A four-week stretch last January in which it beat Galesburg, Rock Island, Moline and United Township in succession provided an unforgettable run that made the Alleman boys' basketball team a Western Big 6 Conference title contender.|
Twelve months later, that all seems like a distant memory.
"I don't think we're a worse team than last year's team," Alleman junior forward Alec Diab said. "If we played basketball like we could, we'd be a lot better."
Three-fourths of the way through the regular season, the Pioneers acknowledge adversity is part of the reason they have won just six times in 20 games. One season removed from a historic month that featured clutch performances, a little luck and a lot of wins, Alleman is mired in a stretch that is testing the team's collective patience.
"There's no question the guys are disappointed in the way things worked themselves out," second-year Alleman coach Pat Rangel said. "They're still remaining optimistic — we still have five games left on our season schedule. We're looking to make them all Ws."
Constantly labeling himself as a "glass half-full kind of guy," Rangel reveals some frustration about a season that obviously has not reached expectations.
"There's no getting around the fact our team has faced a lot of adversity this year, probably more than most teams do," Rangel said. "That's something we have to fight through."
One practice earlier this week epitomized Alleman's season. And all it took was a glance at the stage on the east side of Don Morris Gym.With Rangel closing practice, seniors Dan Cutkomp and John Tracey sat near the corner of the stage as they nursed injuries. Those two account for nearly one-quarter of Alleman's points this season.So far, they have missed a combined total of 15 games because of injuries.
"You have to keep your head up," Diab said.
In the midst of a five-game losing streak, that appears difficult. At no time in those games has Alleman scored more than 50 points.
"We're missing opportunities," Alleman junior guard Kevin O'Keeffe said. "We need to slow the game down and focus."
More importantly, the Pioneers need to finish. Despite the losing streak, they have been close in recent games. In two losses last weekend, they were within four points in the second half. For some unexplained reason, Alleman lost its grip in both, suffering double-digit defeats.
"It's disappointing," O'Keeffe said. "We know what to do to get those teams beat. We just fall apart in the end."
Perhaps that is the most frustrating part about this season. Alleman is sometimes so close, but the results do not show it.
"One little mistake or a couple mistakes in a row put us over the edge," Diab said. "We just can't play basketball against good teams like that."
Spurts will not help the Pioneers escape this funk.
"If we play these last couple weeks like we can," Diab said, "we'll look a lot better."
Knowing that provides those on the team with some hope they can find the magic the team had one year ago.
"We can play spoiler," Rangel said.
And they believe they can play with anyone. Within the last few days, the Pioneers have embraced that belief.
Maybe that can ignite a run.
"We've realized what we need to do," Diab said. "I wish we would have figured it out a lot earlier."
Metro boys' basketball writer Daniel Makarewicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @danmak57
Big 6 boys' standings
School W-L Conf.
Quincy 15-4 6-0
Rock Island 16-4 4-2
Galesburg 13-12 4-2
Moline 15-9 2-4
Alleman 6-14 1-5
UTHS 3-18 1-5
Tonight's games (all 7:30 p.m.)
Alleman at Moline
Quincy at Galesburg
United Township at Rock Island