Jayson Tatum was trying to make his way out of the O’Fallon Panther Dome on Saturday night, but the people around him weren’t cooperating.
Considered by most recruiting services as the top junior prospect in the country, the 6-foot-9 Chaminade College Prep star did his best to accommodate those seeking autographs, photos and “selfies” or videos.
Tatum won over the Panther Dome sellout crowd of more than 3,000 Saturday night at the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout by erupting for 42 points. He did it with 3-pointers, impressive fadeaways, thunderous dunks and smooth moves to the rim, lifting his season scoring average above 27 points.
The 42 points wasn’t even a season high; he had 45 in a game earlier this season.
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These were the types of moves that had fans flying out of their seats, clapping and pointing to the court or trying in vain to capture them on cell phone pictures or video. Chaminade (16-3) is invited to shootouts all over the country and Tatum and his talented teammates fill gyms wherever they go.
He had 16 points at halftime, then exploded for 26 in the final two quarters as the Red Devils finally overtook upset-minded East St. Louis on the way to an 80-66 victory.
After signing and posing dozens of times, he finally was able to begin eating a small bag of chips and was walking out of the near-empty gym.
“Hey Jayson,” a voice said, and it was time for one more photo.
This is nothing new for Tatum, who has scholarship offers from virtually every top program in the nation and highlight reels all over YouTube and the traditional recruiting sites. As of Monday he had 11,666 followers on Twitter (@Im_that_dude22).
When he played at the Highland Optimist Shootout earlier this season, more than 50 youngsters were camped outside the Chaminade locker room just hoping to get an autograph. He made sure to sign for as many as he could.
Polite and humble to a fault, he took care of this last autograph and photo at O’Fallon and finally was able to leave.
“I’m just happy that people enjoy watching me play,” said Tatum, whom some feel could be playing in the National Basketball Association someday. “I’m just excited we got this win with the adversity, we were down most of the game and to come back and win by 14, an away game, most of the crowd was against us, I’m just happy we won.
“This shows how good of a team we are, how much depth. Guys are growing up this year.”
Walk the line
The free-throw line was not a friendly place for Althoff on Saturday as the Crusaders sank oinly 21 of their 38 foul shots in a 97-95 double-overtime loss to Westchester St. Joseph. The Bank of O’Fallon Shootout matchup between the state’s fourth-ranked Class 3A teams (they were tied last week) definitely lived up to its billing.
But while Althoff (20-3) was unable to hold on to leads of 13 points in the fourth quarter and seven points in the first overtime, the Crusaders had to wonder what might have been if they just could have hit a few more free throws.
“I’ve tried hypnosis and that didn’t work for me, so I just started watching film,” said Althoff coach Greg Leib, whose team has big game Friday at Cahokia and Saturday at home against Belleville West. “Prior to that game we’ve been averaging 65 to 67 percent as a team for the year. It just happened, we had kids at the line that didn’t shoot good free throws.
“Now they know what I feel like every time I stand over a golf ball.”
Althoff missed 11 free throws in the fourth quarter and both overtimes.
“One game of shooting free throws like that should not define you, but you should take that and go out and work on it and groove it,” Leib said. “Then when you can get into that situation again you feel more confident about it.”
“Rocky” driving Madison surge
If pressed, Madison Trojans coach Jaime Cotto admits that senior guard Daymon “Rocky” Warren may be a little smaller than the generous listing of 5-8 in the program. But those extra inches don’t take anything away from the excitement Warren has been generating on the court.
Warren lit up Quincy Notre Dame for 29 points, 10 assists and five steals Friday in a 72-53 road win. The night before he contributed 18 points, nine assists and four steals in another road win, 77-64 against potential regional opponent Hardin Calhoun.
Calhoun knocked the Trojans out of the regional last season.
“Against Quincy Notre Dame I think we were down five and he hit three straight 3’s in the third quarter,” Cotto said of Warren, who is averaging 22.2 points. “It just changed the whole momentum of the game and they never got it back after that.”
Cotto said Warren’s size works against him when it comes to college recruiting, but fans and coaches alike have been wowed by his quickness, ballhandling and ability to drain long 3-pointers.
“It’s just his will and his desire,” Cotto said. “Even though he’s small, he plays a lot bigger than he is. He’s really improved his outside shot. He’s a streak shooter, but once he gets it going he’s almost unguardable at the small-school level. He’s got some range and can hit 3’s from pretty deep.”
Madison (12-13) figures to challenge for another Class 1A regional title and perhaps more, but the Trojans can be extremely streaky at times.
Cotto is hoping a switch to more pressure defense will pay dividends.
“I thought that was the reason we won both games last week was because of our press,” he said. “We basically pressed for 32 minutes. We were struggling in the halfcourt offense and we have some pretty good athletes, so it’s a better way to use our quickness.”