Fresh off a second straight Centralia Holiday Tournament championship, the Belleville West Maroons are set to take on 11-time Missouri state champion Vashon in marquee match-up of the Highland Scott Credit Union/Optimist Basketball Shootout.
The Maroons, 15-0 entering its Southwestern Conference game against Alton Friday, is ranked 17th in the USA Today Sports Super 25 Expert Rankings. Vashon, 10-1 and led by University of Missouri recruit Mario McKinney, is ranked 25th.
A crowd of 3,000 is expected to pack the gym at Highland High School in time for the 8:15 p.m. tip off.
“It’s a marquee event. Two very good basketball teams going at it,’’ West coach Joe Muniz said Thursday. “The history in basketball in the state of Missouri and the number of great basketball players who have come through the Vashon program is exceptional. No doubt about it, it’s going to be an electirc atmosphere at Highland High School.
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“I know our kids are going to be up for it.”
The main event is the finale of the eight-game shootout which begins at 8:30 a.m. when Highland takes on East St. Louis in the lone girls game of the event. The action continues throughout the day. The showdown between West and Vashon is their first since the 2013-14 season when the Maroons posted a 55-31 win at the Vianney Tournament.
Muniz said Belleville West approached Vashon about scheduling home-and-home games after the IHSA voted to allow high school teams to play 31 regular-season games. Vashon declined. the offer.
Tournament organizer Matt Powers initially intended to pit West against Normal West for the shootout finale for the chance to see West senior EJ Liddell go head-to-head with former Normal star Francis Okoro, a 6-foot-9 four-star prospect by ESPN. But Okoro reclassified for 2018 and is seeing substantial playing time at the University of Oregon.
Suddenly, Vashon became an option.
“We said absolutely,” Muniz said. “We feel we’re two of the top teams in the St. Louis area so why not play? It will only make us better and it will make them better.’’
The game will feature two of the top players in the nation Liddell, who has committed to Ohio State University, and McKinney.
Vashon has seven players who are getting looks from NCAA Division I schools including 6-5 junior Cameron Fletcher, 6-4 junior Kobe Clark and 6-6 sophomore Nick Kern.
‘They are loaded,’’ Muniz said. “The Fletcher kid is really good. Kobe is a nice player and they have others. They play a national schedule and they finished 3-1 at the City of Palms Tournament which is one of the best in the country. That tells you how good they are..’’
West, which rallied to beat Alton 62-57 behind a career high 30 points from senior guard Lawrence Brazil III, will have its starting lineup in tact for the first time since Dec. 15.
Senior forward Keith Randolph, averaging 8.1`points and 9.1 rebounds, has missed the last five games, including the entire Centralia Tournament.
The 6-5 250-pound Randolph, an all-state defensive end for the football Maroons, settled a lengthy recruitment process when he committed Dec. 15 to play for Lovie Smith at the University of Illinois. Then he came down with a case of the flu.
“It was an exhausting month for him and we had thought about giving him a couple of days to relax and get refreshed after he committed,’’ Muniz said. “But then he got sick. He had missed so much practice time, about 10-12 days, that we didn’t think it was in his best interest to just throw into a game when he hadn’t practiced. We expect him back this weekend.
“He’s not at full game mode yet and we’re not going to push it. But if he continues to progress like he has the first three days of practice, we anticipate him being back full strength by rhe miiddle or late of next week.’’
Highland Shootout Schedule
8:30 a.m: (Girls) Highland vs. East St. Louis
10 a.m.: Edwardsville vs. Normal West
11:30 a.m. Nashville vs. Effingham
1 p.m.: Bloomington vs. East St. Louis
3 p.m. Highland vs. Poplar Bluff, Mo.
4:45 p.m. CBC vs. Columbia, (MO.) Rockbridge
6:30 p.m..: Chaminade vs. Milwaukee Nicolet
8:15 p.m.: Belleville West vs, Vashon