QUINCY -- Jaeden Smith owned it.
"I did say that we were going to win," Smith said. "Yes, I did."
He did so knowing there is a history behind McDonald's/Herald-Whig Classic predictions.
A year ago, Clark County's Chandler Bevans guaranteed a Missouri victory, going as far as to predict the final score. It backfired and the Illinois all-stars continued their stranglehold on the all-time series with a 76-68 victory.
So is Smith worried about any similar bad mojo accompanying his prediction?
"I have no score prediction," said a chuckling Smith, the Quincy High School guard who will represent Illinois at 7 p.m. Saturday in the 36th annual game at Quincy University's Pepsi Arena. "I just want to go out there and have fun, and no matter what happens, I'll be happy with the result because the event is super fun to be a part of."
Offering a prediction and getting a widespread reaction is part of that fun.
"You definitely can't do that during the high school season," Smith said. "(QHS coach Andy) Douglas would probably have a fit with that. So just having fun with this all-star game is what I'm about."
Missouri has the backcourt firepower to put Smith's prediction in jeopardy.
Hannibal point guard Dezi Jones, the 2019 Herald-Whig Player of the Year, and Monroe City guard C.E. Talton were two of the area's top three leading scorers last winter, averaging 30 and 19.8 points, respectively. Throw in Palmyra's Ragar McKinney, who averaged 16.2 points, and Missouri's top three guards shot 47 percent or better from the field.
When you put versatility and size around them in the likes of Canton's Brody Smith and Ben McKenzie and North Shelby's Kirby Latimer, Missouri coach Marty Hull has limitless options.
"There's so many different things you can do," said Hull, who led Hannibal to a Class 4 district championship game last winter. "So who do you start? That's the hardest thing for me. I have to pick five kids to start, and I could go with a variety of lineups."
Regardless of who starts, there is a strong desire to end Illinois' nine-game winning streak.
"I asked them the very first day, ‘Do you want to take it serious? Do you want to play like an all-star game? How do you want to do it?'" Hull said. "They were like, ‘Coach, we all practice to win.' So they've been very serious from the get-go."
That's a theme shared by the Land of Lincoln.
"What I like most about them is how they work together," said Barnett, the Central coach who is skippering the Illinois squad. "All of these boys come from very team-oriented programs, and I think that's what will make us successful (Saturday) night. We move the ball well. They're unselfish. It's a fun group to coach in that aspect."
It's even more fun to watch them shoot.
Smith is Quincy High School's all-time leader in 3-pointers made. Quincy Notre Dame winger Tommy Ray is as lethal as anyone from 3-point range when he gets in a groove. QND's Dylan Foley and Nick Schwartz, Payson Seymour's Tanner Cannady and West Hancock's Peyton Dooley help spread the floor, too.
They share the ball efficiently as well.
"Like Coach Barnett said in his interview, we play team basketball because of the environment we were in with our high school programs," Smith said. "That makes us all fit together well."
That alleviates some of the pressure Illinois' dominance in the event creates.
"I guess it definitely adds a little bit of pressure to it," Cannady said. "We know the Missouri guys are tough. We know that we're tough. I think if we play the way we can play and put it all together we can definitely get another one. You can never disrespect what those Missouri guys have done either. They are all good basketball players."
Pitting two talented teams against each other should bring out the best in both.
"Most of the guys on our team want to go out there and have fun no matter what happens," Smith said. "It's a super neat experience to be a part of, and we're all just looking forward to the game."