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A LASTING MEMORY: CARBONDALE'S JUSTIN DENTMON IS THE SOUTHERN'S BOYS BASKETBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR

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Past all those memories of a spin move, a leaning 3-pointer, and over 700 points, Justin Dentmon made sure he put something at Carbondale High School that people won't forget this season.

A white flag with the numbers '28,' '7,' and big letters that say 'fourth.'

"I'll remember playing with some hard workers and coaches that treated us like sons," said Dentmon, The Southern's Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

"I'll definitely remember going to state, and putting a banner up in the Carbondale High School gym. Once you got that, nobody can take that away from you."

Not many seemed to be able to take away Dentmon's touch with the basketball this season.

Carbondale's only returning starter from last year's 24-6 squad, the 6-foot-1 senior point guard led the Terriers in scoring in 28 of their 35 games this season and earned the school's first Class AA State Tournament berth since 1994 with two free throws.

After drawing a foul with 0.3 seconds to go against East St. Louis, Dentmon's two free throws untied a game knotted at 56 and lifted Carbondale to Peoria.

Against one of two Chicago Public League representatives in the winningest field in state history, Dentmon poured in a game-high 26 points to help the Terriers top Chicago Simeon in the first round, and earn the school's first trophy since finishing second 10 years ago.

Carbondale finished 28-7 and began the year the same way it ended it - with a two-game losing streak.

After the win over Simeon, Dentmon was the leading scorer in the tournament, and was all but unstoppable in Peoria, aside from a scoreless fourth quarter against eventual champ Peoria Central.

He finished with 773 points his senior season, was named to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association all-state first team, and became the fourth Terrier to win the region's player of the year award in the last 10 years. He was also named to the Associated Press Class AA all-state first team.

"He leads by example. He has all year long," Carbondale coach Jim Miller said. "He was the hardest worker on the floor. He was the focal point of every defense we went against this year, and yet he still gets his points."

Dentmon said the most difficult game of the season was at Peoria's Carver Arena, where the Terriers faced the defending champs and about everyone Central coach Chuck Buescher could throw at him.

"Peoria Central was the hardest I ever had to work to get my points," Dentmon said. "They sanded me - they put a new guy out on the floor every other possession. That was the only real game I didn't have Alex (Spearman) that we needed to win.

"I tried to get my other teammates involved, and tried to fill in for him, and they stepped up.

But it wasn't enough." One of three Most Valuable Players in the South Seven Conference, along with Centralia's Matt Shaw and Belleville Althoff's Kevin Lisch, Dentmon made 8-of-14 from the floor and 4-of-5 free throws against the Lions.

He was 5-of-6 from the 3-point line, tying the game with a triple with 27 seconds to go in the third quarter, but missed his only two shots in the fourth quarter and could only watch as Central pulled away.

Buescher, who was 528-186 in 25 years heading into the game, said he tried to run as many people as he could against Dentmon.

"It's not a defense we normally play," Buescher said after the state semifinal, which his team won 58-47. "First, we had Brandon (Lee) guard him, then we threw (Jeff) Wires at him, and you guys won't believe me, but we considered putting (DeAndre) Miranda out there and making him shoot over someone who was 6-6."

When Spearman, the team's second-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder, went down with a possible stress fracture in his left foot, Dentmon took even more of the scoring load, although he tried to get his teammates involved more.

With classmates Tommy Holder, Lawrence Blackledge and Spearman, Dentmon formed a formidable foursome that only got better when juniors Michael DeWalt and Steven Haynes started alongside them. Junior Phillip Fayne rounded out the top seven that helped Carbondale win its third boys basketball banner in its 14th overall state appearance.

After this weekend's Riverwar All-Star Game in St. Louis, Dentmon will prepare for the IBCA All-Star Game in Bloomington and the Du Quoin All-Star Game later this summer before heading off to Normal and Illinois State.

The Redbirds finished 10-19 overall and 4-14 in the Missouri Valley Conference, but could return as many as 13 players for coach Porter Moser's second season.

Dentmon expects to compete his freshman season, which will either be on scholarship or as a partial academic qualifier.

"They just told me that I'm going to be a key factor coming in as a freshman, and play a big role in their team chemistry," Dentmon said.

In between his three allotted all-star games by the Illinois High School Association, Dentmon said he'd spend his summer working out with cousin Maurice Gibbs, who was last year's co-player of the year with Du Quoin's Nick Hill. Gibbs was Moberly Area Community College's leading scorer last season.

Even after his basketball days are over, 'J.D.' said he could still come back and visit his alma mater, and remember the eight wins over ranked teams and how a team picked third in its conference ended up fourth in the state.

"We all had one goal, and wanted to make that goal," Dentmon said. "We didn't have anybody on the team that was ready to get the season over with, like we had some other years.

"Everybody wanted to see the season continue on."

todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com 618-529-5454 x15087

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