CENTRALIA — Cahokia coach Darian Nash has an inside source at Champaign Central, but he has been unable to get a scouting report on the Maroons.
"My father is the track coach there, but he won't return my calls,'' Nash said.
The defending champion Comanches (7-2) are seeded No. 1 in the Centralia Holiday Tournament. They'll play the Champaign Central Maroons (3-6) at 12:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the 16-team tourney.
The fourth-seeded Belleville West Maroons (6-2) play the Salem Wildcats at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, while the O'Fallon Panthers (3-7) play the second-seeded Chicago Marist RedHawks at 6:15 p.m. Thursday in other games of local interest.
Nash isn't surprised that his father, Argie Johnson, the boy's track coach at Central, was avoiding him until after the game.
"It's just like he taught me when I was playing,'' Nash said. "You're an enemy until after the game. I'm taking that stance on that one. I'm taking it that he loves me, but we're enemies until after the game.''
Nash said he's always more concerned about his team than any opponent.
"I told my guys, 'We do what we do, and we prepare for what we do. And, defense is the key,''' Nash said. "I can go up against anybody if we're playing great team defense.''
The Comanches enter the tournament on a two-game losing streak. They dropped a 58-54 decison to Mount Vernon and a 73-72 decision to Evansville (Ind.) Boose in their last two outings.
"You look at the history of basketball, very few teams go undefeated,'' Nash said. "How you bounce back after losses is what counts. They thought they could coast, turn it on and turn it off. Now they understand that every night teams are out to get you.
"You have to go hard and play for 32 minutes. You can have fun, but you can't take a second off.''
The Comanches are led by senior guard Keenan Minor, who averages 21.3 points per game.
Minor hit a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left to lift the Comanches over the O'Fallon Panthers last year in the championship game at Centralia.
"Keenan is Keenan,'' Nash said. "I call him 'Old School' because he uses his body like the guys did back in the day.''
Nash said Minor will pass up a dunk for a layup and a chance to draw a foul.
"In today's society, you are not used to that,'' Nash said. "In the NBA and college, you see guys going up and dunking it. He just takes that contact and uses the glass, so I call him 'Old School.'''
The Comanches also are getting 14.5 points per game from Vincent Jackson, 10.5 points per game from Darius Austin, nine points per game from Carleton Rivers and 6.2 points per game from Derenzo Jennings.
"On any given night, you could have one of the starters go off for 20 or Lorenzo can come off the bench for 20,'' Nash said. "It's just a variety of weapons that I am blessed with, and if those guys are ever firing on the same cyclinder on one night, it's going to be a rough night for that opponent.''
Nash refers to the tourney as a midterm exam for his team.
"You get to see what you really need to work on going into the home stretch,'' Nash said. "It's a great tournament.''
West will be playing against the Wildcats (2-7) in the early bird special.
"The No. 1 job for me is making sure our kids come out ready to play at 8:30 in the morning and making sure we are not sleep-walking,'' Muniz said. "It's a tough thing. We're going to leave the gym about 6:15 (in the morning).''
The Maroons are battle-tested after playing a challenging schedule. Their only losses came against Edwardsville (81-66) and Belleville East (74-55).
"We've played a brutal schedule,'' Muniz said. "I think out of our first seven games, six of the seven were ranked in the Top 10 of the St. Louis area.
"Playing the Belleville East's, the Edwardsville's, the Hazelwood Central's and Ladue's and Vianney's, those are quality opponents.''
Senior guard Nick Van Osdale is the Maroons' top scorer with an average of 25.6 points per game. Isaiah Lewis averages 11.4 points per game and Markkies Goodwin averages 10.8 points per game.
Last year, the Maroons placed fourth in the tourney after knocking off Mount Vernon in the first round and then upsetting No. 1-seeded Chicago Bogan in the second round.
"It's a quality tournament,'' Muniz said. "Cahokia is the best team in the tournament, and I think you have bunch of teams right there battling it out with them. We need to make sure we take care of business against Salem.''
Salem (2-7) had its game against Mascoutah last Friday cancelled because of the death of assistant girls basketball coach Scott Holst in a traffic accident.
Junior Nick Conklin scored 26 and 25 points in the Wildcats' last two games.
O'Fallon beat Marist 63-54 in the semifinals at Centralia last season.
"We're in a different spot this year,'' O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson said. "The last few years we've gone in as a rated team and done well. This year, we're playing one of the rated teams. We're at the bottom this year. It's different. We know Marist is going to be good.
"Last year, we played them in the semifinals. They come in as the No. 2 seed and they are going to be good. It's kind of the story of our season. There are a lot of good teams on the schedule and we have to put 32 minutes together.''
The RedHawks (6-3) beat West 54-52 last year in the third-place game. They return 5-foot-11 senior guard Lexus Williams, who has committed to Valparaiso University.
"They've got a lot of their players back from last year,'' Gibson said. "We'll have our work cut out for us, that's for sure. We have had success there, so we'll give it our best shot."
The Panthers, who head into the tourney on a six-game losing streak, are led by Todd Porter, who averages 16.8 points per game, and Donovan Franklin, who averages 14.1 points per game.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.