrone Nesby, McLeansboro's Brian Sloan, Providence-St. Mel's Lowell Hamilton, St. Anne's Jack Sikma, Leo's Andre Brown, St. Martin de Porres' Jerry Gee, Providence's Walter Downing, Springfield Calvary's Rennie Clemons -- remains to be seen.

But Book, a 6-foot-6 senior, clearly was the best player on the court last weekend in Peoria. If there was an MVP in the Class 2A tournament, it was Book.

Breese Central coach Stan Eagleson knew it, too.

"We always feel we have the best player on the floor," Eagleson said before the tournament began. "When he is on his game, he is as good as anyone the other team can put on the floor. He can post up but he also is a leading perimeter shooter."

The leading scorer in school history, Book (21 ppg, 9 rpg) is being recruited by Southern Indiana, Arkansas State, Millikin and Southwest Illinois College. The list of suitors should increase significantly in the wake of his sensational performance in the state finals.

Book had 24 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks as top-ranked Breese Central dispatched second-rated Seton Academy 57-47 in the semifinals.

He scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half and grabbed 11 rebounds as Breese Central won its 18th game in a row and completed a 34-1 season by edging Normal University High 53-47 for the Class 2A championship.

"I knew I had to come here and play as hard as I can," Book said. "Winning the state championship sends chills down my spine."

Playing against a Normal U-High team led by highly touted sophomore Keita Bates-Diop, Book converted two successive three-point shots and two free throws to give Breese Central a 34-28 lead after three quarters.

Normal U-High, which annually plays one of the toughest schedules of any small school in the state, fell behind by 10 but closed within two on two occasions in the last minute. But Book made a basket and Nick Grapperhaus made four free throws in the last eight seconds to seal the victory.

"He struggled early," Eagleson said about Book, who shot 3-of-12 in the first half. "Then he put us on his back."

Class 1A basketball to a large degree and Class 2A basketball to a lesser extent are acquired tastes, like girls basketball. The viewer must understand it is a different game, athletically and fundamentally. Limited athleticism, no slam dunks, no crossover dribbles, everyone playing below the rim, few if any major college recruits.

But once you accept the fact that this isn't Kentucky vs. Kansas or Michael Jordan vs. Magic Johnson or Simeon vs. Proviso East, you can be entertained by watching a game straight out of a coach's playbook, filled with X's and O's rather than dribble penetration and blocked shots and tomahawk dunks and up-tempo, up-and-down action that more resembles a Stanley Cup hockey game.

Book provided that type of entertainment and excitement last weekend. So did his team, which played in-your-face man-to-man defense against Seton and Normal U-High. Against a quicker Seton team, the Cougars disrupted Seton's offense and didn't allow a single fast-break basket. Against taller Normal U-High, they prevented the Pioneers and Bates-Diop from dominating on the boards.

Eagleson is one of the winningest coaches in state history. He has won 586 games in 30 years, including 30-3, 30-5, 30-3 and 34-1 in the last seasons. His team was fourth in 2010. Last year's team lost in the supersectional. The only blemish on this year's record was a loss to Kirkwood Vianney, a St. Louis suburban power.

"Since 1996, we have had a nice run of good basketball players and good basketball players with good size, 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 kids who can play," Eagleson said. "Going into this season, I felt this team was potentially the best I have had. It has a lot of kids with good basketball sense."

The Class 1A final was entertaining, too. Woodlawn, which had eliminated top-ranked Mounds Meridian for the second year in a row in the supersectional, trounced North Shore Country Day 62-44 in the semifinals, then rallied to edge Carrollton 48-45 for the title.

No, it wasn't like watching someone cut grass. A.J. Webb made a three-pointer with 16 seconds left to overcome a one-point deficit and Christian Hollenkamp made two free throws with two seconds left to clinch the victory as Woodlawn closed out with a 5-0 run.

Gabe Owens was an effective three-point shooting threat and Webb was a lockdown defender and clutch performer for Woodlawn. Carrollton's Joey Coonrod, a three-sport star who pitched his school to a state championship last year, also stood out. Coonrad had 16 points and 17 rebounds in the final.

Only one complaint: While television announcers Lee Hall and Dave Bernhard and color commentators Greg Starrick, Camron Smith and Matt Rodewald were informed and informative, Starrick closed with a tiresome comment stolen from Dick Vitale that always sends chills down my spine.

"Both teams were well-coached," said Starrick, a former Marion star who was one of the most prolific scorers in state history.

Have you ever heard a radio or TV analyst refer to a team -- high school, college or professional -- as poorly coached?

Horace Grant on current state of Bulls: 'No need to panic'

Horace Grant on current state of Bulls: 'No need to panic'

After the Bulls got off to a 3-0 start, it looked like this would be a team that might be able to give LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers a run for their money in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls proceeded to lose their next three, tempering those optimistic expectations. What those first six games proved is that they're an inconsistent bunch, and it's been a microcosm of their season past the halfway mark.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Entering Thursday, the Bulls were slotted in as the No. 8 seed in the East with a 21-22 record through 43 games.

Former Bulls forward/center Horace Grant, who was named a special advisor to president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf last year, joined SportsTalk Live on Thursday to talk about the team's current state, and why Bulls fans shouldn't panic just yet.

Check out his comments in the video above.

See what else he had to say during his SportsTalk Live appearance and on In The Loop below:

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

ATLANTA — Jimmy Butler insisted being a starter in the All-Star Game means next to nothing, but it seems to go against his never-ending battle for credibility and validation as a legit superstar.

Moments after it was revealed he would be an All-Star starter for the first time and make his third overall trip to All-Star weekend, he sang the same nonchalant tune.

"It hasn't changed at all," Butler said on a conference call Thursday evening. "Obviously, it's a huge accomplishment and honor to be named a starter. But it's All-Star weekend. There are going to be a lot of good players there. I guess it's just another name thrown in with some decent players."

The NBA's format for selecting the All-Star starters changed this season, with fans no longer being the sole group that gets to vote for starters. If it was still a fans-only vote, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid would've started in Butler's place.

But with the new formula that allows the media and the players to take part in the vote, the fan vote accounts for just 50 percent of the formula. So Butler joined Cleveland's LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee's Giannis Antekounmpo and Toronto's DeMar DeRozan in the starting five for the Eastern Conference.

Butler's is averaging 24.8 points with 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists, career-highs across the board, and had he not been selected as a starter, the Bulls' 20-21 record would not have prevented coaches from selecting him as a reserve as they had the last two seasons.

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Jimmy Butler jersey right here]

He won't be joined in the starting lineup by Dwyane Wade, who finished second in backcourt voting behind Irving, but cast his vote for his teammate anyway and hopes Wade will be selected as a reserve.

"Of course. He's been a huge part of what we're doing here, and I think he has played extremely well the first part of the season," Butler said. "He got my vote. I will tell you that."

Golden State's Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will start for the West, along with Houston's James Harden, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and New Orleans' Anthony Davis, a Chicago native.

The fun-filled and busy weekend in New Orleans begins Feb. 17, from the league events to the parties to the festivities and then finally the All-Star Game on Sunday night.

Butler likely views it as more of an accomplishment for his team of trainers and confidants then himself.

"It's fun, man. You get to know the other really good players in the league, and you get to know a little bit about them," Butler said. "And the experience that you get to be a part of, whether it be the Jordan party or taking your guys with you everywhere. That's the most fun part for me, my trainers, my brothers, everybody that's behind the scenes helping me gets to experience it too."