By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Sean Taylor did himself and his team no favors.
When setting the schedule for the 42nd annual Quincy High School Thanksgiving Tournament, the QHS boys basketball coach put newcomer Carbondale opposite the Blue Devils on Thursday night.
"That's a tough way to open the year," Taylor said.
Maybe it's for the best.
The Blue Devils, who are coming off a 20-7 campaign a year ago and return three experienced players in the backcourt, need to be tested.
"Our backcourt can handle what I call Rocky pressure," Taylor said. "Carbondale is going to bring that type of pressure. If we're going to be able to beat Rock Island and compete for another Western Big Six Conference title, we need to be able to handle pressure. Hopefully our guards are going to be able to do that."
The backcourt should be the Terriers' strength, too.
Allen Billinger, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, and Devontavius Payne, a 6-foot junior, were honorable mention All-South Seven Conference selections last year and give Carbondale toughness and quickness.
Three other guards, including senior Jarron Warren, should see time as well.
The real questions are in the front court where the Terriers will rely on 6-6 sophomore Jordan Kelly and 6-3 sophomore Robby Dosier to mature quickly. They are two of four sophomores in Carbondale's eight-man rotation.
"We're pretty young," Terriers coach Jim Miller told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We do have good athletes who have worked hard in preparation for the season. I like our depth, but our youth will play a factor."
Taylor believes Miller will bring the Terriers along quicker than expected.
Since taking over in 1998, Miller has led Carbondale to 245 victories, seven regional titles, two state trophies and a state title game appearance in 2005.
"They are always going to have athletes, and they're always going to have good coaching," Taylor said. "I think Jim Miller is a heck of a coach."
The QHS coach has equal respect for the other two tourney participants.
Urbana is coming off back-to-back 12-win seasons -- the Tigers have had just one winning season since 1991-92 and haven't won a regional title since 1989 -- and gave Quincy quite a tussle in last year's Collinsville Schnucks Holiday Classic. The Blue Devils won 62-59, but it took a career-high 34 points from DeAngelo Dean to erase the Tigers' 14-point halftime lead.
Several players from that team return, including 6-4 forward Kaleb Smith.
The Tigers also should benefit from the success of the football program. Urbana reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time in school history, won the Big 12 Conference title and recorded the most wins since 1964 with a 9-2 finish.
"They have a renewed commitment there to excellence in athletics," Taylor said.
That's always been the case of Algonquin Jacobs with Jim Hinkle in charge of the program.
Now in his 17th season at Jacobs and his 38th season coaching overall, Hinkle is a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and making this season his final one. The 70-year-old coach is retiring, and he's doing it with the jovial nature you might expect.
"I told them if they score their coach's age and win, I'll take them all for wild wings," Hinkle laughingly told the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
With the Golden Eagles' returning firepower, he might have to pay up.
Senior forward Nick Ledinsky and Will Schwerdtmann were two of the team's top three scorers last season, and when you throw in 6-4 Lake Ojo, Jacobs enjoys a solid frontcourt.
The backcourt is young, with sophomore Chrishawn Orange expected to see time at the point, but Hinkle has high hopes.
"This team has great versatility with all these guys in the 6-2 to 6-4 range. We have good length and we're very athletic," Hinkle said. "I think we're good, but I always think we're good. I'm not always right, but I always think we should be loading the van to Peoria."