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Morgan Park's Billy Garrett Jr. (left) is introduced during an assembly honoring the class 3A state championship team in Chicago Wednesday, March 20, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Morgan Park’s Class 3A state basketball championship is like a fever dream, a party that refuses to end.
The school mounted an ambitious 90-minute rally Wednesday afternoon inside the school’s recently refurnished gymnasium that became a festival of mixing music, dance, video and all manner of impromptu celebrations.
The signs of the championship were everywhere, on the electronic sign in front of the main entrance and a blown up photograph mounted on the wall and taken just after the team’s 63-48 victory over Cahokia last Saturday afternoon at Carver Arena in Peoria.
Two trophies, for the state championship and winning the Proviso West Holiday tournament, were arranged on a table near the team’s bench. Five days later, and the mood at the school remains euphoric. Rodney Washington, a local radio on-air talent and 2006 graduate of the school, was the master of ceremonies.
The show featured all kind of pageantry and local color as the revue featured a performance by the school band, the dance troupe and separate numbers by the cheerleaders and pom-pom squad. The coaches and players, wearing specially made black pullovers emblazoned with the state title insignia, were introduced.
They also played a special video composed of photographic stills and video highlights from each of the seven state tournament victories, punctuated by the victory over Cahokia Saturday afternoon. “We just wanted to do something the whole school would enjoy and be able to see and participate in,” coach Nick Irvin said.
The state title was the first in boys basketball since the 1976 team captured the Class AA state title on Laird Smith’s famous jump shot at the buzzer. “That’s a long time, 37 years in between titles, and we wanted people to have something they could be proud of,” Irvin said. “It means so much to everybody, and especially myself because of everything we went through, the suspension (following an after-game confrontation with players from Simeon) and losing my dad last year.”
The players made sure their classmates joined in. During one moment, with the players at halfcourt, they initiated a dance number and soon afterwards, hundreds of students left their seats and joined in the fun.
“I think the full effects of winning still haven’t quite hit me,” said star senior guard Billy Garrett Jr. As part of the presentation, the DePaul-recruit was given a special Athlete of the Week plaque from Allstate for leading the team in scoring 14 points in the state title game. The team’s all-time leader in scoring and assists, Garrett Jr. had his No. 5 jersey retired at the end of the regular season.
“No matter what happens in my career and whatever accomplishments I have playing basketball the rest of the my life, this is something I’ll always remember,” said senior guard Kyle Davis, the team’s other captain with Garrett Jr. “It will be even better once we get our rings,” he added.
Irvin said the next matter of business is securing college destinations for guard Markee Williams and 6-9 post player Xzavier Taylor. Both were spectacular in the title game, scoring 13 and 11 points, respectively. Taylor added 11 rebounds. “There are some schools showing interest in them right now, and we just have to get that taken care of,” Irvin said.
The future is brighter than ever. Starting forwards Josh Cunningham and Lamont Walker return with talented reserve guards, freshman Charlie Taylor and junior Torry Johnson. The sophomore team finished runner-up in the city tournament to Simeon.
“Things are great, and we’re set up to be strong again next year,” Irvin said. “I can’t wait to get it started.”