Metro East basketball fans were extremely fortunate to get a matchup of this magnitude at the start of the season. How could fans not be excited to see a matchup between the MBCA Class 3 Pre Season number one Cardinal Ritter Lions and cross border 2019 Class 3 Illinois State Champions, East St. Louis. Here’s my take on the top performers of the night. 

2020 F Garry Clark, Cardinal Ritter – For Clark, the game ended just as it began, with the 6-7 forward calming his team and starring in the role of rim protector.  According to Clark, “When they were coming back, my main goal was to keep my team settled, focused and executing on offense.” The 6-7 Clark scored 13 pts to contribute to the offensive output of his team, he finished above the rim, used the dribble to scoot around defenders to the rim, drew other forwards out of the lane with his outside shooting, etc. But, the real story of this game was his single minded-purpose of declaring the painted area a “no-fly” zone. With Clark patrolling the lane, Eastside was simply unable to mount any serious ground game. Garry’s ability to change shots, help and recover, and rebound the ball out of area with a “one and done” philosophy was elite on this night. 

2020 G LaShawn Johnson, East St. Louis – The bouncy 6-4 wing scored 8 of his 14 pts in the 3rd quarter, including two timely 3FG, to help the flyers briefly take their first lead of the game. Johnson has a smooth game that can lull a defender into a false sense of security before snaking his way to the rim and exploding upward for a dramatic in your face finish. His outside shooting helped to stretch out the Lion’s defense and open up driving lanes for the Flyers.  

2020 G Jabril Olivaria, East St. Louis – Jabril tied for a team high 14 pts including four 3FG. His timely shooting helped to get the Flyers offense moving in the second quarter. The Flyers trailed 14-3 at the end of the opening quarter. The 5-10 guard scored eight of the Flyers 16 points in the second quarter including two 3FG. 

2022 G Luther Burden, Cardinal Ritter – The 6-2 sophomore guard recorded a team high 20 points scoring in just about every way conceivable. The two-sport athlete got it done on defense and offense. On defense, he had a front row seat in a number of double teams and run and jump actions that forced the Flyers to cough up 20 turnovers. The most memorable was a steal and dunk with less than one minute to play. Burden also scored on drives, jumpers and 3FG. 

2021 SG Mario Fleming, Cardinal Ritter – Two things were apparent about the Lions 6-3 shooting guard, he is an aggressive slasher and he thrives in transition. Fleming is an aggressive driver that uses his strength and quick first step to rumble past and around defenses to the rim. Fleming did a good job of shooting passing lanes and, on the turnover, quickly getting out in transition. Defenders quickly learned that when Fleming gets a head of steam to the rim, it will take more than a mere grab of the arm or bump to knock him off of his target. 

2020 F Armond Williams, East St. Louis - One of the more intriguing prospects of the night. The 6-8 Williams is a long, lean forward with the ability to square up and knock down shots from the mid-range area. He also gave us a taste of some of his nice face up moves and pivots from the short corner area that allows him to quickly get around equally sized opponents. Williams has a nice ceiling and definitely will draw attention with his ability to use his athleticism and length to snag boards, block shots and get out in transition to score easy baskets.