By Lenny Sementi
Tuscola’s boy’s basketball team is looking to make some history as the Warriors move back to class 1A this season for the first time since 2012. They have consistently been one of the smallest if not the smallest in class 2A over the past nine years and now will reside near the top of the enrollment in 1A.
“Dropping to 1A obviously presents different postseason matchups,” head coach Justin Bozarth said. “I’m most curious to find out which way we will go. We are right on the bubble of going north with Champaign area schools or south to Effingham area schools.”
The Warriors come in at number four in the preseason Coaches Association poll with one of the top prospects and Loyola commit senior Jalen Quinn leading the way. The super senior enters the season with 1,502 points under his belt. He’s just 96 points shy of Nick Bates’ all time scoring record. He is a jack-of-all-trades on the court averaging 24 points, eight rebounds and four assists in last year’s shortened COVID season.
Quinn’s ability to drive or shoot outside opens up the floor for his buddies in black and gold. Senior Haven Hatfield is the only full time starter returning from a year ago. Hatfield will bring a big presence in the paint on the boards and could average in double figures after scoring eight a night as a junior.
Bozarth’s boys started out 7-0 in 2020 before COVID quarantines forced lineup changes and at one point only underclassmen were able to play late in the season resulting in a 13-5 record overall. That adversity however will pay dividends early and often-in 2021-22 with ten players boasting floor time at the varsity level.
“We are in an incredibly unique situation where we have ten players returning with varsity experience,” Bozarth mentioned when asked about team depth.” In high school basketball, let alone small school basketball, that’s near impossible. Quinn, Hatfield, Josiah Hortin, James Parsley, Rajan Patel, and Preston Brown have all started varsity games. Thomas Brown, Jordan Quinn, Easton Cunningham, and Colton Musgrave have played significant minutes on varsity. All ten of these guys will be valuable pieces again this year.”
Another player that may turn some heads as the season progresses is sophomore Jackson Barrett. Barrett has made big strides during the off-season and can build on a very successful cross country season that did nothing but increase his confidence levels. “Jackson is a competitor that gets the most out of his abilities,” Bozarth quipped. His understanding of our philosophy and knowledge of basketball is allowing him to continue to improve.”
Tuscola will be one of the favorites to win the Central Illinois Conference but it could be a dog fight with Meridian, St Teresa and Warrensburg-Latham all returning a large portion of their rosters.
“Meridian won the league last year and returns virtually everyone and adding to that a key transfer makes them one of the favorites,” mentioned the coach. “We have a lot of expectations and goals. Some of those goals include winning our conference and conference tournament for the first time since Tuscola has been in the CIC. We’d like to repeat as Holiday Hoopla champs in Monticello over Christmas break and be playing our best basketball late February for a postseason run. We’ve got a chance to have a special winter.”