CHAMPAIGN — Khailieo Terry spent three academic years living the Centennial-Champaign Central rivalry from the Maroons’ side of things.
On Tuesday night, the senior received his first taste of that longstanding battle as a member of the Chargers’ boys’ basketball team — the result of an offseason transfer between schools.
Strictly from a scoreboard perspective, Terry’s debut contest in Columbia blue, navy and white went off without a hitch. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound athlete produced 13 points — including one of his commonplace dunks — and six rebounds during a 55-36 Centennial victory over Central.
“It didn’t really carry too much emotion,” said Terry, who completed a one-handed slam in transition to start the fourth quarter. “They’re my guys (even though) I’m at a new school. It’s just really for fun.”
Beyond the actual gameplay, however, no one inside the Maroons’ new gymnasium — Terry included — experienced the typical atmosphere associated with a Centennial-Central game.
No spectators were allowed to attend in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unit 4 officials announced Monday a limited number of fans will be permitted at both schools’ athletic ventures beginning this coming Monday, but that wasn’t soon enough to impact this particular competition.
No music was played over loudspeakers. Band and cheer squad members weren’t present from either school. Starting lineups weren’t announced, with a downsized number of administrative staff involved in game operation.
Despite best efforts from the players — clapping and shouting whenever possible — the Chargers (1-0) and Maroons (1-1) played what had to be the most quiet game in this rivalry’s history.
“It kind of brought down the energy,” Terry said. “It would’ve been a little more interesting (with fans).”
“It was really strange,” added Centennial coach Tim Lavin, who has been around this rivalry on the Chargers’ sideline since 2001. “Not having a crowd … and just (not) being out in the tradition of Combes Gym, it was strange. But, again, it was nice to be out there playing, and I’m glad we got this one out of the way.”
Both sides are working through not only a delayed start to the 2020-21 season — another pandemic byproduct — but also the graduation of key pieces from previous rosters.
Centennial’s big losses include Axel Laby, Termarion Howard and Kvion Lott, while Central misses the likes of Pryce Punkay, Reece Jacobson and Todd Marshall.
Not to mention Terry, who generated his first point as a Charger 12 seconds into Tuesday’s affair.
“Not really a big difference,” Terry said about playing for Lavin versus for Maroons coach Jeff Finke. “They both want us to be a defensive team. Offense just comes natural. So pretty similar, actually.”
Lavin was pleased with Centennial’s defensive efforts, which induced 20 Central turnovers. Dispersed scoring paired nicely with the stopping power, as Terry was joined in double figures by junior Trae Warren (12 points). Seniors Amareon Parker (eight points), David Laby (six points, four rebounds) and Jaylen Bryson (six points) also chipped in offensively.
“If you can be balanced like that, it’s hard to key on one guy,” Lavin said. “Trae was a scorer last year on JV, and we’re going to look for him to score a little bit this year as well.”
Finke’s two top point producers from last season were Punkay and Terry, so numerous remaining athletes are being asked for enhanced scoring.
Seniors Henry Hamelberg (10 points) and Diego Sanchez (nine points, four rebounds) were the leading options Tuesday, with seniors Nate Allen and Judd Wagner adding seven and six points, respectively.
“We started five seniors, and they all played last year. But none of them were in that leadership role where we called on them to be the guy,” said Finke, who is in his sixth year directing Central. “Now we’re trying to figure out roles, and with such limited practice and no practice in the summer … we’re still trying to figure ourselves out.”
Finke felt his guys “got punched in the mouth a little bit and didn’t respond to it.” But he also believes the group possesses a tight enough bond to improve upon that element.
As far as preparing and coaching against Terry was concerned, Finke said his kids didn’t gear up for any specific member of Lavin’s team.
“We didn’t have any film. They know what we do (and) we know what they do,” Finke said. “So we just played. We didn’t talk personnel.”
There wasn’t much anger or bitterness associated with this chapter of Centennial-Central. More so an appreciation that it could occur at all.
“Still working myself back into shape, but overall it felt really good,” Terry said. “I just know, when it comes to basketball, we’re all going to hoop.”
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