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COMMENTARY: A title game to remember

Saturday, March 22, 2014 | 9:22 p.m. CDT

You forget that they’re just kids out there.

You forget it when the state’s top two high school basketball teams are vying for Missouri supremacy, displaying the type of dexterous dribbles and dunks you usually see on television. You forget it when thousands of spectators — including a former NBA star and a Division I coach — are locked into the action on the court rather than their smartphones.

You forget it when a 6-foot-8 forward swoops to the hoop, changes hands in mid-air and converts an acrobatic layup like it was his plan all along. You briefly remember it when a media member murmurs that the forward is headed to Texas next year. During his 43-point, 20-rebound performance, you think that Jordan Barnett would make a great Big 12 big man. You forget that prom is still a couple of months away for the Christian Brothers College High School standout.

You forget they're just kids when Hickman's Jimmy Whitt scores 13 points in the final 378 seconds to lead a 13-point fourth quarter comeback. And when he makes an open court steal and dribbles the ball 40 feet before rising up for a jam — moves that remind the opposing coach of Dr. J.

You forget that this will be a game they always remember — no matter where life takes them next.

Larry Hughes still remembers his state title game.

The former shooting guard played alongside Allen Iverson and then LeBron James in the NBA, earning nearly $85 million during his professional career. On Saturday, he was an ordinary Christian Brothers College High School fan, wearing a white shirt commemorating the 1997 state title he won with CBC. Several years ago, at a team reunion, all of his ’97 teammates signed this shirt in black sharpie. Hughes has another one of these shirts framed in his St. Louis home.

He sat with his family at Mizzou Arena, five rows behind the Cadets' bench Saturday. Hughes was wearing a camouflage hat, and he indeed blended in with his surroundings. Just another face in the crowd. The superstars on Saturday were five rows in front of him.

Missouri coach Frank Haith had another vantage point. Haith sat courtside on media row wearing a gold zip-up jacket. Asked why he came, Haith said that he couldn’t speak publicly about recruits (per NCAA rules). Then he admitted that he was there for more than just recruiting. Haith’s eyebrows arched in amusement at several plays down the stretch of the seesaw battle. He'd love to snap up at least two of these kids.

You remember they’re just kids when CBC seizes victory in overtime and jumps around like they’re celebrating 100 snow days into one.

You remember it when Hickman players' eyes fill with salty tears. And when Hickman's Whitt avoids the second-place trophy like it’s contagious. And when a tournament representative puts a medal around Whitt’s neck, and Whitt immediately takes it off.

Then you remember that Whitt is a junior. He’s got one more chance to win a state title. About 30 minutes after the game ends, he says he hasn't yet thought about next season.

Why worry about the future just yet?

He's got one more year to be a kid.

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.


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