As you make your way down the cranky stairs into the basement underneath the West Aurora gym, there is an atmosphere of authenticity.
Chipped paint lines the guard rails and walls, the metal doors make you feel you are about to enter an Army barracks. And if you are claustrophobic, you'd better stay clear of the locker room.
Sitting on a chair in the coaches room is Gordie Kerkman. He's striking a pose he's done hundreds of times over his 34 years as head coach of the Blackhawks--staring at a stat sheet after a game. But this night he's in a position he hasn't come accustomed to over the years.
Explaining how his team got blown out at home.
"We weren't aggressive tonight, we were getting killed on the boards," said Kerkman about his team's 76-49 loss to Glenbard East Saturday night. "I expect improvement in those areas unless they've given up. I won't know for sure until (this week)."
After watching the Blackhawks performance from a courtside seat, it's easy to understand Kerkman's exasperation.
The crowd was filled with school pride at tip off after five new members were inducted into the West Aurora Hall of Fame before the game. And when DJ Vaughn hit two quick 3's to give West a 6-2 advantage in the opening two minutes, the place was jumping like the old days.
But the Rams didn't care about respecting Blackhawks history; they have their own to make this season. They hit West like a tropical tsunami in September--putting on an exhibition of passing, shooting, defense and rebounding worthy of their undefeated conference record. The 27-point margin of victory did not paint a complete picture of their domination. The efficiency of their performance had Kerkman grasping for answers as to why his team was a willing accomplice.
"They (Glenbard East) play hard and they play smart," said Kerkman. "What did they have to prove tonight? They came out and took it to us. We couldn't run the floor with them. They play at a higher level than we do."
With just one regular season game left before the postseason, a reporter asked if it would be best to burn the game tapes. Is it possible any lesson can be learned after such a resounding defeat?
"When you play a team like that you should learn how good teams play, what they do to make things happen," said Kerkman. "Kids are fragile but they can also be very resilient. They can come back and play pretty good basketball again."
After 34 years, you know Kerkman believes what he says. But does his team?
Senior center Kyle Pilmer:
INSIDE THE BASELINE
Packing up his briefcase after the game, Neal Ormond has watched more West Aurora basketball games than anyone.
Asked about what he just witnessed broadcasting the game, his mood mirrored that of Kerkman's.
"In 34 years, I bet I can count on one hand the number teams I've felt about the way I do after (Saturday's) game. Totally frustrated," said Ormond who has been the voice of the Blackhawks for 46 years. "I keep having to remind myself that this is an outstanding Glenbard East team, they make you look bad. I think you have to put it aside and say this is not our real team.
Ormond called all 60 of the Blackhawks consecutive wins at home between 2001-2007. He remembers how during the streak, West Aurora had a decided advantage before every game.
"The kids felt invincible," said Ormond. "I think the fans have lost some of that intensity (today)."
When watching Glenbard East, you see a level of basketball from an opponent you would not have seen 12 years ago, when West Aurora joined the DuPage Valley Conference. Ormond credits Kerkman and the Blackhawks for setting a standard of excellence in the conference.
"(West Aurora) was the class of the conference when they joined," said Ormond. "Teams use the West model now with their off season schedule and their pressure defense. They elevated the level of play."
It's hard to muster up much energy when your team is getting throttled. A few of these Rowdies were doing their best Saturday night:
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
Jay Harris, G, Oswego East
One of the cool things about covering high school sports is you can see greatness emerge right in front of your eyes. If you haven't been following Harris and the Wolves this season, you might want to start paying attention. Friday night against Plainfield East, the senior guard scored 44 points in Oswego East's 77-64 victory over the Bengals. Still uncommitted on a college, Harris could be a guy we see playing in the NCAA tournament in a few years.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"Wow. Wow, that was an unbelievable performance," said Wolves head coach Jason Buckley told the Beacon's Tom Strong after watching Harris dominate the Bengals.
"I'm not sure what happened. It was a total breakdown to be honest," said Aurora Central Catholic head coach Nathan Drye after the Chargers got blown out by Wheaton Academy Saturday night 68-34, ending the Chargers hopes of winning a share of the Suburban Christian Gold Conference championship.
A LOOK AHEAD--GAMES OF THE WEEK
West Aurora at Wheaton Warrenville South, Wednesday. The burning question in this game: can the Blackhawks forget about Glenbard East? How they respond will go a long way in determining how far they advance in the postseason.
East Aurora at Proviso West, Wednesday. The Tomcats go out of conference for this midweek game. After Lake Park Friday, it's on to the postseason.
Marmion at Fenton, Thursday. With the Suburban Christian Blue Conference title out of reach, the Cadets get one more tune up before they open their regional against Aurora Central Catholic March 3rd.
PREGAME/HALFTIME ENTERTAINMENT OF THE WEEK
Hands down the best band I've seen this year is West Aurora's. They sound better than some professional bands I've listened to recently in watering holes around Chicago. Very spirited performance Saturday night; wish we could say the same for the basketball team they were playing for:
The Blackhawks dance squad always rocks the house:
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