'88-89 Basketball Team - FRONT, Matt Strain; FIRST ROW, FROM LEFT; Lance Fenwrick, Steve Kerley, Stacey Woolsey and Jerome Hill. SECOND ROW, FROM LEFT; statistician Matt Hallam, Lamont Murray, Shay Hagel, Damon Lee, Rob Gaddey and manager Charles Toler. THIRD ROW, FROM LEFT; Coach Rodney Rodgers, Ernest Hickman, Terry Dishong, Jason Hughes, Chris Allen, David White and Coach Darin Lee. FOURTH ROW, FROM LEFT; Chad Rushing, Antwan Stallworth, Mike Humphrey, Abdul Muhammad, Tommy Hayes and Head Coach Mitch Haskins. CLICK HERE for a larger image.
by Bob Kelley, retired RLC Sports Information Director
INA, Ill. - Introducing, the perfect starting lineup in 1988-89 for the most accomplished team in more than a half-century of Warrior basketball (Mt. Vernon Community College, 1957-67; Rend Lake College, 1967-present) . . .
• “A man among boys.” “Far and away, the best true post player we ever had.” “As much of a leader as anybody we had.” “Unselfish.” “A team player. It didn’t matter if he scored 20 points or 2.” “He really, really wanted to win.” Meet 6-foot-6, 225-pound sophomore transfer Antwan Stallworth (Hammond, IN, by way of Danville Area Community College).
The Great Rivers Athletic Conference “Most Valuable Player,” leading vote-getter on the All-Region XXIV Team and NJCAA Third-Team All-America selection “was just an animal on the boards,” in the appreciative words of his coach, Mitch Haskins.
• Third-year swingman Chad Rushing (Pinckneyville), the All-Region XXIV and All-GRAC pick and All-Region Tournament “MVP” who was 6-6 “but had those long arms that made him more like 6-10. In addition to being a good offensive player, he was a really good defender thanks in part to those long arms.” "Well-coached.” “Fundamentally sound.” “A high-character guy.”
• “What a great athlete. He could run and jump and do everything you would want in a complete basketball player.” GRAC “Freshman of the Year” Abdul Muhammad (Ford Heights / Bloom Trail High School), 6-6 power forward “could run like a deer and jump.” “He had the ability to use both hands.” “He could shoot the 12-14-footer or drive the baseline.” “His quickness and basketball instincts helped him defensively.” “Very adept at getting the ball off the offensive boards and scoring.” “Played hard and took care of business.”
• Local hero Tommy Hayes (Mt. Vernon), the 6-4 sophomore floor general “who made our offense go.” “He was willing to make the conversion from shooting guard in high school to point guard for us.” “He sacrificed his offensive skills to make us a better team.” “At 6-4 with really long arms, he was difficult to defend because he could see over smaller opponents.” The GRAC “Sportsmanship Award” winner “really did a good job of sacrificing himself for the good of the team – breaking down defenses, reversing the ball and giving us greater opportunities to score.” “A high-character guy, also.”
Forget the sacrifice, Hayes still managed to drill 66 career 3-pointers, a team record by one.
• Tennessee Traveler Ernest Hickman (Dyersburg), a 6-3 swingman, “was another great defender who could shoot the ball from 18 feet when he was open.” “Especially effective at the two-man game along with Rushing.” “A very good person and ‘a pretty doggone good player,’ ” according to the recommendation of a former teammate of Haskins on a traveling coaches’ team in Southeast Missouri. Hickman and Hayes share the team record for having played in more games than any other Warrior (70) and more winning games (52).
Those five headliners and a deep supporting cast for 1988-89 will accompany consensus “Coach of the Year” Haskins into the Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame during 12th annual Induction Ceremonies Saturday evening, November 6, on the Ina campus.
The first of 53 Men’s Basketball teams to enter the RLC Sports Hall of Fame will share center stage with three individuals and a National Championship Indoor Track Relay Team at 6.
Depth and balance were equally important components for a best-ever 29-6 quintet, fueled by first-ever Region XXIV and GRAC (13-3) championships, a record 12-game winning streak late and a perfect 13-0 homecourt record in Hummer Hall. The Warriors were No. 19 in National Junior College Athletic Association Division I preseason rankings and climbed to a high of 12th.
There was plenty of playing time for the likes of zany two-sport standout Rob Gaddey, a 6-4 sophomore from Carmi, and farm-bred post player Kevin Mitchell (Enfield / McLeansboro H.S.), a 6-4 freshman “who could really guard people in the post.” A lefthanded-hitting third baseman who hit .349 as a freshman and .312 for his Juco career, Gaddey was second to Hayes with 25 treys and averaged 6.7 points in almost 16 minutes a game. Mitchell, an Academic All-American with a GPA above 3.50, averaged 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 14 1/2 minutes.
Jerome Hill, 6-2 freshman guard (Evansville, IN / North H.S.) and 6-3 sophomore forward Damon Lee (Dayton, OH / Chaminade-Julienne H.S), “who would come in and play a lot of defense,” were next in minutes played with 10.7 and 8.7, respectively, followed by backup backcourt contributors Lance Fenwrick (Chicago / Simeon H.S.), a flashy 6-foot freshman, and Shay Hagel (Pinckneyville), a 6-2 freshman limited to 20 games by an ankle injury.
Also featured were 6-5 soph Chris Allen (Rockport, IN / South Spencer H.S.), 6-9 soph Mike Humphrey (Mt. Vernon / McLeansboro H.S.) and 5-10 soph Stacey Woolsey (Carmi). “We had great depth . . . interchangeable parts . . . very unselfish,” noted Haskins, who won his 500th game as a high school and college coach during that memorable campaign en route to a berth in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame (Class of 2006).
“Offensively, they ran their sets. The timing between the five guys on the floor was almost always in sync, and they had good ball movement, which would make the defense have to shift and create higher-percentage shots. They really did a nice job sharing the ball.
“On defense, they were really good at communicating with each other and cutting off the floor, and they worked at it,” Haskins added.
The defense rated No. 4 in the country with its stingy 64.3-point yield.
“We may have had other teams with lower defensive averages, but that team was a good scoring team, which means you give the other team more possessions,” continued Haskins. “The difference between what we scored (77.5) and what we gave up is the most important thing, and we played a very tough schedule that season; we did not play any weak teams.”
How strong was it? One of only two losses (in 24 games) against Illinois opposition was an upset on the road to the last-place team in the GRAC, Kaskaskia, by six. They also lost at perennial power Belleville Area, 56-55. Other losses came early in Missouri, against national contender Three Rivers and its well-known homecourt advantage, and Mineral Area, and a mid-season date at GRAC rival Paducah, KY, also by six.
The Warriors, before they were finished one victory shy of a berth in the 16-team NJCAA National Championships in Hutchinson, KS, posted 3-0 records against league foes/standard-bearers Wabash Valley, John A. Logan and Olney Central, as well as two-game sweeps of national power Vincennes (IN), Southeastern Illinois and Lincoln Trail.
RLC ’88-89 topped the 100-point mark five times and captured the Lake Land Laker Classic with three December wins and the four-team Danville Area Classic.
After beating host Logan, 77-58, and then escaping nemesis Belleville Area in the Region XXIV semifinals, 62-60, the Warriors were at their dominating best with a resounding, 104-70 pounding of
Wabash Valley in the finals.
The Region XXIV survivor still had to win an Inter-Region Playoff two out of every three years, however, in order to advance to Hutch. The dream season ended on a tip-in basket with :03 to play by host Cleveland State (TN) that resulted in a 62-61 Warrior loss on a so-called “neutral” site in Chattanooga. The Illinois visitors were unable to overcome poor perimeter shooting and a near-10-minute second-half drought without a field goal in a physical contest which also produced plenty of controversy, including a timekeeper who forgot to start the clock in the final minute, more than enough time to allow the final, over-the-back tip-in to count. Game officials refused to acknowledge or correct the error. The Cougars had won their regional on the same floor, 30 minutes from home.
Eight records established by these Warriors also included those for Team Rebounds – 1,317, representing an average edge of 38-24 over the 35-game season – and Best Won-Lost Percentage
(.829). Not to mention Most 3-Point Attempts – 18 vs. Cleveland State.
Stallworth, who netted 37 points (14-16 FG) with 11 rebounds at SIC, averaged 15.1 points per game, 9.3 rebounds (high of 16 against NJCAA Finalist Vincennes) and 2.1 assists. He ranked 10th
nationally with his 66.0 field-goal percentage (217-329) and also led his team in steals/recoveries (54), blocked shots (24) and charges drawn (14). His 530 points tied for seventh-best in Warrior history.
Rushing, who broke his collarbone the first game as a true freshman in 1986 and was granted an extra year of eligibility, boasted 747 career points in 68 games, 14th all-time.
Top scorers behind Stallworth were Muhammad at 14.7 ppg (high of 27 vs. Logan), Rushing at 11.5 (30 vs. Kaskaskia), Hickman at 9.2 (19 vs. Danville Alumni), Hayes at 8.7 (19 vs. Olney Central), Gaddey at 6.7 (18 vs. Vincennes), Mitchell at 4.4 (18 vs. OCC) and Lee at 3.3 (10 vs. Lake Land).
Other rebound leaders – Muhammad, 6.9 (18 vs. Wabash Valley), Rushing, 5.8 (14 vs. WVC) and Hickman, 3.8 (12 vs. SIC). Assists – Hayes, 5.4 (11 vs. DACC), Hickman, 2.5 (nine vs. OCC) and Rushing, 2.4 (6 vs. SIC).
Hayes and Stallworth, “probably more than anyone else,” were responsible for the outstanding chemistry the team enjoyed on and off the court, Haskins responded to a question. “Stallworth because he was so imposing and perhaps because of his age (20) he was a little more mature than the others. Hayes because he was the local kid who knew how to get things done. The players would hang out at his house quite a bit. They trusted him.
“But we had foster parents for all of the players. We had an active Booster Club that would feed the team after home games. That kind of support helped bring everyone closer,” added Haskins.
“Almost every team has its share of problems, but that group really didn’t have any of that unrest or unhappiness among its top players. It was a great group of guys, very deserving.”
Haskins is quick to point out he had considerable help at his end of the spectrum, also. Recipient of a Special Achievement Alumnus Award from Oakland City (IN) College previously, he was inducted into his alma mater’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Southeast Missouri Coaching Legends Hall of Fame in 2006.
But he shares credit for the 1988-89 success with a contingent of Assistant Coaches which included longtime confidant, former Christopher High School mentor and basketball junkie Tom Wheeler, in his fifth season on the Warrior bench; former Warrior floor general Darin Lee, 24, who had coaching in his blood after playing for his father, David Lee, at McLeansboro, and 23-year-old Rodney Rodgers, who was an assistant the previous year for Belleville Area when the Dutchmen reached the national finals with a 76-67 Region XXIV championship verdict over RLC.
Darin Lee, well-schooled in the “flex” offense run by the Warriors and a very good teacher of the game, has proven to be one of the top prep mentors in Southern Illinois after successful stints at Anna-Jonesboro, many years at Nashville and now Collinsville. Rodgers later left the coaching ranks and is now a Major in the military.
RLC Chemistry Instructor John Fisher, the brother of the Interim Coach of the NCAA National Champion Michigan Wolverines and now Head Coach at San Diego State, Herrin native Steve Fisher, voluntarily served as Assistant Coach / Supervised Study.
Haskins had to smile when he recalled one incident involving the easy-going Gaddey. “I had just called a play we were supposed to run. It involved several passes, the typical screens and reversing the ball. We had just started running it when the ball goes to Gaddey, who immediately shoots a three. I yelled at him, ‘What in the world do you think we are running?’
“ ‘We’re playing offense, Coach. Offense,’ ” he yelled back.
Another incident proved to be even more meaningful. In the fourth game, against Mississippi County (AR) in the opening game of the Three Rivers Classic, the 3-0 Warriors played poorly the first half “and I ripped ’em pretty good at halftime. We played a little better the second half and we won (67-55) but I ripped them afterward, too,” Haskins recalled.
“Finally, Twann (Stallworth) had had enough and spoke up: ‘Coach, we want to win as much as you want to win. We’ll come back and show you,’ ” he concluded.
A man of his word, with teammates who had his enormous back.