STERLING – A promotion with CGH Hospital ensured there was nearly a full house to witness the Sauk Valley Predators’ latest game, a 116-101 win over the Gary Splash on Sunday in Musgrove Fieldhouse.
The Predators played some lockdown defense, holding their opponent to 16 points below their season average. They threw down their usual assortment of rim-rattling dunks.
And they delivered some downright entertaining plays, like when 6-foot guard Keith Radcliff stole a jump ball from 7-foot Splash center Reo Logan, and when 6-4 guard DeAndre Taylor rejected a dunk attempt 6-8 forward Carl Montgomery.
Still, something was missing. That something was Jereme Richmond.
Richmond, a former McDonald’s All-American who flamed out after one season at Illinois, was the Predators’ top drawing card as he tried to put himself back on the basketball map despite several off-the-court issues. He played part of the 2012 season with the team, and was averaging 19 points this season.
He didn’t attend any practices this past week, and attempts to reach him by several players and management proved fruitless. On Saturday, Richmond sent a text to Preds co-owner Leah Grenoble stating he would not be returning to the team, that he was starting a new chapter in his life, and he would return his uniform next week.
Team owner Brad Grenoble was clearly miffed about Richmond’s decision to leave the team.
“We spent a lot of time and money to get him out of jail, and help him down here, and do everything you could do to help him in his next step,” Grenoble said. “I have no clue what his next chapter is.”
Richmond ventured from Waukegan to Sterling for practices Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and could also be with the team for games. Other than that, he had to stay in Waukegan, and the way Grenoble sees it, that was part of the problem.
“I’m not blaming anybody,” Grenoble said, “but if the court would have let him come and stay around the good people of the Sauk Valley, he would have stayed away from the bad life he has there. I think when he gets back there, people influence him in the wrong ways. I guess we’re done.”
Predators coach Ryan Vasquez and Taylor, who tossed in 19 points on Sunday, were both guarded in their comments regarding Richmond.
“We just wish him the best of luck in whatever direction he decides to take,” Vasquez said.
“He’s definitely a big key to our team,” Taylor said, “but we have a deep team. Each and every night, a player can be hot. We’re nine-strong, and it’s whoever gets the job done.”
On Sunday, that was a host of players in a matchup of 5-1 teams on top of their divisions, the Predators in the IBA-PBL Central and the Splash in the East. Casey Love was a beast in the paint, with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting, and he also grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds to lead the Predators to a 54-40 advantage in that department.
Radcliff led in the scoring department with 24 points, while point guard Kwan Waller played his usual strong floor game with 17 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals. All of the Predators were stout on defense against a team that had been averaging 117 points.
“Just stay in front of them,” Vasquez said. “They’re a dribble-drive team, they like to get to the basket, and we just said, ‘Hey, it’s going to be one-on-one, and you’ve got get up in front of him and defend him.’ That’s a very tough Gary team.”
Gary (5-2) trailed by as many as 16 points early in the third quarter, but closed to within three points on four occasions, the final time at 81-78 after a run-out layup from Jamaine Love with 2 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Sauk Valley’s Carlton Fay responded with a pair of free throws and a deep 3-pointer in the next minute, however, to up the margin to eight points, and the Predators steadily pulled away from there.
“Every good team makes runs,” Vasquez said, “and it’s all about weathering the storms. We talk about weathering storms all the time. Everybody makes runs, but who’s going to be tough enough to grind it out? We were pretty darn tough in this game.”
Corderro Bennett scored 32 points to lead Gary, while Tyc Snow added 16.
Star of the game: Keith Radcliff, Predators, 24 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
Key performers: Corderro Bennett, Splash, 32 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists; Casey Love, Predators, 20 points, 10 rebounds
Up next: Kenosha Ballers at Predators, 6 p.m. Saturday (in Sterling)