Boys basketball notes: Plano cherishes Cinderella run to first Classic final in 43 years

Plano's Davione Stamps (10) drives the baseline against Kaneland’s Parker Violett (34) during a championship game of the 60th annual Plano Christmas Classic Basketball Tournament at Plano High School on Saturday, Dec 30, 2023.

Kyle Kee waited a lifetime for this last week.

A Plano native in his 11th season as Reapers’ basketball coach, Kee was two years old the last time the home team made the final of the Plano Christmas Classic.

So last week’s magical four-day ride by unseeded Plano to the championship game of the 60th event was something a lifer like Kee won’t soon forget.

He beamed from the sidelines of a jam-packed Reapers’ gymnasium for a final that Plano led until the final 3.3 seconds against Kaneland.

The game-winning 3-point shot by Kaneland’s Troyer Carlson was a gut punch to Plano’s hopes for its first-ever Classic title, but it couldn’t erase the unforgettable memories.

“Just about every tournament, you sit up there and I think I would love to be in this, what would it be like if Plano was in it,” Kee reflected, three days after the final. “It was always the feeling that I would love the kids to be out there to experience it with this environment. And it definitely didn’t disappoint.”

The game, the last 10 seconds was special, but what Kee will remember most is the response he received from community members with hearts invested in the Reapers.

Plano (8-8) knocked off Morris, two-time defending Classic champion Burlington Central and 2022 finalist Marmion on the way to the final, its first since 1980.

“I got so many text messages and messages on social media wishing us well, that watched us play and were proud to be Plano Reapers,” Kee said. “There were so many people at the game that I would have loved to talk to, faces of people I haven’t seen or that haven’t been to a game in a long time. That stands out as a lifelong Plano resident.”

Kee said Plano has endured its ups and downs throughout the first half of the season. It hurt being without Christ Keleba, sidelined with a finger injury, in games against Ottawa, Kaneland and Yorkville. Waleed Johnson missed the Thanksgiving tournament.

The Reapers had a week off between a 25-point loss to Yorkville and its first Classic game.

“We were disappointed and not happy with the way we played defensively against Yorkville, and we really got after it that week. We had some of the toughest practices we have had,” Kee said. “The guys are having more fun now, playing together, getting experience playing with each other, getting to be a pretty close knit group when you go through experiences. It has a chance to be a special second half of the season.”

AJ Johnson and Davione Stamps, both seniors, were named to the all-tournament team and make up a talented backcourt. A wild card is 6-foot-10 junior Isaiah Martinez. Martinez missed his entire sophomore year with a knee injury, but now is leading Plano in scoring and rebounding at 11.3 and 6.6 rebounds, respectively, while blocking 2 shots a game. He’s also made 12 3-pointers.

“You think 6-foot-10, you want to get him down low but he can also hit the three. That’s been the biggest challenge is guys were figuring out how to play with him,” Kee said. “I thought his defense against [Kaneland’s Freddy] Hassan was tremendous. Isaiah did a great job staying vertical – it was probably his best defensive game. He has definitely got it.”

Oswego East's Jehvion Starwood (22) dunks the basket ball during a basketball game against Yorkville at Oswego East High School on Friday, Dec 8, 2023.

Starwood’s big night

Oswego East (12-5) finished its run at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic in fine fashion. A night after a semifinal loss to eventual champion DePaul Prep, the Wolves came back to beat Brother Rice – which entered the weekend undefeated – 79-68 for third place.

Oswego East senior Jehvion Starwood, a Wyoming recruit, scored a single-game tournament record 37 points in the win.

“It showed that we have some resiliency,” Oswego East coach Ryan Velasquez said. “You want your boys to compete, to see what are we made of, can you bounce back. We competed at a high level against a good opponent and answered everything we talked about. We didn’t have Andrew Wiggins and Braydon Murphy came in and did a heck of a job for us, rebounded a little bit and guarded a good kid from Rice.”

Starwood, named to the all-tournament team, averaged 18.8 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds for the tournament. He shot 16 for 24 from the field, 5 of 9 from the 3-point line and had six rebounds and four assists.

“Jehvion got into a really good rhythm, got him going to the basket, was shooting the ball well from midrange and the three-point line,” Velasquez said. “It was one of those games that you want to see your best players step up and he did that.”

Yorkville's Jason Jakstys (32) dunks the ball in the fourth quarter on Tuesday Dec. 26. 2023, during while taking on St. Ignatius during the Jack Tosh tournament held at York High School in Elmhurst.

Yorkville 2-2 at the Tosh

Yorkville (8-7) went 2-2 at the 32-team Jack Tosh Holiday Classic, with wins over St. Ignatius and Lyons Township followed by losses to Palatine and York. Foxes’ coach John Holakovsky might have been most pleased with his team’s showing in a 53-45 loss to York.

“Going 2-2 in that tournament is nothing to hang your head about,” Holakovsky said. “The York game that we lost might have been our most impressive effort.”

Yorkville senior Jason Jakstys, an Illinois commit, was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds.

“I think he took another step in this tournament,” Holakovsky said. “This tournament was a big stage for him and he stepped up.”

Yorkville, like Oswego East, has a big January ahead. Notably the Foxes are part of the When Sides Collide Shootout on Jan. 20 at Benet. Yorkville plays Whitney Young at 4 p.m. in the third of five games. The nightcap features Benet against Thornton and Illinois recruit Morez Johnson.

Patton goes off in Oswego’s first two wins

Oswego, which entered action at the State Farm Holiday Classic last week winless, notched its first two wins of the season. The Panthers beat Dunlap 65-62 on the strength of Dasean Patton’s 27 points. They concluded a 2-2 tournament that included losses to Rock Island and Peoria Central with a 71-64 win over Addison Trail, getting 36 points from Patton.