The Quincy High School boys basketball team will try to win the 60th regional title in program history tonight when the Blue Devils play host to state-ranked Edwardsville in a 7 p.m. championship game at Blue Devil Gym.
It’s been an interesting year for the Blue Devils. QHS came into the season with few experienced varsity players. Senior forward Connor Mellon was the lone returning starter. A few other returning players had seen some varsity playing time, but coach Sean Taylor came into the season with as green of a group as you could have. After finishing second in the Western Big Six Conference and getting 15 wins out of this group, this season might be Taylor’s best coaching effort yet. That’s tough to say since he did win a state championship in 1996 with Class A Shelbyville, but at least Taylor had a Division I player in future University of Illinois player Rich Beyers. But what Taylor and his players have done this season, especially in the last two months is impressive.
This Blue Devils team has a bunch of blue-collar players, but the only way any of them are going Division I is if they buy a ticket to a game. The team’s top scorer — and catalyst in Wednesday’s fourth-quarter surge in the win over Alton — is a kid who is going to play Division I golf, senior guard Zach Burry. Who knows if any of the seniors will bounce a basketball again after the season’s over. They are certainly talented enough to play at some smaller colleges, but there aren’t any Division I coaches knocking on Taylor’s door. Add in the fact that Taylor’s top players off the bench are two sophomores and a freshman. Nearly half the Blue Devils’ roster — 5 of 11 players — are underclassmen.
I’ve always been fascinated at Quincy’s obsession with basketball. It’s envied from those from the outside. Many of those who drive that passion have an unrealistic idea of what the program should be. To turn a phrase once said by Rick Pitino when he was coaching the Boston Celtics: “The next Bruce Douglas and Michael Payne isn’t walking through that door.” Those two players drove the program to unbelievable heights in the late 1970s and early 1980s. To think that Quincy is going to compete at state every year isn’t realistic. And the fact that the Blue Devils don’t get there isn’t a failing of the coach.
The players Taylor coaches today are nothing like those that Jerry Leggett coached back in the “glory days.” There are many more things pulling at these players today — work, family, school, girl friends, and all of the electronic gadgets — than there were in Leggett’s days. There was no forum like Facebook for a family member of a disgruntled player to post what was supposed to be a private letter to the coach from the player. That happened this season.
Edwardsville has been Quincy High School’s nemesis in just about every sport since the IHSA split into four classes. The Tigers come into tonight’s game as an overwhelming favorite. They’re 26-2 with one of those losses coming to the Alton team that QHS just beat on Wednesday night.
Earlier this season, that Alton team beat Quincy by 17 points. On Wednesday, the Blue Devils returned the favor by handing the Redbirds a 16-point loss. How do you account for a 33-point turnaround in less than two months’ time? Players who understood their roles and a coach who put them in those spots.
As there seems to be every year, the Quincy rumor mill is rumbling that the Blue Devils need a new coach. At least one person has told me that “it’s a done deal.”
To make that change would be a mistake.