It's been some 33 years since former Conant coach Tom McCormack had a spot on the bench, leading a boys basketball team.
In their first season opener in a generation without McCormack leading the effort, the Cougars got a performance for the ages.
With first-year coach Jim Maley in charge, 6-foot-9 Conant senior forward Ryan Davis erupted for a career-high 38 points along with 21 rebounds as the Cougars rolled past Highland Park 55-37 in their season opener, which came on the second day of action in St. Viator's Joe Majkowski tournament.
"I have to admit that I was a little nervous coming into tonight," said Maley, who was enjoying just his second Thanksgiving celebration 33 years ago this week. "But our guys did a good job in playing against a tough Highland Park team."
The Giants (0-2) rallied from a 30-14 late second-quarter deficit by first getting it into single-digits with a 7-0 run over the final minute of the first half. Five-foot-11 senior guard Daniel Michelon concluded that spurt with 4 of his 7 points, and Highland Park trailed 30-21 at the break.
Michelon's final points of the evening, on a 3, combined with the fourth of five 3s from senior Ziv Tal (team-high 17 points) pulled the Giants within 32-27 with 6:02 left in the third.
That's when the Cougars (1-0) broke things open for good.
Davis and third-year returnee Ben Schols settled matters, starting with a 3-point play by Davis that pushed the Conant lead to 35-27 with 4:46 left in the period.
After another hoop by Davis, The 6-4 Schols (12 points) connected on back-to-back 3s that expanded the Conant advantage to 43-29 at the 2:19 mark. After five straight Giant points got Highland Park to within 43-34, Davis scored Conant's final 12 points of the contest, highlighted by a pair of inside scores that amazed the near-capacity Cahill Gym crowd.
"Every off-season I've worked at trying to improve my game," said Davis, whose mom, Dawn, was a freshman at Northern Illinois University 33 years ago. "I lost some weight so I could stay fit and try to become more mobile on the floor."
Maley said that since taking over in the spring, he's noticed a strong leadership component to his senior center as well.
"He became a coach on the bench this summer, and you see that as our guys were pulling for him out there tonight," Maley said. "He's such a great kid."
Conant squares off Wednesday evening (in a 5:30 p.m. tip) against Libertyville. Maley feels this week can give him a good early read on his team.
"This tournament can tell you where you're at, as you get to play four very tough teams at the beginning of the season," he said.
Highland Park will face host St. Viator at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon after drawing a Wednesday bye.