Larkin's basketball family sticks together through tough finish
PEORIA -- The 2017-18 Larkin boys basketball players will take pride in their accomplishments in the coming weeks, but there was only sadness Saturday in the immediate aftermath of their final game together.
The Royals and coach Deryn Carter lingered in the postgame locker room as long as they could.
Hugs were exchanged. Speeches were made. Tears were shed freely.
Most of the players were still visibly emotional when they made their way to the postgame news conference. They entered the interview room beneath Carver Arena as a team, unwilling to separate in their final moments together.
Their sadness wasn't due to the 61-49 loss to Evanston in the Class 4A third-place game. They weren't happy about it, of course, but this was sadness on a deeper level.
"The emotion of these guys is the finality of the season," Carter said. "And I truly do believe that. I think our locker room was extremely emotional and I think it would have been the exact same way if we'd won. I think that's a true testament. I'm extremely proud of how emotional the locker room was because I think it shows how much a family we are creating in our program and the culture that our program has in creating that family atmosphere."
For the last three weeks that Royal Family -- a slogan emblazoned on the backs of their warm-up shirts -- thrilled Elgin fans in a way not seen in decades.
The Royals won the Upstate Eight River with only one blemish against St. Charles North, a team they later defeated for their fourth regional title in six years.
They knocked off Rockford Jefferson for the school's fifth sectional title, its first in 13 years.
Next came the most important triumph in Larkin history: a 53-46 win over Benet Academy in the NIU supersectional. The victory catapulted the Royals to the state finals for the first time.
That win against Benet would be Larkin's last, however. They played tough against eventual state champion Belleville West in Friday's semifinal before falling 64-53 and finished fourth in Class 4A after the loss to Evanston.
"I'm just proud of my team for making it this far," two-year starter Isaiah Talley said. "There's no other group of guys I'd rather make it here with and I'm proud of every single one of them because they were part of the work that we put in to get to this. I don't feel like anybody in the world would expect a team from Elgin to make it this far in the state tournament. I'm proud of every single person. I love my team."
The mood was considerably lighter three hours later when the Royals returned to the court to receive their fourth-place medals and trophy. The tears so prevalent right after the game by then had turned to smiles.
"We're just enjoying the moment," senior guard Kindrel Morris said. "We're going to soak it all in before we go home."
Carter, a 1998 Larkin graduate, hopes this run to state by a family of players will be viewed years from now as a watershed moment for Larkin boys basketball.
"I think there's levels of building a program," he said. "It starts in your own town, it starts in your own district, it starts in your own league, then your area. This is the final level of essentially cementing your place as one of the premier programs in the state. We carried ourselves every day like we are; it was just a matter of time over the last couple of years before it was known statewide.
"This is kind of like the icing on that cake, or the roof on that house or whatever analogy you want to use. Now, when you start talking about the premier programs that are boundaried programs in the state, Larkin High School is one of the best in the state."