Basketball bounces back into shape

Tommy Marquardt and Malyka Abbas

On Feb. 3, South boys’ basketball took down Hersey in a 69-49 opening night victory in the Titan Dome. The opening of the 2021 Illinois high school basketball season at GBS came a full 361 days after the final game in the Titan Dome of last year, a length that would seem unimaginable for the player’s on last year’s record-setting roster.

The return to the Titan Dome was long, but the nearly-full-year wait has yielded a shortened seven-week season with high hopes for the GBS boys.

Over the course of the long and winding road towards the 2021 Illinois high school basketball season, Phil Ralston, South boys’ basketball head coach, never lost faith. However, when the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) announced on Jan. 27 that the high school basketball season would begin effective immediately, he was still pleasantly surprised.

“I had thought that for certain we were going to get pushed back into late spring and summer because it just didn’t seem like the categorizations were going to change,” Ralston said. “We’ll take what we’ve got.”

The long break between seasons was categorized by cycles of short practice seasons and further postponements, according to Ralston. During the pause, players like senior forward Justin Leszynski undertook improving on their own, away from the oversight of their coaches.

“We had a long break where we weren’t able to get together with the coaches to practice,” Leszynski said. “I think every person on the team did a good job of practicing on their own and getting better by themselves.”

In the seven weeks of games allowed to teams this season, South has scheduled a gauntlet of 19 games. Creating a memorable season for the seniors on the team like Leszynski has been a point of emphasis for Ralston this year.

“I’ve always felt like we want to celebrate and acknowledge kids who have been part of our program for four years,” Ralston said. “When you take time and you dedicate it to doing something like basketball, it’s a real shame to not see all that hard work being given the opportunity to pay off.”

With no playoffs, this year’s team will not have the clear markers of success like last year’s regional championship squad had. Despite this, Ralston feels that a season is even occurring at all is the greatest accomplishment.

“The fact that we just get to step out on the floor is a success,” Ralston said. “There was so much talk about how the season was gonna get canceled or pushed off into the summer, I think the fact that we can come together and try to play some teams locally is something that we need  to celebrate.”