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Chris Daniels has told his children about his basketball career and the special two-year run he and his teammates had in the late 1980s at IVCC.
But they were a bit skeptical of exactly how good his dad and his teammates were. Now there’s proof.
The 1987-88 and 1988-89 IVCC men’s basketball teams will be inducted into the IVCC-LPO Hall of Fame at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at La Salle-Peru Township High School’s Matthiessen Auditorium and will be honored at the men’s basketball game at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“Adrian Hutt, the point guard we had, sent me some pictures because he kept a lot of the articles about us,” Daniels said. “I’ve been showing (my children) because when you tell your kids how good you were, they’re always thinking you overblew it. Once they saw what we did and our rankings and all that, they know it was real so they don’t think I was just bragging about it.”
He wasn’t bragging.
Led by legendary coach Dean Riley, an IBCA Hall of Famer who passed away in 2006, the 1987-88 and 1988-89 Apache teams combined to go 57-11, finished third in the nation in 87-88 and went on a 23-game winning streak, spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the nation and became the first team to ever go undefeated in the North Central Conference in 88-89.
“A lot of teams in sports win games, but few teams are able to stand the test of time, and those two basketball teams through their greatness, impact and significance have stood the test of time in terms of people still mentioning it to us today,” said Mark Cooper, who’s now the Ottawa Township High School boys basketball coach.
The 1987-88 squad had sophomores Tim Bailey (Marquette) and Daniel Hutchings (Coal City) who were joined by a freshman class that featured local stars Cooper from Mendota and John Freeman from Lostant along with talent from the Quad Cities (Corey Akers) and Peoria (Daniels, Hutt).
The mixture of talent combined to form a squad that relied on pressure defense that resulted in a high-scoring offense.
Led by Hutt up top and Akers on the wing, the Apaches pressured teams full court, pestering opponents into 19.4 turnovers per game.
“I think we were an athletic team,” Hutt said. “We weren’t real tall, but we were quicker than most of the opponents we played. Most of the players we were defending, we were a step ahead so we could trap or go man at any time in the game. Coach had us ready. We were always in shape and ready to go start to finish.”
The Apaches converted the turnovers into plenty of points. IVCC averaged 88.2 points per game in ‘87-88 and increased that to a school-record 100.2 points per game the following season.
“We probably had one of the best point guards in the region in Adrian Hutt,” Daniels said. “Adrian was great at getting the ball (up the court). Once we outletted to him, we filled the lanes. Adrian was so fast. His main priority was to look up for us and kick the ball ahead. … It all worked out because within a few seconds we would get the ball down the court and we had some great finishers on the wings.” It took some time for IVCC’s different pieces to develop into a well-oiled, uptempo machine.
“First semester our year we had a lot of guys (16) who made the team,” Freeman said. “We lost some of them by the end of the first semester. We got hot that second semester freshman year and things started to click a little more. The tempo of our games changed a little. We started scoring a little more and our defensive intensity picked up.”
Several players felt a 73-67 loss to perennial NJCAA Division I power Kankakee on Feb. 13 as the game that set the stage for a postseason run.
“I remember we went out there and they had a bunch of (future NCAA) Division I players,” Freeman said. “That’s all we heard was Kankakee is always ranked in the nation in Division I and we were a little Division II school. We went there and lost by six, but we played them tough. We felt we could play with anybody after that game.”
The Apaches beat Wright 89-79 in the Region IV championship game to earn a trip to the NJCAA Division II National Tournament at Delta Community College in University Center, Mich.
IVCC entered as a relative unknown but routed Eastfield 94-67 in the quarterfinals to set up a game against top-seeded Lansing.
The Apaches fell 95-84 in the semifinals before bouncing back to beat Meramec 91-84 in the third-place game.
During IVCC’s run, the Apaches gained a large following and regularly played in front of a packed gym in Oglesby and even had autograph seekers after games. “It was awesome. That community really loved us supported us,” Hutt said. “It was a packed house. As many as they could get in there, they were packing in there. We loved seeing our fans and the community and friends supporting us. I think that really pushed us to the next level.”
The fan support continued as the Apaches entered the ‘88-89 season with high expectations with five players back with significant experience.
The ‘88-89 squad did not disappoint.
After losing to Rend Lake at the Lakeland tournament in early December, the Apaches rolled off 23 consecutive victories.
“Instead of fearing the opponent, we put the fear in opponents,” Akers said. “When we walked on the court, we knew we were going to beat people. It wasn’t like that freshman season. … Sophomore season we knew we were good and if we played our game, hustled and played within coach’s system, we were going to win, and we did a lot of times.”
On a night IVCC “didn’t play at the level we were capable,” according to Cooper, the Apaches’ streak was snapped in the Region IV semifinals with a 113-94 loss to Olive Harvey.
“It would have been nice to cap the two-year run off with a national championship, but I don’t think any of the guys on the team or the coaches look back on those two years with anything but a lot of good memories,” Cooper said.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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