To kick off what could be one of the best Southwestern Conference basketball seasons in many years, the conference decided to make its opening night something extra special.
All eight teams will be on display during four back-to-back games Saturday at the first “SWC at the E,” event, which is being held at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Vadalabene Center.
“The idea was kind of a collaboration between most of us, including the conference athletic directors,” said SWC Commissioner Bill Schmidt, the former AD and boys basketball coach at Belleville West who also talked with longtime area basketball official Gary Gustafson and Granite City athletic director John Moad. “A couple conferences up north were doing something similar. I spoke with the other ADs and they were all pretty enthusiastic about the idea.”
The four-game SWC extravaganza begins at 3:30 p.m. with Granite City playing Alton. The next three games are Collinsville vs. O’Fallon at 5 p.m., Edwardsville vs. Belleville West at 6:30 p.m., and the East St. Louis vs. Belleville East finale is set for 8 p.m.
“We kind of jiggled the schedule a little bit to get that to happen,” Schmidt said of getting all four SWC openers on the same day. “Six of the eight teams were supposed to kick it off at their respective sites on Friday (Dec. 2). We’re committed to trying this for two years to see how it works and how the public accepts it. Each conference school has agreed to lose a conference home game and to take their game to SIUE.”
Advance tickets are being sold this week at each school and are $3 for students and $5 for adults. Tickets will also be be available on Saturday at SIUE and will be $5 for everyone.
“We thought it was going to be a good idea to put everybody in one place on one day to watch the beginning of the conference schedule,” Schmidt said.
The Belleville East-East St. Louis game features a matchup of future University of Illinois teammates in East senior Javon Pickett and East St. Louis’ 6-foot-10 senior center Jeremiah Tilmon.
Along with Pickett and Tilmon, other top prospects on display will be Edwardsville’s Mark Smith, Oliver Stephen and A.J. Epenesa, Belleville West ‘s E.J. Liddell and Tyler Dancy, Belleville East’s Rico Sylvester and Malachi Martin, Alton’s Kevin Caldwell and Maurice Edwards and Collinsville’s Ronnie Midgett and Kenruique Brown.
“This is about as competitive and as good as it’s been in a long time with the Division I players we have and the up and coming D-1 players and competitive schools,” Schmidt said.
Edwardsville (4-0) and Belleville East (4-0) both opened the season by winning tournaments at Highland and Centralia, respectively. Edwardsville caps its Highland Thanksgiving Tournament victory by edging Althoff 81-78, while Belleville East posted an impressive 47-38 road victory over the Centralia Orphans on their home court.
“If you’re a basketball fan or a fan of the SWC, which usually has a pretty good players and athletes, it will be a great day,” Belleville East coach Abel Schrader said. “There’s some good matchups that night and it’s a really good way to kick off our conference schedules in a cool venue. It’s also a fun place for our kids to play in.”
Two first-year coaches, O’Fallon coach Brian Muniz and Granite City coach Raffi Karibian, will be making their Southwestern Conference debuts.
Schmidt said that along with the teams and cheerleading squads, several pep bands and dance teams from various schools will be performing throughout the day.
Schmidt also said the event has been sanctioned by the Illinois High School Association, and SIUE will be providing some support personnel.
SWC at the E
The following games take place Saturday, Dec. 3, at SIU Edwardsville Vadalabene Center:
- Granite City vs. Alton, 3:30 p.m.
- Collinsville vs. O’Fallon, 5 p.m.
- Edwardsville vs. Belleville West, 6:30 p.m.
- East St. Louis vs. Belleville East, 8 p.m.