SOUTH HOLLAND | Wearing the favorite's tag in athletics can be a risky proposition -- just ask any members of the 1969 Baltimore Orioles or 1968 Baltimore Colts.
Those two teams were supposed to be nearly invincible. Unfortunately for them, the New York Mets and New York Jets never got the respective memos.
In Class 2A basketball, Seton Academy is the popular choice to rule over the field for the second time in the past four years. The Sting's 2008-09 club, led by former Times Player of the Year DJ Cooper, brought home the gold from Peoria.
Now, it's the current squad's turn to follow suit. Given the rugged schedule coach Brandon Thomas has guided his team through, Seton would seem prepared to clear any postseason obstacle in its path.
Thomas is taking nothing for granted, however.
"I was at Hales Franciscan when we were the favorites to win it all one year. We had JaVale McGee and Jerome Randle, two future pros, and we wound up losing to Herscher, (so) it can happen," Thomas said.
The Sting, though, already look different than most of their foes. While perhaps not as talent-heavy up top as Seton's state-championship unit, this year's roster has more depth -- so much so that Thomas routinely plays 11 or 12 guys.
"I just think it's a really good experience," senior guard Jordan Foster said. "Everybody gets some of those minutes and (to) be a part of the quality wins we have had. They don't worry about how many minutes they get; they focus on taking advantage of the minutes they do get."
"We've gotten contributions from just about everybody on the team at some point," Thomas said. "I like playing like that. It gives you a lot of options and it keeps everybody involved daily."
Only three years have passed since the Sting rose to the top of Class 2A, but that's almost ancient history to today's players. Just two members of the 2011-12 roster even attended Seton in 2008-09, so there is little actual connection to the title-winning squad.
"Of course, it's in the back of our minds because it was only three years ago," junior guard Kamal Shasi said. "We're not really playing under their shadows. We're just focusing on what we're trying to do, and we just play for each other and our coaches."
"I think we're going to make our own legacy," junior guard Mark Weems said. "We're all motivated and we're all hungry."
And according to Weems, the Sting have adopted an all-or-nothing approach to their championship quest.
"If we lose, yeah, we're gonna feel like we failed," Weems said. "The goal, even last year, was to win state. We come in looking to win."
Like his athletes, Thomas, who was on former coach Ken Stevenson's staff three seasons ago, tries to avoid drawing comparisons.
"I'm not walking around with the rings on or anything like that," Thomas said. "There's a part of them that probably feels like this is something that hasn't been done before."
Seven wins separate Seton from another championship. To achieve that goal, the Sting plan to wear foes down as much possible with continuous substitution, but Seton's mental acuity is as important as its physical presence.
"We know everyone's looking to get us out, so we're already going in (to the tournament) on our 'A' game," senior center Russell Robinson said.