It’s rare when a Southern Illinois high school basketball team has not one, but two Division I players.
That was the case with the Carbondale Terriers this season. Darius Beane signed with SIU, and Kani Acree signed with Ball State.
But after playing just eight games, Acree suffered a knee injury and hasn’t played since then. The 6-foot-5 senior average 19 points per game before his injury.
“You start to see a season with all these expectations and you feel like you should accomplish this or that,” said Carbondale coach Jim Miller. “You can’t feel sorry for us. Kani is the one that’s going through this. It has made our jobs a lot harder. At the same time, you do feel bad for a senior that has worked as hard as he has over the last four years to not get a chance to live his dreams. It is very frustrating for him. But he’s handled it as well as any kid I’ve ever had. He still shows up at practices and goes to all the games.”
What could have been a great season has turned out, well, pretty darn good. The Terriers are 19-5 overall and 8-1 in the South Seven Conference.
“The kids have responded very well,” Miller said. “I’ve got a lot of sophomores that have skills, but they just don’t know any better. They just go out and play. They work hard and do what we ask them to do. We challenged them, and they’re all about that. I couldn’t be happier with our young kids.”
Beane is averaging 19.3 points per game this season, including 22 each night since Acree got hurt.
“I’m very pleased with how Darius Beane has handled this situation,” Miller said. “I think it has made him a better basketball player. He makes the people around him better, and that’s the main thing a great player will do. He has developed trust in our kids, and the kids trust him. It has been a thriving environment for our players.”
The injury to Acree meant Carbondale’s opponents could throw whatever junk defenses they wanted to at Beane. But he and his teammates have excelled despite the unfortunate circumstances.
“That shows a lot of maturity on Darius’ part,” Miller said. “Last year, if somebody would have locked him, he would have gone in a shell. He understands that’s he’s going to draw a lot of attention. But he trusts his teammates and he involves them in everything. He’s working as hard off the ball as he ever has. He’s setting more screens and making people respect him. That opens up a lot of opportunities for his teammates. I’m very proud of him.”
The Terriers can earn a share of the South Seven Conference championship if they can beat Marion in the final league game on Friday, which takes place in Carbondale.
The sophomore trio of James Baltz, Davaris Macklin, and Clayton Greer has played a significant role in this success.
“James is really coming into his own,” Miller said of Baltz. “As a freshman, we threw him into the fire, and he responded exceptionally well. His stats weren’t very good, but they didn’t have to be last year. This year, he’s had to take a bigger role, and he has showed a lot of maturity and poise. He has a chance to be a special player. He’s learned from some great players and been in some challenging games.”
Zee Johnson and Seth Ousley, both seniors, have provided experience for this year’s team. Greer and Macklin have exceeded expectations.
“Watching those kids play as freshmen last year, I knew they had a chance to be very good for us,” Miller said. “But those two just continue to surprise me. They just play really hard. They continue to make us better.”
Carbondale beat Marion on the road by 17 points in early January. If the Terriers can knock off the Wildcats again, they’ll likely earn a share of the conference championship with Centralia.
“I’m ecstatic with the kids and how they have accepted the challenges,” Miller said. “They have surpassed all the expectations I’ve ever had for them. It all starts with Darius, but our guys have played well. You start the year with all the excitement and expectations, but then all of the sudden one of your kids goes down. You never know how the other players will react. We’re just really pleased with the progress they have made.”