Surging Larkin hopes to show off in the Show Me state this weekend.
Less than 24 hours after the Royals defeated rival Elgin 76-73 in a double overtime thriller to win their third straight game, they boarded busses after school Thursday for the eight-hour ride to the Route 66 Shootout in Waynesville, Mo.
The inaugural event is organized by Waynesville coach Chris Pilz, the former head coach at Missouri-St. Louis when Larkin coach Deryn Carter was an assistant coach. Knowing Larkin was supposed to be an improved team, Pilz extended the invitation to his former staffer. The shootout covers all travel costs.
Larkin (8-2) will face a pair of talented Missouri teams. The Royals square off tonight at 5:30 p.m. against Republic, a team Carter said "executes at a high level."
The Royals then cap a stretch of 5 games in eight days Saturday at noon against Hazelwood Central (3-1), a team ranked sixth among large schools in its area by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
"They are chocked full of athletes, 6-8, 6-7 across the front line," Carter said of Hazelwood Central. "It's going to be challenging, but what we're trying to do is get away, get the guys together and keep them bonding because I think they've got something special going on with the way they care about each other."
Bonding time won't be interrupted by text messages to friends back home.
"Coach is taking our phones," junior guard Kendale McCullum said. "It's going to be brothers, just us. It's going to be great. I think we can go down there and do some damage."
Dialing it up several notches: Point guard Arie Williams is excelling in his new role as Elgin's top scoring threat.
The only returning starter from Elgin's 2011-12 sectional final team, Williams is putting up points at a prodigious rate for the Maroons (5-4, 1-2 UEC River). The 5-foot-9 senior is averaging 24.2 points per game.
Williams set the tone on opening night with 26 points in a win at Buffalo Grove. He went on to post new personal bests with 27 points against Grayslake Central and 28 against Streamwood. The topper was Wednesday's 39-point masterpiece in a double-overtime loss at Larkin.
"I just wanted to win, whatever it took," Williams said after the game. "If it had to be scoring or had to be passing or had to be taking a charge, I would have done it. Sometimes you won't come up short and sometimes you lose."
With Elgin trailing by 10 points at halftime, Williams sank three 3-pointers during a run that staked his team to a 5-point lead.
"He made some real good decisions in the third quarter that got us back in the game," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said.
Williams tends to get hot and stay hot. He scored 20 points in the second quarter of a win over Streamwood and 12 points in eight overtime minutes against Larkin.
"He's so quick, so smart," Streamwood coach Tim Jones said. "He can hesitate with the ball or he can back off on a guy and hit the shot. That's just a lot of work. He never had to do that last year. It's a pleasure to watch him. The guy can flat-out shoot the ball."
Williams and the Maroons take on St. Charles North (4-3, 1-1) Saturday at 6 p.m.
Round and round they go: The carousel is already spinning in the deep River Division of the Upstate Eight, whose champion(s) will finish with at least 1 loss, possibly 3 or 4.
How balanced is the UEC River? Elgin has defeated Streamwood, Streamwood has defeated Larkin, Larkin has defeated St. Charles North, St. Charles North has defeated St. Charles East, St. Charles East has defeated Geneva and Geneva has defeated Elgin. Only Batavia (2-5, 0-2) remains winless in league play.
These are not mediocre teams beating up on each other. The UEC River beats up on outside competition, too. Through Wednesday, the 7-team league owned a combined 26-10 record in nonconference games, led by Geneva (6-0), St. Charles East (4-0) and Larkin (4-1).
Regan-omics: Huntley's slumping offense should get a boost when senior Tommy Regan returns to the lineup at Crystal Lake Central tonight at 7 p.m.
A 5-foot-11 guard, Regan is a confident shooter and playmaker who played in the first 3 games of the season, all victories, but missed the next 3 games due to a finger injury. Huntley (4-2) lost 2 of those 3 games and saw its scoring average dip from 60 ppg with Regan to 36.7 ppg without him.
"He can do a little bit of everything and do it very well," Huntley coach Marty Manning said. "He fits in well with what our weaknesses are right now. He's not a 30-point-a-game scorer, but he spaces the floor well and makes other guys' jobs a little bit easier."
The Red Raiders have averaged a little better than 30 percent shooting in their last 3 games: an overtime loss to Carmel, a 46-39 win at Jacobs and an 11-point loss at Fremd.
"We are struggling offensively," Manning said. "Right now what we're struggling with is we're not making open shots and we're not making layups. I like the way our team is defending. They're playing really hard. We just can't put the ball in the basket, which is pretty important in basketball."
Huntley will gain another potent scorer when 6-foot-7 junior Amanze Egekeze returns early next month in the wake of surgery to address knee tendinitis. He is still on track to return Jan. 8 against Crystal Lake South, Manning said.
Sabres aiming for consistency: Streamwood (3-4) has been the area's Jekyll and Hyde team to this point, and coach Tim Jones is seeking the antidote.
The Sabres opened some eyes in late November with consecutive victories over Bartlett (6-3) and Larkin (8-2). However, they followed up with a 9-point home loss to St. Charles North and an 11-point loss at Elgin a game not as close as the final score made it appear.
According to their coach, the Sabres succeeded against Bartlett and Larkin because they limited good shots defensively and competed on the glass. Both traits were lacking in the ensuing losses. Which team shows up from night to night is uncertain.
"We can be a really, really good team or we can be a really, really not-so-good team," Jones said. "There's no middle ground. That's kind of the disappointing part. I think some of it is the inexperience of some of the guys we have, and it's also what other teams do to you, too. It's about finding that common ground that we can hang our hat on."
The Sabres will try to get back on track this weekend. They travel to Geneva (8-1) for an Upstate Eight River game tonight at 7:15 p.m. and return home for a UEC crossover against Lake Park (5-4) Saturday at 6 p.m. Geneva is 3-0 at home this season.
"We really first have to worry about Geneva," Jones said. "They're a very good team. They're very physical and they shoot the ball. Besides taking care of the basketball, we'll have to be able to stop them from doing what they do offensively. They gain a lot of tempo because they run their stuff very, very well."