Who's best in 3A? Peoria or Lanphier?

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Who's best in 3A? Peoria or Lanphier?

While Chicagoans are anxious to see a SimeonProviso East match-up for the Class 4A championship, downstaters are eager to see a Peoria CentralSpringfield Lanphier duel for the Class 3A title.

The two teams have history. Lanphier defeated Peoria Central 59-45 on Nov. 25 in the semifinals of the Decatur Turkey Tournament. On Feb. 17, Peoria Central defeated Lanphier 70-59.

Of course, they have to survive Friday's semifinals. Springfield Lanphier (28-3) meets North Chicago (24-6) and high scoring Aaron Simpson while Peoria Central (26-3) faces Hillcrest (26-5).

Lincoln coach Neil Alexander, who lost to Lanphier twice, said he doesn't think Lanphier can win the state title because it doesn't shoot well and lacks size. "But they are as quick as any team I've seen in a long time," he said.

Peoria Central has plenty of size and experience. In his eighth year, coach Dan Ruffin has five seniors who are seeking the fifth state title in school history, the first since Chuck Buescher's Shaun Livingston-led teams won in 2003 and 2004.

"We have a great combination of size and quickness," said Ruffin, whose team dispatched Rockford East 77-59 in Tuesday's supersectional. "Being a guy who went to school here (Peoria Central graduate of 1976) and played here and coached my whole career here, this is a continuation of what I did as a player--play hard, play fair and represent the school in the best fashion. We don't change things that work."

Ruffin has more size than Peoria Central has ever had with 6-foot-10 senior Kevin Jordan (13 ppg, 7 rpg), 6-foot-7 senior Trey Kellum (15 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-foot-5 senior Aldonis Foote (10 ppg). But the Lions' floor leader is 5-foot-6 senior point guard Jerrell White (5 ppg, 6 assists). And they get outside shooting from 6-foot-4 senior Shamar Hill (12 ppg).

If that isn't enough muscle, Ruffin also can call on 6-foot-5, 275-pound football star Josh Augusta.

"With its size and athleticism, this team has the potential to be the best team we've ever had," Ruffin said. "But its basketball know-how and IQ isn't has high as some of our other teams. We've been playing pretty good.
What I need to see is a continuation of execution. Then we'll have a great chance of success."

Peoria Central has managed to negotiate a very difficult path to the state finals. After losing to archrival Peoria Manual in the final game of the regular season, Peoria Central defeated Peoria Richwoods 75-62 for the regional title, then edged highly rated Washington 56-53 in overtime for the sectional crown. Earlier, Washington had eliminated Peoria Manual in a four-overtime thriller.

Springfield Lanphier, which won its only state title in 1983 but has been forced to settle for second-place finishes in 1977, 1985 and 2002, has come a long way since coach Chuck Shanklin's first team went 11-13 four years ago. A Springfield Southeast graduate of 1986, Shanklin has proven to skeptics and critics that the Lanphier administration made the right choice.

"I was the heir apparent at Southeast but Tim Goers, Steve Goers' son, got the job. I was taken aback by the chance to get the job at Lanphier,"said Shanklin, who a year ago was fighting for his job. "How was it going to go over with the Lanphier community? I wasn't sure they would accept me, even though I was from Springfield. I thought there would be a backlash coming from Southeast.

"Sure, there has been some backlash but winning cures a lot of ills. Outside of Chicago, Lanphier is a mecca of basketball. You won't go to many gyms that have as much tradition. There is a certain brand of success that we have to uphold. We've talked about it since day one. We've been able to bring back some lustre.

"I knew I had to have one group of kids who believed in me and my mission. If I had a group like that, we could do something special. This is that group. This group understands. It has a high basketball IQ. We have played a lot of good teams that were bigger than us and we have been able to hold our own."

What is Lanphier's edge? Quickness. "Everybody talks about how quick and fast we are. And they talk about our defense and athleticism. I'm not concerned with our lack of size. Our quickness has overcome our lack of size. We also make up for it with heart and our relentless play on defense and on the glass. I'm not surprised we are having a good season. The surprise is how good of a season we are having."

Last year's 17-11 team that lost to Morton by two in the regional final suffered from personal problems and lack of cohesion. The Lions played in four championship games and won only one. By contrast, this year's team has learned to play against good teams in tough environments.

Lanphier is led by 6-foot-1 sophomore Larry Austin Jr. (11 ppg, 4 assists), a promising point guard prospect who already has scholarship offers from Illinois, DePaul, Bradley and Memphis; 6-foot-1 senior Everett Clemons (21 ppg, 6 rpg), an All-State selection who is the son of former Springfield Calvary star Rennie Clemons; 5-foot-8 senior guard T.J. Davis (11 ppg); 6-foot-7 sophomore Chris Wallace; and 6-foot-3 senior A.J. Powers. Top reserves are 5-foot-8 senior guard Jaylen Briggity (10 ppg) and 6-foot-4 senior Lance Boozer (6 rpg).

"People keep comparing us to the old Peoria Manual state championship teams of the late 1990s with their defense and quickness and relentlessness," Shanklin said. "Are we that good? We'll see."

White Sox Talk Podcast: Jose Quintana trade rumors and SoxFest preview

White Sox Talk Podcast: Jose Quintana trade rumors and SoxFest preview

When will a possible Jose Quintana trade go from a watch to a warning?

Chuck Garfien, Dan Hayes, Ryan McGuffey and Chris Kamka break down the Quintana trade talks and what it will be like for him this weekend at SoxFest after months of trade rumors.

The guys also discuss what the White Sox roster might look like on Opening Day, and Hayes reveals his 2016 Hall of Fame ballot.

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

Plus listen for a special White Sox Talk Podcast giveaway: two free passes to SoxFest and the chance to play bags with Garfien and Todd Frazier at SoxFest.

Check out the latest episode below:

For Tom Rees, coaching gig at Notre Dame always seemed like an inevitability

For Tom Rees, coaching gig at Notre Dame always seemed like an inevitability

The last time Tom Rees played a game for Notre Dame, he was still known as Tommy Rees — but his coach put forth an offer that didn't come as a surprise to anyone in the press room at Yankee Stadium. 

"I'm a Tommy Rees fan for life," Kelly said after Notre Dame's 2013 Pinstripe Bowl win over Rutgers. "… He'll keep trying to play the game as long as he can. But I told him, he's got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly anytime."

Rees is joining Notre Dame as a full-time quarterbacks coach, not just as a coach-in-training graduate assistant role. The 24-year-old — whose father, Bill, has held a number of scouting roles in the NFL — only has two coaching stops on his resume, a graduate assistant role at Northwestern in 2015 and an offensive assistant job with the San Diego Chargers last year. But his lack of experience is more than made up for by the simple fact that, while at Notre Dame from 2010-2013, there was a well-established belief held by coaches and teammates that one day the Lake Bluff, Ill. native one day would coach in some capacity. 

"I'm very excited to have Tom join our staff," Kelly said in a statement Tuesday. "He possesses an understanding of the game, and most importantly the quarterback position, that's unique. He's a true student of the game and great communicator that will offer immediate dividends toward guiding our quarterback room.

"As a former quarterback at Notre Dame, Tom also has a rare ability to truly relate with the quarterbacks on our roster. He's literally sat in their seat, dealt with the ups and downs, faced the criticism, deflected the praise, and all that comes with playing the position at Notre Dame. He can genuinely mentor them — not only on the football field, but in the classroom and the community as well."

Rees effectively became a player/coach in 2012, when a July arrest for resisting law enforcement and illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor led to a one-game suspension that knocked him out of what was a four-person competition to be the team's starting quarterback. Everett Golson ultimately emerged from that fray, but Rees was a fixture as both a mentor to and a replacement for the redshirt freshman as the Irish rolled to the BCS Championship with an undefeated regular season record. 

Consider what Rees said about his relationship with Golson prior to the 2013 BCS Championship:

"There'd be a couple late night discussions," Rees said. "He'd ask me what I thought he needed to improve on, you know, don't hold anything back. And I told him the truth sometimes -- I told him the truth all the time, sometimes it wasn't what he wanted to hear. But any way I could help, and I've had a lot of fun working with him."

Rees' playing time that year was important, yet sporadic. So during the week and from the sidelines, he took more of a coach's point of view with the Irish offense, which teammates said was beneficial when he took over the starting job again in 2013 follow Golson's academic suspension. 

"Not being a stating quarterback, it's sort of pushed him to become more of a leader and more of a coach," former offensive lineman Chris Watt said before the 2013 season. "I think that helped him see the game a little bit differently than before." 

Rees will be primarily tasked with grooming redshirt sophomore Brandon Wimbush, a guy who some around the program thought was the most talented quarterback on Notre Dame's roster the last few years. Of course, Wimbush's offensive knowledge wasn't near the level possessed by Malik Zaire or DeShone Kizer, but his throwing and running ability are both mouth-watering traits that Rees will have a chance to mold.

That Rees is getting his coaching start in his mid-20's isn't particularly surprising. In many ways, has always been on track for this role, and maybe more (think offensive coordinator).

"When I finished my playing career and graduated from Notre Dame, I wanted to do two things," Rees said Tuesday. "First, I wanted to coach, and second, at some point in my career I hoped to get an opportunity to return and do it at my alma mater. I didn't know when or if this opportunity might present itself, but I'm so grateful and honored that it did. I'm ready to get things rolling with this great staff and group of student-athletes."