Defending champion Larkin got off to a slow start in its season opener against Belvidere at the 14th Annual Hoops for Healing Tournament at Woodstock Monday, but the Royals soon showed the form expected of the No. 2-ranked team in the Daily Herald's preseason Top 20 poll and pulled away for a 59-32 victory.
Belvidere actually led 21-16 with five minutes left in the second quarter before Larkin found its rhythm. The explosive Royals outscored the Bucs 43-11 in the game's final 21 minutes, spurred by a 15-2 run to end the first half.
Senior guard Derrick Streety led Larkin with 18 points to go with 4 assists, senior forward Drew Jones scored 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and 6-foot-5 freshman Christian Negron notched a double-double in his varsity debut with 11 points and 11 rebounds. All 17 players on the Larkin roster played and nine scored.
"Decent start," Streety said. "Everybody was nervous coming in to start the season. We definitely got to the point after halftime where we were ready to play. We all came around eventually."
The Royals had a valid excuse for their slow start. A late-arriving bus dropped them off at Woodstock with seven minutes left on the warm-up clock before the scheduled tip at 5:30 p.m. A few minutes were added to the warm-up time, but the Larkin players were forced to hustle through an abbreviated pregame routine to keep the tournament on schedule.
"Honestly, that was huge not having our full warm-up session," Jones said. "I mean, we barely did our stretching warm-up, so we weren't ready.
I thought we played pretty good for the most part after a bit of a slow start. End of the second quarter and especially in the second half we really picked it up. We held them to 9 points in the second half, which is huge."
In fact, Belvidere (0-1) did not score a point in the fourth quarter.
"I give their defense credit; we kind of freaked out," Belvidere coach Aaron Pearson said. "We only have two players who played last year, really, and that inexperience showed up. They went on a run and our kids quit."
Larkin finished with a 38-28 rebounding edge, led by Negron and senior guard Kendale McCullum (7), who also had 4 steals and 2 assists to go with 4 points. The Royals forced the Bucs into 23 turnovers while committing only 9 through three quarters.
Larkin coach Deryn Carter was happiest about his team's willingness to share the basketball, which led to 26 field goals.
"The unselfishness was fantastic," Carter said. "I think we had 18 assists. Guys making right the right pass and making the unselfish play for their teammates is going to be big for us because we have a lot of different guys that can score. And I liked our rebounding all night."
Negron gave his team the lead for good with a 10-foot baseline jumper that staked Larkin to a 22-21 lead with 4:20 left in the second quarter. He also added 2 assists a block and a steal.
"I was a little nervous, but as soon as you take the first couple of shots you get into it and get used to it," Negron said of his first varsity game. "I thought I played pretty well. Everybody contributed and everybody got in and played as hard as they could."
"Obviously, the sky is the limit for the kid, but he is so humble," Carter said. "He was probably sitting in the locker room thinking about the plays he let go and not the plays he made. It was a great debut for him and for all our guys."
Larkin resumes tournament play against Cary-Grove today at 5:30 p.m. Cary-Grove (1-0) defeated Woodstock North 55-45.
Classic schedule set: Larkin on Monday announced the lineup for the first Mac Irvin Diabetes Awareness Classic, a 5-game event to be held at the high school on Saturday, Dec. 7.
The event is named in honor of Mac Irvin, a Chicago AAU pioneer who passed away in December 2011, due to complications from diabetes. Irvin was the father in law of Whitney Young girls basketball coach Corry Irvin, Deryn Carter's sister. Proceeds will be donated to the American Diabetes Association.
The lineup includes a matchup of two of the top girls basketball teams in the state as well as four boys games featuring three of the top-10 teams in the Daily Herald's coverage area.
The event is capped by No. 2 Larkin against defending Class 3A state champion Morgan Park at 8:15 p.m.
"They lost a lot, but people have no idea how good they are," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said Monday of Morgan Park. "They probably have the second-best frontcourt in the state and they play hard, so we'll have our hands full. I'm not sure when the last time Larkin played a returning state champion in our gym, but we get them at home."
The day begins with a clash between Bogan, paced by speedy point guard Luwane Pipkins, and No. 11 Huntley, led by Belmont-bound senior Amanze Egekeze, at 1:30 p.m.
The only girls game of the day features Rolling Meadows, ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 4A, against No. 3 Whitney Young at 3:15 p.m.
Orr faces Providence St. Mel at 5 p.m. Orr returns 6-7 Tyqoune Greer and 6-8 Marlon Jones from a team that reached the Class 3A semifinals last March.
Proviso East, led by West Virgina commit Jevon Carter, takes on No. 3 St. Viator and Drake recruit Ore Arogundade at 6:45 p.m.
"We're hoping to get some fans there so it will continually be in this area," Carter said of the event. "The west suburbs don't get to see some of the teams we're going to have, so it should be exciting for fans. It will be a full night of hoops with the kind of athleticism and quality of games that people out here will enjoy."