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IHSA boys' basketball state tournament notes: New state champion will emerge in Class 4A and 1A

Mar. 7—CHAMPAIGN — History will be made one way or another on Saturday afternoon and Saturday night at State Farm Center.

None of the Class 1A or Class 4A finalists in this year's IHSA boys' basketball tournament have ever won a state title.

"I think I'm still in the moment, watching a lot of film on New Trier," Homewood-Flossmoor coach Jamere Dismukes said. "Kind of have that Kobe Bryant mindset right now: job's not finished. March 9, hopefully we're 4A state champs, and then I'll let it soak in and feel."

All eight teams have qualified for state tournament at least once before. In 1A, Aurora Christian has come up empty in six trips, with a Class A state runner-up finish in 1995 in Champaign its best showing.

Mounds Meridian and West Central have three combined runner-up finishes to show for their two trips apiece. Chicago Hope Academy's lone state tournament appearance yielded a third-place finish in 2017.

"We try to honor God in all that we do and that is our main purpose," Aurora Christian coach Dan Beebe said. "Our second goal, and it's nowhere near our first goal, is to win state championships."

Homewood-Flossmoor is two wins away from its first state championship in its first state tournament appearance since placing second in the 2004 Class AA state tournament.

New Trier is back at state for the second straight year after finishing third in the 4A field in 2023.

"We were fortunate from last year to this year," New Trier coach Scott Fricke said. "I'm really proud of these guys and what they've accomplished this year. Hopefully we're not done yet."

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Aurora Christian appeared to be headed toward a tough loss against Pecatonica at the State Farm Holiday Classic on Dec. 30.

The Eagles had dropped the previous day's semifinal game against El Paso-Gridley to fall into the tournament's third-place game. And Cooper Hoffman had just hit a 75-foot buzzer-beater to increase the Indians' lead to 42-21 at halftime. But after being on the receiving end of that night's SportsCenter top play, the Eagles soared back to claim a 57-54 victory thanks to a corner three from role player Wil McCracken with six seconds left in overtime.

"An awesome kid," Beebe said. "Plays quality minutes at times for us, but like (Monday) night, didn't play. He may come in and play 15 minutes for some games. ... That is a kid you build your program around."

A seven-game win streak — including a 68-66 super-sectional win against Pecatonica in a rematch from its State Farm Holiday Classic game two months later — has the Eagles (25-8) within two wins of their first state title.

"We've had three out of our last four state series games this year, we did get slow starts," Beebe said. "I would say our kids, although young, are incredibly resilient, really play at a level of even-keel emotions ."

Much of Aurora Christian's offense comes from sophomore Marshawn Cocroft, whose average of 16.8 points per game edges Cam Morel's contribution of 15.0 points.

"We know we're going nowhere without player one through 14," Beebe said. "We have 14 guys on the team and so many people preach that and they talk about that, but the reality is that it's true. If you have anybody that's on that team that's looking out for their best interest, it doesn't matter who they are, it permeates throughout the roster."

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DePaul College Prep coach Tom Kleinschmidt has traveled the road to State Farm Center before.

As a player, Kleinschmidt's Gordon Tech team placed second in the 1990 Class AA state finals.

He's traveled it often as a coach for his since-rebranded alma mater, guiding the Rams to state in three of the last four years with a Class 2A trophy to show for it in 2023.

This season marks the Rams' first time in 3A since 2019.

"Humbly, three years in a row, four out of six, there's a thousand better coaches and coaching staffs than the one we have that haven't gotten down," Kleinschmidt said. "We don't take it for granted."

DePaul Prep's latest run has come amidst whispers of Kleinschmidt making the jump to the college ranks with DePaul, where he starred from 1991-95. The Blue Demons are mired in a 3-27 season and fired coach Tony Stubblefield in late January.

"I hear that every time they need a new coach," Kleinschmidt said. "I think it's the fanbase that I played in front of. I'm a Chicago guy. I'm still in the same area I grew up in, (and) I'm a West Side kid. ... As far as being focused, I'm focused on my guys."

JOEY WRIGHT