As other area teams are finding out, the East St. Louis Flyers are a much bigger entity than simply leaning on the top recruit in the state, 6-foot-11 center Jeremiah Tilmon.
That’s a great place to start, of course, but the University of Illinois recruit is an extremely important part of a growing nucleus of talent that has the Flyers (6-2) on a four-game winning streak and 2-0 in the Southwestern Conference.
“He makes my job easier,” said East St. Louis coach Phillip Gilbert, whose team’s only losses are to 4A top-ranked Chicago Curie and 3A-10th ranked Champaign Central. “We still have a lot of work to do and areas to improve on, but from a confidence standpoint the guys have been pretty confident in their ability.
“That’s what I try to preach every day: one person cannot get it done by himself. The guys have bought in thus far to that and the outcomes have been in our favor.”
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The Flyers, ranked ninth in the first Class 4A state poll, have not lost since state champion football quarterback Reyondous Estes returned to the lineup Dec. 3 for the thrilling overtime win over Belleville East. They lead the Southwestern Conference standings with a 4-0 league mark that includes wins over Belleville East, Belleville West, Alton and Collinsville.
Averaging 14.3 points and 10.5 rebounds with 27 blocked shots, Tilmon has been a difference-maker inside. He returned to East Side for his senior year after playing at La Lumiere prep school in Indiana last season.
“Him going off to La Lumiere last year and playing against arguably the top players in the country, maybe the world, and him coming back to this area is just a confidence builder for him,” Gilbert said. “He’s so much more mature now and his work ethic is tremendous. With him going to the next level, we wanted him to come in and be that dominant force because he’s not going to run up against anybody his size in the area.”
Gilbert is doing his best to inspire Tilmon to bigger and better things.
“He’s a target, overall game has to be on that elite level,” Gilbert said. “I tell him ‘You are the best player in the state of Illinois and the No. 1 recruit. You have to prove that day-in and day out because everybody wants to prove you wrong.’ He’s been stepping up on the court, he’s been stepping up in the classroom as well. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Gilbert has discovered plenty of parity in the SWC this year, but also a world of balance in his own lineup.
The Flyers are getting major contributions from Estes (14 points and 5.5 assists per game, 16 steals), 6-2 senior Arthur Carter (11.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists per game), high-flying 6-6 sophomore Terrence Hargrove (10.5 points and 10 rebounds per game) and guards Kerion Chairs (9.1 ppg, 13 3-pointers) and Zachery Forest (8.5 ppg, 11 3-pointers).
“The guys have been playing with a lot of resiliency,” Gilbert said. “It shows that what we work on every day, if we do it all together, the outcome will be in our favor. Our conference is stacked. You’ve got great players and great coaches. On any given Friday night, Saturday night or Tuesday night it can go any way. It’s whatever team steps up.”
Hall of Famer in Carlyle
Carlyle Indians basketball coach Andy Palmer will be joining his father, longtime Southern Illinois basketball, baseball and softball official Ken Palmer, in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Palmer and several others from the metro-east got the good news for their 2017 induction last week in letters from the IBCA. His father still officiates and has been for more than 50 years.
“It’s certainly an honor,” said Andy Palmer, who has 410 career wins after the Indians’ 5-1 start this season. “I didn’t expect it to happen this soon. It’s something that I’ll look on back after I’m done and appreciate it even more. There’s a lot of great coaches in there and to be included on that list is something special, for sure.”
Palmer is in his 13th season at Carlyle and 23rd overall. He also coached eight seasons at Pope County High in Golconda and two years at Ullin Century before coming to Carlyle.
Senior Eli Cox exploded for a career-high 32 points Saturday in a 69-49 win over Vandalia, scoring all 27 of his team’s points during the season quarter. Cox, who leads the Indians in scoring at 17 points per game, sank 12-of-17 shots overall including five of his eight 3-point tries.
Tyler Siever (14.3 ppg), Connor Toennies (10.7 ppg) and Dru Johnson have also stepped up with senior Donte Nettles out until mid-January with torn knee mensicus that required surgery.
Carlyle’s only loss was 51-44 to Pinckneyville at the Carlyle Kaskaskian Classic.
“I felt like that’s probably the best game we’ve played to this point even though it was a loss,” Palmer said. “Our kids competed just at an unbelievable level. We needed a couple breaks to go out way down the stretch and we didn’t get them.”
Palmer is wary of a tough three-game stretch to close out the pre-holiday tournament schedule that includes Triad, Central and Columbia.
“That’s certainly a tough little stretch for us,” he said.
The 2017 Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame class also includes coaches Wayne Harre (former Nashville High girls coach) and Matt Elledge (former Highland and Pittsfield boys coach) and career coaches Donna Farley (former Edwardsville, Okawville and Carrollton girls assistant), Dave Hodges (former Madison assistant) and Bryan Wilkinson (former Granite City South, Edwardsville and Dwight coach).
Among the players scheduled for induction are former Dupo High, Rice University and American Basketball Association 6-foot-10 center Kendall Rhine, former Madison High star Kenny Stanley and former Lovejoy High and Austin Peay 6-11 center Barry Sumpter.
Also in the Hall of Fame class are longtime local official Russ Chappell from Fairview Heights, former St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Ken Roberts (media) and former Edwardsville Intelligencer sportswriter Joe Meyer (media). In the Friends of Basketball category, the inductees include longtime Coca-Cola/KMOX Shootout organizer Keith Pickett from Columbia, Alton native Gary Buck and Buddy Wolke, longtime Alton High teacher.
Mascoutah coach hits milestone
When Mascoutah High coach Scott Oltmann picked up his 300th career win Saturday against Columbia, he did it with son Alex Oltmann on the bench as an assistant coach.
“I didn’t really pay much attention to it earlier,” insisted Scott Oltmann, whose team is off to a solid 6-2 start. “The only person that really knew abutt it before was Alex. I was a little surprised that they even knew about it (Saturday).”
This is Scott Oltmann’s second year back on the bench after a previous 18-year stint with the Indians. He said he enjoys being surrounded by a coaching staff that includes so many of his former players like his son, who is still a college baseball pitcher at Missouri-St. Louis, Troy Medvick, Robbie Rudy, Ben Norrenberns, Chad Fournie along with former O’Fallon standout L.P. Wills.
“That part of it has really been fun,” Scott Oltmann said.