Belleville West senior talks blowout win over Collinsville
Tyler Dancy is the Southwestern Conference’s jack of all trades but master of none.
The Belleville West senior is an effective rebounder and shot blocker, just not quite on a par with East St. Louis’ Jeremiah Tilmon. He can step outside and score from the perimeter if he has to, but not with the efficiency of Edwardsville’s Oliver Stephen.
Dancy will likely even top 1,300 points for his high school career, but his 13 points per game this season are just second on his own team to sophomore E.J. Liddell.
Yet the Maroons’ progression from six wins in 2013 to this season’s 20 victories and just their second regional championship in 13 years correlates directly with Dancy’s four-year evolution to the complete player his coach says he is today.
“Tyler is the facilitator in our offense,” said Joe Muniz, who’s enjoying his first 20-win season in his 13 years as West’s head coach. “He can score from anywhere on the floor, he’s a good passer, he sees the floor well, we use him as our press-break release ... He’s evolved into a complete player and is still evolving.”
The Maroons, 20-8 and winners of 10 of their last 11 games, will try to keep their season going when they take on Edwardsville in the semifinals of the Ottawa Class 4A Sectional on Tuesday. The game will be played at 7 p.m. at Collinsville High School.
We've come a long way since my freshman year just by getting a little better every season. It was a struggle for a while, but things have changed for us.
Tyler Dancy, Belleville West Maroons senior
There will be plenty of drama because Belleville West is the only team to defeat the Tigers (28-1), Illinois’ No. 1-ranked 4A team according to the Associated Press. The winner will advance to the sectional final in Ottawa, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago, against either Danville or Moline.
West pulled off the upset at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Dec. 3 by holding the Tigers to just 42 percent shooting from the field, including 4-for-22 from three-point range. Edwardsville returned the favor with a 27-point beat down of the Maroons on Jan. 27.
The Maroons won just six games in Dancy’s freshman year, nine when he was a sophomore and improved to 14-14 last season when Dancy was a junior. Winning a regional championship was the logical next step, Dancy said.
He scored 16 points in Friday’s 67-60 championship win over East St. Louis, which he says validated the work had and his teammates have put into getting better year over year.
“We’ve come a long way since my freshman year just by getting a little better every season,” said Dancy, whose performance included a key 17-footer in the second half. “It was a struggle for a while, but things have changed for us. Winning the regional was a great feeling.”
At 6-foot-6 and 276-pounds, Dancy can certainly handle himself in the post. He has an unusual skill set for a big man, however, particularly in his footwork and ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.
Muniz knows exactly how important Dancy has been to the Maroons’ climb toward the top of the Southwestern Conference. They lost games at the Chick-fil-A Classic to Belleville East and Althoff with Dancy on the bench in sweat pants with an ankle sprain.
He can score from anywhere on the floor, he's a good passer, he sees the floor well, we use him as our press-break release ... He's evolved into a complete player and is still evolving.
Joe Muniz, Belleville West basketball coach on senior Tyler Dancy
“It’s not necessarily the points, the rebounds or the assists we miss the most. It’s his physical presence on the floor and all the intangible things he does that don’t show up on the scoreboard,” Muniz said. “To be able to catch the ball in traffic, to see the court and make a good decision, his ability to wall up and make guys have to shoot over the top of him ...
“He doesn’t get any stats for those things, but his presence makes a big difference.”
Some of his wide-ranging ability comes from being the son of a coach. Fred Dancy was the long-time girls coach at Cahokia and has led Tyler’s AAU summer teams since he and some of his teammates were “little kids.”
West senior guard Dalton Fox was one of them.
“His dad always told us not stay stagnant with anything, to always work at getting better,” said Fox, who averages 6.4 points per game and is among team leaders with 23 steals. “I think Tyler is always trying to get better.”
Dancy includes seven rebounds and two assists per game on his season profile. He committed last week to play at the University of Southern Indiana, an NCAA Division II program.
But he eagerly shares the Maroons’ emergence with his teammates, most notably Liddell, who averages 19.9 points per game and scored 77 total points in regional wins over Belleville East and East Side.
“Having E.J. here, things really changed and we became a better team,” Dancy said. “We were a good team before, it’s just that this team has clicked a lot more. We’re more connected than we have been in the past and it’s made us better on the court.”
If winning a regional was the next logical step in the Maroons’ evolution, then renewing their rivalry with Edwardsville in the sectional, Dancy said, is a bonus.
His dad always told us not stay stagnant with anything, to always work at getting better. I think Tyler is always trying to get better.
Dalton Fox, Belleville West senior guard
Dancy will be matched Tuesday against Tigers’ big-man A.J. Epenesa, the University of Iowa-bound high school football All-American and the metro-east’s top rebounder at 13.9 per game.
“It’s always a physical match up. I like the banging and the contact and (Epenesa) always brings it, too,” he said. “It’s a great competition because we’ve been playing against each other since we were little kids in AAU. I always look forward to playing against him.”
The Tigers also bring the added firepower of uncommitted senior Mark Smith, who averages 21.1 points per game, and Stephen, whose 3.6 3-pointers per game ranks sixth in the St. Louis region.
The Maroons also will play DeAndre Jackson (4.2 ppg) and Will Lanxon (3.3 ppg).
“I’m not concerned about who has the most points,” Dancy said. “I just want to win and that’s what counts to me. We want to keep our season going.”