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Jacobson: Controversy draws sellout crowd to H-BR

Hinckley-Big Rock’s Jared Madden tries to put up a shot while under pressure from Mooseheart’s Makur Puou in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s game in Hickley. The Royals won, 58-51.
Hinckley-Big Rock’s Jared Madden tries to put up a shot while under pressure from Mooseheart’s Makur Puou in the second quarter of Wednesday night’s game in Hickley. The Royals won, 58-51.

Hinckley-Big Rock coach Bill Sambrookes never had seen anything like it.

More than 30 minutes before game time, H-BR’s gym was packed, every seat filled with fans waiting to see Mooseheart vs. H-BR. This didn’t happen for regional or sectional finals, let alone a nonconference game in early December.

“I don’t remember having to turn people away,” Sambrookes said. “I knew we were going to have a big crowd, I don’t know that we were expecting to have to turn people away.”

If it wasn’t for my press pass, I’m not sure I would’ve been allowed in.

For those who missed it, H-BR rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter for a 58-51 victory, putting to rest any questions of outside distractions.

“There was a lot of chitter-chatter and we couldn’t let that get to us,” H-BR senior Zach Michels said. “We just stayed composed this entire week because it was a crazy week with all the attention.”

Sambrookes said he talked to his team at Tuesday’s practice, explaining his side of the story so they wouldn’t have to ask any questions.

What was his intent in sending an email to the IHSA?

“I never had an issue with the kids. I don’t have an issue with Mooseheart,” Sambrookes said. “I wanted to have an answer from the IHSA about how can a public school that we are and a school like Mooseheart, who is bringing kids in from foreign countries, international students. How is that even? How is that fair? How is that a level playing field?

“I never got that answer from the IHSA.”

While Sambrookes may have a point, the debate over how to differentiate and classify schools based on their ability to recruit is an entirely different issue for another day.

But the IHSA will rule on Monday whether Mooseheart’s three Sudanese basketball players will remain eligible for the rest of the season.

Mangisto Deng, Makur Puou and Akim Nyang came to the school with the help of an organization called African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education (A-HOPE). The organization – founded in 2004 and based in Indiana – has brought over several African youth who have gone on to successful college basketball careers, including former UCLA star Alfred Aboya, who was part of three consecutive Final Four teams.

The name of the organization may draw suspicion, but sometimes things can look funny.

Mooseheart isn’t exactly a basketball powerhouse. The school’s last significant basketball accomplishment was a district championship in 1964.

The school has a history of taking in students from outside the area, and the three players also sat out last season. I don’t think the school administration all of a sudden had the idea of trying to turn Mooseheart into a dominant athletic program.

Two very good basketball teams played Wednesday night and the possibility exists that Mooseheart and H-BR could meet again. Last year, the two teams were paired in the same Class 1A regional.

Let’s hope the IHSA doesn’t forget its own mission statement, which, along with supervision and control of interscholastic activities, also includes promotion of athletics.

“I think it’d be a great matchup,” Sambrookes said of a potential rematch. “It was a great basketball game. They gave the crowd a great show.”

And hopefully next time, everyone who shows up will get a chance to see it.

• Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Contact him by email at

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