The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Boys Basketball: Shining In The Spotlight

  • Bulldogs come away with Illinois AP Poll's Top Spot in Class 2A
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  • The spotlight has not blinded the Bulldogs.
    Highly regarded and rightfully so, the Harrisburg boys basketball team is the best among any other team in southern Illinois.
    But what about Illinois?
    After just one win, Harrisburg entered the Illinois Associated Press Top 10 poll in 2A at No. 2, behind Chicago's Seaton Academy.
    Fifteen games later, Harrisburg still unbeaten and have further proved this particular group of 'Dogs bite is just as bad as its bark as they were deemed the No. 1 team in the state among writers ranging from the Land of Lincoln.
    Randy Smithpeters, in his 20th year on the sidelines at Harrisburg, isn't completely unaware of talented teams. So when he talked to his kids, before the season even started, he already had an idea of where he wanted his message to go.
    "If we're good, we're good all the time. So if the polls consider us to be that good than we want to have the qualities of a team that are that good and that's the qualities that we want to practice with, play with and be in classroom with."
    It's not just Smithpeters' starting five, but his group as a whole, that embodies the characteristics of the champions they have become.
    "One of the enjoyable things about this group is they practice hard every day, they get along," Smithpeters said. "We don't have problems or issues in the locker room. There has been nothing to detract from our efforts because we are not dealing with personality conflicts in the dressing room or on the floor with a staff or with each other. Again, one of the strengths and qualities that helps them get to where they are. People understand their role and people just work together to be as good as they can be as a team.
    Harrisburg senior guard Ryne Roper echoed many of Smithpeters' sentiments.
    "I think one thing that makes our team good is that we all know each others playing style very well," the 6-foot-3 shooting guard and University of Illinois baseball signee said. "We know what the other person is going to do next, if they are going to shoot or pass and we can anticipate that next move. We are all friends and spent more time together during the season than we probably do with our own families. So we become brothers and just enjoy being together.
    To date, this senior class made up of Tyler Smithpeters, Capel Henshaw, Dakota Upchuch, Justin Younger, Caleb Bartok, Gabe Oglesby and Roper are 94-21 over the last three-plus seasons.
    They have won three straight Eldorado Holiday Tournaments and have parlayed that with three straight regionals, including four in the past five years and two sectional championships.
    Roper is one of those guys that cherishes the moment, but also puts into perspective the full scope of the ranking.
    Page 2 of 2 - "It means a lot in the sense that people regard our team as a very good one and that we have been rewarded for our hard work. But we also understand that it's just a ranking and that it doesn't mean anything. It's not going to help us make shots or win ball games. We still have to prepare the same way and continue to work hard to accomplish our goals this season.
    Tyler Smithpeters, who was recently named Most Valuable Player of the EHT, said that it is an honor to be name No. 1, but it's not popular conversation amongst them.
    "It's just great to be part of this team and I'm thankful for the opportunity to play with these guys, I wouldn't trade it for anything."
    Tyler Smithpeters noted how most of the guys on this team have been playing together since they were in the fifth grade. Roper moved in, in the seventh grade.
    "We're all like brothers," the younger Smithpeters said. "
    Henshaw knows how cool it could be to look back in year's time and talk about when they were No. 1.
    "It's a great honor to be listed at No. 1 and I think it means a lot to our team because we work so hard to be where we are."
    Still, the notion of No. 1 is something that Smithpeters will admit he doesn't concern himself with, but also recognizes how it's something the kids should be able to enjoy.
    "I think it's something that these guys have earned through their time in the gym and in their playing together and all the things that they have done just to be considered No. 1."
    Smithpeters added that a No. 1 ranking or not, Harrisburg's goals do not change.
    "One goal is to be good all the time," Smithpeters said. "That's not only our goal, but also one of our biggest challenges is to try and not have a let down, realizing that there is a target on your back every night and you're the "Big Game" every night you play.
    Roper said that the team is well aware that everyone has Harrisburg circled on their respective schedule.
    "We know with that come everyone's best game. We have to play to the level we are capable of playing to and hopefully things will go well for us."
    So far, Harrisburg has been playing like a team that doesn't mind the spotlight or being No. 1.
    Michael Dann can be reached at hbgsports@dailyregister. com Follow Michael Dann on Twitter @spydieshooter.
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