SOUTH HOLLAND | Maybe the guy who is most impressed with how the Thornwood boys basketball team has performed without its star is the star.
Donte Thomas watched from the bench as his teammates struggled in the first half, then pulled ahead for a 75-49 Southwest Suburban Red win over Andrew on Friday night.
When the "go-to" guy goes down, sometimes it can leave a team searching for answers and looking for excuses. Not the case with Thornwood.
"They are playing well without me and I am glad to see that," the Bradley recruit said. "It has been really good to see them play hard. I want to come back and I think I will for the playoffs, but if they were struggling, it would be that much harder to watch. I might have wanted to come back early even I wasn't ready."
While no one person has taken complete control, a different player has stepped up each game and that is one of the reasons this team is having the success it has. There is no pouting or doubting, but players taking charge when they need to. Friday, it was Donzell Vinson, who ignited a big third quarter with four 3s and finished with 20. Another time it might be 6-foot-9 Kenny Bates with a block or a bunch of boards.
Rashaad Alexander picked up some of the slack right after Thomas went down. He got the game-winning basket in a tough road win over Crete-Monee. Chelby Frazier has knocked down some big shots and Kaliph Fagan has done a nice job.
What's funny is the first game after Thomas went down, the Thunderbirds (18-4, 11-0) played at Andrew and came away with a 49-47 win. Andrew missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
"You wonder what our spirits would have been like had we lost that game," Thornwood coach Paul Slavich said. "First game without Donte and we would have lost at the buzzer. That could have been a different story, but we also had a meeting with our kids and told them what we expected."
What was expected was Thornwood basketball -- crisp passes, but don't be afraid to shoot if you are open.
"We give them more of a green light now, where before we were creating things for Donte," Slavich said. "We tell them if you have a good look, take it. If not, kick it back out, look for another open guy."
There were high hopes and the Thunderbirds lost their first two games in the Chicago Heights Classic, but were not about to let two games dictate their season. Since then, Thornwood has won 18 of 20 games. You can credit good coaching and the players willing to adjust and play hard for the success.
You also credit the coaches and players for refusing to find excuses to lose, but rather reasons to be successful. If Thomas does come back in March and is healthy, look out!