BREESE — With four state football championships since 2005, there's little doubt about what sport drives the heaviest interest level at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
That type of success has eluded the basketball program, but the current Cyclones squad is trying to change all that. They won the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament on Monday with a 61-48 victory over Edgewater from Florida as junior guard Ben Sestak led the way with a 33-point explosion.
Sestak is among the basketball players who don't play football for Griffin. Among his basketball teammates are University of Illinois receiver recruit Malik Turner, quarterback Gabe Green and receiver-defensive back Nate Lowis.
Green threw for 3,236 yards and 39 touchdowns this season for the 14-0 Cyclones while Turner had 69 catches for 1,378 yards and 22 TDs.
"Congratulations on their state championship win, but we're trying to bring basketball back to SHG so it's exciting," Sestak said after the Cyclones improved to 7-3.
Sestak was 8-for-13 from the floor and hit four of his seven 3-point shots. Turner added 15 points, including nine in the second half.
"He's just a winner," Griffin coach Blake Lucas said of Sestak. "We've got a bunch of winners. We've got good character kids and I just couldn't be more proud of them to come away with this title."
The long football playoff run kept Griffin from getting into full basketball mode until recently.
"We were kind of slow coming out of the gate with that long football season and we really had our first full week of practice before we came down here," Lucas said. "We kind of got into the flow of things since we've been here and had really balanced scoring all week long."
Lucas said the football success spills over into the school's other sports, including basketball.
"We wouldn't be what we'd be on the basketball floor without those football players," Lucas said. "Coming over from Coach (Ken) Leonard's program they're just winners, so they know how to win and they expect to win.
" It takes a little bit to get their wheels going, they're a little rusty. Hopefully we've shaken that off and we can go from here."
Edgewater is a Class 6A school from Orlando, Fla., in that state's eight-class system. The Eagles got 24 points from James "Showtime" Eads and 11 from Towson University recruit Eddie Keith.
Players named first-team all-tournament were Sestak and Turner (Griffin), Jacob Brammeier (Okawville), Keith (Edgewater) and Jacob Timmermann (Central).
The second-team all-tournament selections were Matt Hilmes (Carlyle), Micah Thomas (Briarcrest), Anfernee Simons and Eads (Edgewater) and Noah Frederking (Okawville).
When Okawville played Central for third place Monday, it brought former Okawville basketball teammates Jeremy Shubert and Jon Kraus together again.
Central, coached by Shubert, defeated Kraus' Okawville squad 38-35 in a hard-fought game.
"Outside of my coaches, he's my best friend," Shubert said of Kraus. "Outside of my dad, he's my best friend. I've got so much respect for him...I've learned from him, I got to guard him in high school.
"He does a tremendous job up there and that team is going to have a say in the postseason as well."
Kraus is two years older than Shubert, but the two are quite familiar with each other.
"We were on the '92 team that lost to Nashville in the regional final at Central," Shubert said. "Jon had a shot to win that game, it just went off the mark. He was a big part of making me the basketball player I am, because I had to guard him."
One problem plaguing Central (9-5) this season has been at the free throw line. The Cougars were just 3-for-10 at the foul line against Okawville.
"Everybody keeps telling me 'do you work on free throws?' and we do," Shubert said. "We shot 50 of them today before we came over and it seems like we dig ourselves a hole."
While Central senior guard Jacob Timmermann earned his third straight spot on the all-tournament team, the Cougars are working on a bright future.
Sophomore guard Logan Kohrmann is the team's second-leading scorer at more than 15 points per game and freshman Jack Strieker and sophomores Mitchell Rule and Chase Schneider continue to improve.
"I think the young players are really, really tired," Shubert said. "They're not used to all this basketball. But we couldn't have won (third place) without a Jack Strieker, we couldn't have won without Mitchell rule and their contributions.
"Mitchell's been waiting for his time and he's had two really good games."
Home court advantage
Mater Dei won two of three games after losing twice on the tourney's opening day, but coach Ronnie Schadegg made it clear he was not pleased to see the Knights playing in the fifth place game at 3 in the afternoon.
"Obviously 2-3 in your own tournament and you're playing an afternoon game...it's not acceptable," Schadegg said. "It's our tournament, we've got to make sure we find a way our kids grind it out and understand the importance of playing in a night session game here."
Schadegg had fond memories of playing in the tournament while attending Mater Dei.
"The only difference is we're playing at 3 o'clock and not 8 o'clock," he said. "It's not acceptable to be in this position and to be playing in the afternoon session as a coach or a player here.
"To me, this tournament has always been bigger than Christmas morning."