Bob Lockart’s name has been buzzing in the news after joining the Eastern Illinois men’s basketball team as an assistant.
It’s not the first time the longtime basketball coach has been the talk of the town in Coles County.
Who could forget the time he was the head coach of the 1990 Charleston Holiday Tournament champions?
Lockart was in the midst of his fourth season on the Mattoon High School boys’ basketball team with a stellar group of ball players. The Charleston Holiday Tournament has been disbanded since 2010, but the 1990 champions will forever live on in Green Wave basketball history. It was the only time that the Green Wave won the tournament. Even 32 years later, it’s a team worth talking about.
Mattoon entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed and owned a 5-4 record at the time. Before the tournament began, Lockart had told Journal Gazette’s Jim Kimball that his team was “hot and cold.” However, Lockart believed that his team was capable of winning the tournament even though he was not happy with the team’s overall record.
“The kids must realize they have to come out and go full tilt, if we are going to have any success, especially against the caliber of teams we face,” Lockart told Kimball. “We don’t have the overall talent and size to just show up.”
The team was entering the tournament after their best two years in tournament history. The Green Wave had finished second in 1988 and fifth in 1989. With four seniors part of that group, the team had high expectations, especially with one of the most talented freshman basketball players in the state of Illinois at the time.
Freshman Kevin Trimble, starting to get significant minute, was described with “kangaroo leaping abilities.” Seniors Chris Wetzel, Willie High, and Mark Aguilar were a triple-threat on offense. Wetzel led the team with 17.5 points, followed by Aguilar at 16.9 points and High at 16.1.
Mattoon opened up the tournament with a 72-42 thump over Danville Schlarman. High started the game 0-9 from the field in the first half but finished with 20 points. It was also a special game for High as he joined the 1,000-point club. High only needed 13 points before the game. Aguilar led the way with 23 points, while Trimble added 11 points and nine rebounds. Aguilar was the next player on the 1,000-point radar as he had 907 by the end of the game.
“Mark took over there in the second quarter,” Lockart told Kimball. “We led by only four or five when he hit two or three shots in a row during one stretch to give us a comfortable lead.”
Mattoon’s next matchup featured a date with Paris.
The Tigers were without two starters and the Wave made easy work of team 71-57. Mattoon shot 51.9% from the field and made 13 of 19 attempts at the free-throw line. Trimble had a game-high 17 points, while the triple-threat of Wetzel, High, and Aguilar rattled off 13 straight points at one point to help the team take a 31-16 lead.
That included a 10 of 12 shooting mark during the second quarter. The Green Wave led 38-24. The Tigers clawed back to trail 44-39 with 3:26 left in the third quarter but an Aguilar baseline floater, a couple of free throws from High, and two 3-point field goals from Wetzel pushed the lead back to 55-39.
The real story after the game was that Trimble was given the first varsity start of his career. Lockart told him he would start gameday morning.
“I was a little nervous at the start, but after I got into the flow of the game, I felt confident in the second half,” Timble told Kimball.
To make the championship game, the Green Wave had to get past Rantoul. Eleven days before this meeting, the Green Wave were defeated by their Big 12 conference foe 83-70. Rantoul made this Final Four scenario after upsetting previously undefeated and tournament favorite Effingham 85-70.
Rantoul was not going to rattle off two impressive wins as all four seniors for the Green Wave had double figures in the 83-70 win. High had 24 points to lead Mattoon while Aguilar added 20 points. Wetzel finished with 17 points but the game ball was given to senior Kevin Millam, who was a perfect 4 for 4 from the field and 3 of 3 at the free throw line to finish with 11 points.
“If there was a game ball, it would go to Kevin Millam for the job he did,” Lockart said to Kimball. “He has sat out some in recent games but I had a feeling we would need his senior experience in the game and he responded. These points relieved some pressure off some of the other kids. If he can continue to score that kind of points, we are going to be a much stronger team.”
The championship was set between Mattoon and Belleville; however, the game lacked drama. The Green Wave opened up a 20-7 lead and never looked back. The Green Wave freshman sensation went scoreless in the first quarter but scored 25 points over the final three quarters.
Kimball even impressed Charleston High School Athletic Director Merv Baker, who regularly watched Derrick Landrus _ the state’s leading scorer.
“I can’t imagine our junior high team beating them last year with him on the floor (CMS upset MMS in the Regional Championship),” said Baker to Kimball. “He is so strong and mature for only being a freshman. He has a chance to be a good one.”
High was named the tournament MVP. In the championship game, High supplied 23 points and eight rebounds. For the four games, High averaged 20.5 points and 6.0 rebounds. Lockart believed that High was the right choice to win the MVP Award over Trimble.
“Yeah, I thought Willie was deserving,” Lockart said to Kimball. “The thing you appreciate about Willie is that he is so steady, night in and night out. He makes you feel comfortable having him on the floor.”
Mattoon ended a 28-year holiday tournament championship drought. At the time, the team’s last championship had been over No. 13 ranked Paris at the Paris Holiday Classic in 1962. The Green Wave had the town buzzing with their performance that longtime official Pete Love Jr. said that this team gave him flashbacks to the dynasty Lawrenceville squads that boasted Mr. Illinois Basketball and current EIU men’s basketball coach Marty Simmons.
“We haven’t had a team dominate this tournament as you did since those great Lawrenceville teams,” Kimball reported of Love saying to Lockart.
Mattoon featured several other awards as well. Mattoon was named the Community Spirit Award winner for its fans at the game. Mattoon Athletic Director Harry Gaines was the honorary tournament manager.