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As usual, nobody was paying much notice to Barrington boys basketball player Ray Tolentino.
Superstar senior point guard Brad Zaumseil went right, and understandably, so did everyone on Conant. Tolentino, a 5-foot guard went left, where there was nothing but air and open floor. He caught the inbounds pass, took three hard dribbles to the rim and laid in a high-banker as the final buzzer sounded.
Barrington won the game 52-50, and Tolentino — whose chin nearly scrapes the court when he digs hard into his defensive stance — for the very first time, was the center of attention.
The senior guard could appreciate such a moment, perhaps better than anyone, since he’s spent most of his basketball career getting overlooked. It was a moment nearly a year in the making.
“What a great story, he’s starting for us now, and as a junior he didn’t really see a meaningful second on the court,” Broncos coach Bryan Tucker said. “Every day last year he was in the gym working his tail off. Some kids will coast, and he wasn’t. He was preparing himself for this. It’s pretty special to see.”
For onlookers not wise to Tolentino’s valiant rise, the choice to put the ball in his hands during such a crucial instant may have seemed foolish. But for his teammates, the decision was an easy one.
“Oh yeah, I was confident with the ball in his hands,” Zaumseil said. “He may be small but he’s tough, and he uses his quickness and what he has to overcome everything else.”
The shot Tolentino hit with 3.6 seconds left against Conant on Nov. 30 was redemption crystallized in one flawless floater. Just a few possessions before, he missed a point-blank layup that would have broken the tie.
“I missed the layup before, so I knew I had to make this last shot,” Tolentino said. “I made sure I finished this time.”
And, of course, the shot that Tolentino said was, “most definitely” the biggest of his career was also the coronation of a long, hot summer spent in gyms and practice facilities instead of the beach. With one shot, Tolentino proved that sometimes, when his heart is big enough, the littlest guy can be the big man on campus.
“I don’t care about height,” Tolentino said. “I just have to play my game. I’m used to it; I’ve been dealing with it my whole life. I’m happy to play on varsity.”