Ryan Vasquez’s approach to the upcoming Sauk Valley All-Star Game is about as laid-back as a coaching philosophy could be. No drills. No conditioning. Not even any organized basketball.
This past Friday, Vasquez and nine boys basketball seniors from the Gazette team gathered inside Musgrove Fieldhouse to simply play a few pick-up games.
“We’re just going to roll the ball out and let them play,” Vasquez said. “One practice isn’t going to make us the Golden State Warriors. We’re going to let them have fun.”
Notice I said nine players. So when the teams were being picked and the realization that one more guy was needed, the attention turned to Vasquez and myself. Vasquez appeared comfortable manning the clock and music, so I reluctantly obliged.
My initial intention at Musgrove was a few quick interviews with recent Sterling grads Dimitric Young, Myles Williams, and Ryan and Reid Blackburn about the opportunity to play with Rock Falls’ Garret Winfield again.
“I was glad I made it,” Winfield said. “I’m with my boys again. I’m just going to try to play well with them and do me.”
Winfield transferred from Sterling before this past season, and became a key cog in the Rockets winning their own regional title.
“Garret’s a great person,” Vasquez said. “He did some really nice things over at Rock Falls, and it all showed on the court. To be with him in the All-Star Game, kudos to him for making it.
“You always hear that brothers stick together. Somehow they spilt up, but here they are. They’re back again.”
Luckily for this story, I was placed on the team of Young, Williams, Winfield and Ryan Blackburn. My defensive assignment: Reid Blackburn. It was a chance to see up close and personal if the chemistry between Winfield and his former teammates was still as good as ever.
Winfield and his buddies were on the same page from the jump. If Williams was running the break, Young and Ryan Blackburn would find an open spot on the perimeter for a kick-out, and Winfield would set up shop down on the block for an easy dish and layup. There were behind-the-back passes, no-look passes, and off-hand passes. The foursome did their thing.
Williams was the flashy speedster who got any shot he wanted. Young seemingly didn’t miss any shots from the 3-point line.
Ryan Blackburn hit open shots, played strong defense, and pulled down rebounds. Winfield did everything his old running mates did.
“Just like the old times,” Young said after a sweet assist to Winfield on a 2-on-1 fast break.
“He’s an overall player,” Ryan Blackburn said. “He brings toughness and competitiveness in practice and in games. He doesn’t like to lose in anything.”
With my teammates for the day doing their thing, it allowed me to relax and observe. It also let me know that I’m no good at basketball, so really nothing has changed since my days at Aquin.
Watching Young, Williams, Ryan Blackburn and Winfield play made me think, “What role would Winfield had played if he had stayed at Sterling?”
“In that Washington game, we needed toughness and someone to be on the boards,” Williams said. “Reid wasn’t at full strength. Tyler [Willman] was the only other big we had. Garret would’ve done the dirty work.”
“He would’ve been a good go-to guy on offense who could get buckets when they weren’t on their A game,” Reid Blackburn said. “He’s a scrappy, tough guy who hustles.”
It also brought up the argument of which team would’ve won had Sterling and Rock Falls won their sectional semifinals and met up in the sectional championship. Who would’ve taken the title?
The past result says Sterling would have, considering the Warriors blasted the Rockets 70-47 at Musgrove back on November 29, 2016.
My question warranted a collective “Stop that!” from the Young, Williams and the Blackburns. But Winfield stayed true to Rock Falls.
“You know who I’d go with,” Winfield laughed.
“Sterling, that’s who you’re going with,” Williams responded back.
Regardless of the hypothetical matchup, the Gazette boys are supremely confident that they’ll come out winners. Milledgeville’s Buddy Bibler, Curt Strauss and Payton Harris, Morrison’s Nick Klimson, Prophetstown’s Nate Pierceson and Kody Wetzell, Rock Falls’ Logan Pillars and Fulton’s Cole McClary will team up with the Sterling quartet and Winfield on Thursday.
The chemistry between Winfield and his old teammates appeared to have not skipped a beat. Neither has the Warriors’ pint-sized point guard with big-time confidence.
“We’re definitely winning,” Williams said. “And I’m going to dunk.”