Goss: Tough ending for Joliet West hoops seniors
By Dick Goss email@example.com March 6, 2013 10:58PM
Morris Dunnigan (23), of Joliet West, guarded by Ki Jana Crawford, of Marian Catholic. | Vincent D. Johnson~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 8, 2013 7:44AM
As much as it hurt to be right, I shared an element of pain Wednesday night with Joliet West coach Luke Yaklich.
The Tigers, the No. 4 seed in the Class 4A Thornton Sectional, were hoping to spring an upset against No. 1 Marian Catholic.
They would have been dancing on the streets of the west side, that’s for sure. But it wasn’t in the cards, not on this night, as Marian controlled a 65-54 victory.
Before the regionals began I wrote that Marian was my pick to win the sectional. Now that the Spartans (28-3) have advanced to Friday’s title game, they might as well go ahead and win it. Man, it hurts to think West (19-8) will not be there.
Yaklich’s pain, of course, was much worse. This was the end for a group of seniors who donned the black and gold seemingly forever. Yaklich’s favorite tem, if you will.
Yet he did have to admit, “Marian Catholic was better than us (Wednesday) in lot of facets of the game. They don’t turn it over, they get good shots, and if you get behind against them, you’re behind the 8-ball.”
The main reason for that assessment is Spartans 5-foot-10 junior guard Tyler Ulis, a magician on the court.
Early this season, Yaklich and I discussed West’s 6-2 senior forward Brandon McCullum. Yaklich called him the toughest player he has coached. He told me McCullum is the only player he has coached he would not want guarding him.
The story will be lost in the manner Wednesday’s game unfolded, but even though West is deep in guards, McCullum was Yaklich’s choice to guard Ulis man-to-man. And he did a creditable job, even though Ulis rightfully drew the bulk of the raves.
“Tyler is a heck of a player. He is a hard guard,” Yaklich said. “Brandon did an admirable job.”
McCullum also scored a team-high 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds. He epitomized what West’s senior class was.
“Everything our program is about is our senior class,” Yaklich said. “I love them all like sons. Their togetherness is incredible. Where you see it the most is in the restaurants, in the motel when we go to Pontiac and on the practice floor.
“I was blessed to have seven guys (seniors) who gave their all and did all we ever asked of them. I’m proud of them. Our program owes them everything.”
Four of those seniors, in fact, worked overtime on the varsity level. Morris Dunnigan was there four years, though he missed his sophomore season after tearing an ACL. McCullum and Carl Terrell were there three years, and Ryan Modiest was elevated to the varsity during his sophomore season.
Dunnigan is an All-State caliber player, but on Wednesday night, after a strong second quarter, he went nearly the entire second half without getting a shot, compliments of Marian’s trapping defense.
Still, Dunnigan was able to get the ball to West’s other shooters. Unfortunately, the shots weren’t falling.
“Morris did a great job finding our other guys,” Yaklich said. “But we didn’t make enough timely shots. It’s a tough way to end, but we lost to a really good basketball team.”
“I thought we did good getting this far,” Dunnigan said. “Nobody thought we would do this.”
The last memory is not the best, but it does not erase the positives — not by a long shot.
“We have a lot of great wins to remember,” Dunnigan said.