Photo by Diane Cox
The Alton Redbirds pose with the Alton Tip-Off Classic championship trophy on Nov. 29 at AHS.
GODFREY — Fresh from winning their own boys’ basketball tournament title, the Alton Redbirds are seeking new courts to conquer.
Another adventure begins Friday. The Birds fly into Southwestern Conference competition.
Alton, 4-0, debuts in league play at home against 0-3 East St. Louis, which lost all of its tournament games in the Decatur Thanksgiving Tournament. Next Tuesday (Dec. 9), the Birds travel to O’Fallon in an interesting early-season league matchup.
The Redbirds, the Flyers and the Panthers are considered contenders in the eight-team SWC. Edwardsville went 13-1 to prevail last season and the Tigers finished fourth in the Class 4A IHSA state finals in Peoria.
“I don’t see a dominant team in the conference this season,” Alton coach Eric Smith said. “We’re going to need to play with a lot of intensity all of the time because every night is going to be a battle.
“East St. Louis is very talented and O’Fallon will be good.”
Nobody is overlooking Collinsville, Edwardsville, Belleville West, Belleville East or Granite City, either. The Redbirds entertain Granite City on Dec. 12 and go to Collinsville on Dec. 19. There’s a Dec. 13 date at the Ramey Shootout in St. Louis against a Memphis squad. And at the end of month — Dec. 29-31 — the Redbirds participate in the Centralia Holiday Tournament.
“There’s more parity in the conference, so I don’t see anybody going unbeaten through it the whole season,” said Smith, starting his third season at AHS.
There’s reason to believe the Redbirds could be in the thick of things. They haven’t won the league title outright since 1979-80, when John “Main” Smith and Troy Washpun directed things from the guard spots. They last shared it with East St. Louis seven years ago.
“I think we have a chance to make some noise in the conference,” 6-foot-1 senior Isaiah Thurmond said. “We play hard.”
They delivered plenty of that gritty effort in the Tip-Off Classic. Alton defeated Northwest Academy of St. Louis, 67-58; Jacksonville, 52-37; Vashon of St. Louis, 66-36; and Chatham Glenwood, 52-41. Glenwood went 3-1 to take second and 2-2 Jacksonville took third in the five-team, round-robin event.
Darrius Edwards, Carlos Anderson and Bryan Hudson of the Redbirds were named to first team, all-tourney. Sophomore Maurice Edwards earned second-team recognition.
They had ample contributors along the way. Isaiah Thurmond gave them a boost in the win over Glenwood. He scored eight points and was one of six players guarding Cole Harper. They held the Titans’ top gun to 17 points.
“Isaiah was very aggressive on the offensive end and he did a good job defensively,” Smith said. “He’s a very physical player.”
Smith relied on the Birds’ depth to exert itself every tourney game. Alton’s deep bench could be its main strength.
“They are strong and quick and have a lot of talent,” Glenwood coach Todd Blakeman said. “We’re a work in progress. We’re still learning.”
So are the Redbirds. They’re wondering how good they can become. Their first two conference contests should give them a primer about life in the SWC this season.
“It could be different guys leading us every night,” said Smith, intrigued by the possibilities.