Six degrees of separation will shrink to one for many Tri-Cities boys basketball alumni during today’s Final Four in Arlington, Texas.
Recent memories of Connecticut guard Ryan Boatright and Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky, both juniors, certainly prevent premature senior moments.
“When I’m watching it with my friends, I’m like, ‘Yup, there’s Boatright,’ ” former St. Charles North guard David Johnson said. “He did that to me once. Now he’s doing it to the best in the country.”
Boatright starred at East Aurora, a longtime Upstate Eight Conference rival of the St. Charles schools. Kaminsky, a Benet product, enjoyed one relatively shining moment against Geneva during a Plainfield North Holiday Tournament game in December 2010.
His 13 points don’t quite stack up to the 55 Boatright scored against North a few weeks earlier, although they ultimately left a mark. Either way, when Boatright and Kaminsky show up on screen, the players and coaches who once lined up on the other side grin, too.
“It’s tough,” Johnson said, “but it’s good memories, for sure.”
Geneva’s only sub-.500 season in the coach Phil Ralston era, 2010-11, included a holiday tournament loss to a Benet team with two Big Ten recruits: Kaminsky (Wisconsin) and point guard Dave Sobolewski (Northwestern).
Xavier-bound center Sean O’Mara, who helped end the Vikings’ season in the Class 4A East Aurora Sectional final last month, was a freshman.
This winter, Geneva handled Illinois recruit Aaron Jordan of Plainfield East in its regional opener before beating two more higher seeds with top talent. Citing such recent players as Kendall Stephens (St. Charles East/Purdue), Nick Fruendt (Batavia/Northwestern) and Quinten Payne, a North product who’s transferring from Ball State, Ralston lauded the longtime nightly tests of the UEC River.
“I think year in and year out we’re going up against kids at the [NCAA Division I] level. It’s not like that’s an unusual thing,” Ralston said.
“Obviously, our goal going in as a coaching staff is how do we neutralize their talent and work with what we’ve got. From a coaching standpoint, I find that to be something that’s a lot of fun.”
Brendan Leahy was on the court for the Vikings against Benet three seasons ago, and still can’t seem to escape the 7-foot Kaminsky. A sophomore at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., Leahy watches NCAA tournament games in the company of many Badgers faithful.
He usually plays along, asserting Illinois is better than Wisconsin – recent results notwithstanding – but is mostly complimentary of Kaminsky and his teammates. And in general.
Leahy also has pulled for one-time AAU teammates Kory Brown (Elgin/North Dakota State) and Brian Bennett (Plainfield East/Cal Poly) in past weeks.
“All the guys that I played with won at least one game in the tournament, so that was cool,” Leahy said.
Boatright’s double-nickel at the start of his senior year quietly elicits the same response among old North Stars, with time, naturally, providing a salve.
Three years after making his prep debut against North on the same floor, Boatright finished 22 for 36 from the field in a St. Charles East Thanksgiving Tournament romp, striking mostly against man-to-man looks.
The game was old hat for North seniors Chris Conrad and Josh Mikes, who had matched up against Boatright since their time as Haines Middle School fifth-graders.
“It’s never really talked about, but it’s one of those things that we know that it happened and it showed how great he was that night,” said Sean Masoncup, a then- North assistant who now coaches the school’s varsity girls.
Home on break as a Monmouth College freshman, Johnson, now a tennis standout, could attest as he sat in the stands.
“I watched that,” Johnson said. “Oh man, that was amazing. I was just happy that I wasn’t playing that game.”
Revisionist history often prompts endless hypotheticals. Asked how he thought Ralston might defend Boatright, Leahy appealed to one of the more effective options in Geneva’s arsenal of zone defenses.
“I think coach Ralston would definitely do his [1-3] chase on him, for sure,” Leahy said. “I don’t know, [Boatright’s] pretty talented.”
Kaminsky, who averaged just 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds last season, is no slouch, either, continuing his tournament breakout with 28 points against Arizona in last week’s West Regional final.
Should Connecticut defeat Florida and Wisconsin defeat Kentucky, Boatright and Kaminsky would oppose one another for the national championship Monday.
Three seasons ago, their high school teams met in a sectional semifinal. No Tri-Cities athletes were harmed in the playing of that game.