EDWARDSVILLE - The boys basketball team at Edwardsville High School had one of the best turnaround seasons in the entire St. Louis area in 2019-20, going from a 9-20 mark the season before to 23-10 in the season just concluded, and grew into a very close-knit family where all the players sacrificed themselves for the good of the team.

Get The Latest News!

Don't miss our top stories and need-to-know news everyday in your inbox.

Second-year Coach Dustin Battas started to mold the team the year before, but this year his inspiring approach was one of the best efforts of any head boys basketball coaches on the Metro East side. It was the kind of team that second-year head coach Dustin Battas enjoyed not only coaching, but was happy for his players for the success they attained throughout the campaign.

"Yeah, really proud of them," Battas said in an interview that followed the Tigers' 48-42 loss to O'Fallon in the IHSA Class 4A regional final at Lucco-Jackson Gym. "Really happy for them that they got to enjoy the reward of winning 23 games. It was just a great group to come to practice and work with from 2 to 5, and just a selfless group of good, high-character kids that come from good parents."

Coach Battas often talked about the fact during each practice session, he and his staff could teach basketball instead of having to deal with other issues that usually derail seasons, such as behavior problems and off-the-court problems, and how hard his players worked each day to get better.

"It was a really great thing," Battas said. "So many coaches have to deal with selfishness, or egos, or off-the-court issues, and we were able to maximize our group, because we were able to coach basketball 100 percent of the time. I think that's a big reason why we all got better was we were practicing, we were working. It wasn't time lost dealing with selfishness or managing behaviors. That's a credit to our guys and their families, like I said."

The biggest highlight of the season was an 11-game winning streak from Jan. 20 to Feb. 18, where the Tigers defeated Granite City, Cahokia and Jersey to win the Jersey Mid-Winter Classic tournament, and went on through what was probably the biggest win of the season, a 38-36 win on the road at Collinsville, where the Tigers held one of the area's best players, Ray'Sean Taylor, to 18 points, far below his scoring average for the season. The streak also included wins over two-time defending Class 4A state champion Belleville West and Alton.

The Tigers went on to win 13 of their final 16 games after splitting four games in the Collinsville Prairie Farms Holiday Classic, leaving their record at the time 7-5.

"It was incredible," Battas said. "It was a great ride, and it was it was so great to see the smiles on our guys' faces, to see them just feel good about the work that they're doing. You know, sometimes in this world, you work a lot, you don't get any rewards, and our guys have certainly done that. But as the leader of the group, it's great to see them enjoy the fruits of their labor, and smile a little bit. I'll always remember how happy they were for each other. That's a very valuable thing to have as a team, is to have happiness for each other, and proud of each other's success."

The Tigers also won the season opening Thanksgiving tournament at Jacksonville, sweeping all three games, along with the title at Jersey, and starting to put things together at the Collinsville Classic. When the calendar turned to January, Battas and his staff - Kyle Stewart, Bryan Young, Chris Jones, Stacey Vaughn, Drew Curtis and Zach Doormink - all knew something special was about to happen. And the team just kept working and working.

Article continues after sponsor message

"Our guys just practiced hard every day," Battas said, "and I think we just a little bit better every day, and a little bit better every day, and some of our guys really became more confident in themselves, and that made our team better. Just very proud of the work they put in, and this is some of the best guys we've ever had here."

The six seniors on the team --- Ethan Young, Nic Hemken, Willie Thomas, Calen McKinney, Jack Nafziger and Gavin Reames --- all helped set the example for the younger players on the Tigers on how to go about their business and getting their work in, while providing on-the-court leadership.

"Well those guys are tremendous," Battas said, "and I just told them in here that there's never been a group that's been more together than them. And I don't think we've had a group that's had more self-awareness. Each of them knew what they could do to help the team. Some of them played 30 minutes, some of them that may be on the scout team, some of them, like Gavin Reames, may play 10 minutes one game, and 15 minutes in another game, and two minutes next game, and never waiver in that. Just be fully committed to the team, and do what's best for the group. And that's a very rare trait to have these days."

That was the Tigers' calling card during the season: Good kids who worked hard every day. Battas feels that the players will go on to achieve great things in their future lives.

"They are," Battas said. "These guys are going to help make the world a better place, and they're going to be good family men, and they're going to be good community members, and I just hope that I'm still around and healthy enough in 10 years to see what they're up to, and be a part of their lives."

Looking ahead to the 2020-21 season, the Tigers will have some very good talent returning, led by leading scorer Brennan Weller, along with guards Caleb Valentine, Jalil Roundtree and Preston Weaver, plus junior forward Hayden Moore, and promising sophomores Gabe James, Beau Brandt, Hersch Greene and Shaun Pacatte. Battas isn't ready to look ahead too far down the line at this time, but is looking forward to the returning players making big contributions to the team.

"Yeah, it's great to return your leading scorer," Battas said. "We'll certainly miss the seniors; some of the things they did don't show up in the stat sheets. But we'll think about next year here in a few months, and start preparing in the summer. But we know we've got good kids coming back, and we think we have some guys with some potential. Potential is a good start, but in the end, it doesn't win you a lot of games, so hopefully, we'll get those guys playing over the summer. We'll think about that this summer, right now, we're thankful for the seniors who gave us everything they had."

The future does look very bright for the Tigers' program, and Battas hopes that the graduating seniors take pride in the program, and use the lessons learned over the last four years to translate into success in their own lives.

"We want our seniors to take pride in their program," Coach Battas said. "We want to have continued success, so two years, five years, 10 years down the road, they're still proud to tell people they were Edwardsville Tigers, and so, hopefully, we can maintain the same level of competitiveness that we had this year."

More like this:

Nov 10, 2018 | Edwardsville returns seven seniors to boys basketball roster, Coach Battas is new leader

Mar 5, 2021 | Weller Leads Tigers With 18 Points, Weaver Adds 14 As Edwardsville Defeats East St. Louis 55-43

Dec 7, 2022 | Edwardsville Defense Holds Down O'Fallon, But Missed Shots Are Costly In 45-43 Loss To Panthers

Jan 4, 2023 | Rich Leads Four Players In Double Figures With 16 Points, Allen Has 13 For Tigers, Flyers Hit On All Cylinders

Jan 11, 2020 | Edwardsville Has Excellent Effort But O'Fallon Free Throw Shooting Makes Difference As Panthers Defeat Tigers 49-40


Dan Brannan also contributed to this story

Send your news tips to [email protected] or on twitter @EdGlenTodayNews

Print Version