Just because all but a couple of college coaches had flown home didn't mean the Illinois Warriors would take their collective foot off the accelerator for Saturday evening's Nike Peach Jam final.
The Warriors led by 17 at halftime and wound up breezing to their first championship since 1998 by blasting the Boston Amateur Basketball Club by 32 points, 78-46.
Coach Larry Butler said he never expected to win the final that convincingly, but he did think his team would win the Peach Jam title - even before the Warriors arrived in North Augusta.
"I knew if I could get all of our guys on the plane, we'd win this thing," said Butler, who's been in five Peach Jam final fours. "
"I told the tournament people that when I first got here. I knew I had the guys I needed with me."
The first player Butler wouldn't want to leave home without would be Julian Wright.
Wright, a versatile 6-foot-8 forward who will decide between Arizona, DePaul and Illinois this fall, was virtually unstoppable all week.
He finished the tournament in the top 20 in scoring (16.3 points per game), second in rebounding (65), tied for first in blocks (eight) and second in blocked shots (11).
In Saturday's semifinal and final, Wright combined for 35 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks.
Staggering as the numbers might seem, they pale compared to his athleticism.
Wright's soaring one-handed dunk midway through the first half had the Riverview Park crowd in awe.
He took a pass at the arc of the 3-point line, drove the middle of the lane, took off two steps inside the foul line and cocked his arm back before sending the ball through the rim and the Warriors bench into hysteria.
"That dunk made me hurt," a teammate told him after the game.
The slam came in the middle of a 9-0 Warriors run that put them up 21-9 with 6:40 left until halftime.
Up 39-22 at the break, Illinois still didn't feel comfortable.
The Warriors went 7-1 in the tournament, but the one loss, to the St. Louis Eagles, saw Illinois squander a 20-plus-point lead in the second half.
"I was running around at halftime screaming, 'Remember St. Louis,' " Wright said.
Wright's warning did not go unheeded. The Warriors led by 30 when Wright and the other starters came out with five minutes left.
Wright credited some of the team's fire with the presence of Warriors alumni Andre Iguodala (Philadelphia 76ers) and Marcus Heard (DePaul), who watched the team most of the week.
"They really inspired us by coming here and telling us about the team's tradition and what they did," he said. "We're trying to carry on the legacy of the Warriors."
Reach Travis Haney at (706) 823-3304 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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