Six-foot-4 junior Kory Brown, the most valuable player throughout the season for the Elgin boys basketball team, stood outside his locker room with the net still draped about his neck minutes after the Maroons knocked off Dundee-Crown 36-35 to win the Class 4A Larkin regional championship Friday night.
"Hey, Jordan," Brown called to nearby teammate Jordan Dean, the only senior in Elgin's eight-man rotation. "This is yours."
Flashing a broad smile, Brown lifted the net from around his neck and tossed it to Dean.
"I told him before this game even started that when we win I'm giving him that net," Brown said. "But he earned it."
The gesture was more than just symbolic. Indeed, Dean had "earned it."
With Elgin trailing by a point and the clock winding down, the ball made its way through the hands of Brown and sophomore point guard Arie Williams and eventually landed in the hands of Dean at the top of the arc.
That's the same Jordan Dean, who, in Tuesday's 60-58 semifinal victory over Streamwood, scored 9 of his team-best 17 points in the third quarter to help the Maroons climb out of a 15-point hole.
After surveying the scene, the 5-foot-11 wing drove hard to his left, demonstrating the same steely-eyed determination that made him the Upstate Eight River defensive football player of the year last fall.
Dean drew contact as he tried to release a left-handed shot with 5.6 seconds left.
"From watching them play, I thought Brown or Williams was going to take it," Dundee-Crown coach Lance Huber said of the final shot. "But I thought Dean made a nice move going to his left." "It wasn't really a designed play," Dean said. "It was pretty much what we'd been running all game. I put it upon myself to be aggressive. I knew we were in the double bonus, so we'd have 2 shots anyway. I drove to the hole and let the refs make the call."
In a pressure-packed moment with the noise in Larkin's gym approaching O'Hare-esque decibel levels, Dean, a 63-percent free-throw shooter, showed his younger teammates what senior leadership is all about by calmly sinking both free throws to give Elgin its 36-35 lead.
"I'm the only senior so I'm the only one that's going to be leaving," Dean said. "I had to take it upon myself to knock down those free throws."
His teammates never had a doubt the ball was headed through the hoop. Twice.
"We know when it comes to the end of the game that he's going to hit those shots," junior guard Dennis Moore said. "This is his last run at it and he has the most pride on this team. It was meant to happen that way. I'm proud of him. He's a great leader."
Because Elgin's rotation features six juniors and a sophomore alongside Dean, many believe the Maroons are still a year away from reaching their maximum potential.
Of course, Dean doesn't have that kind of time. These are the last organized games of his basketball career. Next year he will play football only for the Cardinals of North Central College in Naperville.
After slumping a bit toward the end of the regular season, Dean's now-or-never, go-for-broke approach to postseason play is paying huge dividends.
"That's what he's done for the last two games," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. "He didn't play well at the end of the year, and we had a lot of private conversations about why he wasn't playing well. But he really stepped it up in the regional.
"He was our MVP."