Basketball

NORMAL, Ill. — In the days leading to Saturday’s Illinois Basketball Coach Association Hall of Fame Dinner, Mt. Carmel head basketball coach Tyler Buss was able to joke with his phenomenally-talented younger sister, Tyra Buss.

“I thanked her for coming to my banquet, when in fact there were over 1,200 people there and a lot of them were there to see her,” said Buss, who as he watched his sister claim the state’s most coveted award, Ms. Basketball, for the second year in a row (only the third to win the award in consecutive years), won a boys’ basketball award as well — Region 20 Coach of the Year — for the first time.

“It was a neat experience to share that night with her and be a part of it.”

Thus, a most unique double-double was recorded by Mt. Carmel’s most decorated sports family. “A real special night for the Buss family,” he said.

Tyra’s prep totals read like a fairy tale: 4,987 career points (the second highest total in U.S. prep girls history) and 66 points in a single game (the school mark set against Princeton on Dec. 28, 2013) being the two most noteworthy of her countless achievements.

Yet, the Ms. Basketball award, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune and voted on by statewide media and school officials, had a bittersweet side to it, because it closed the book on a four-year career that also produced 112 wins, four consecutive Class 2A regional titles and two Big 8 Conference crowns.

The Mt. Carmel girl who first made local headlines as a youngster in NFL punt pass and kick and Elks Hoop Shoot contests will soon depart the Hilltop and her hometown for a collegiate career at Indiana University.

“I can’t believe the four years are already over,” said Tyler of Tyra’s high school time. “Freshman and sophomore year you’re just getting into things, then you blink your eye and she’s out there playing her last game. It’s been an emotional time, we’re obviously very proud of her.”

His own Aces boys team made headlines of their own, with a final record of 22-9 that stands as the century’s best. The team had five overtime games, including a double-OT 92-87 win over Flora that vaulted the team into its’ second straight sectional where the Aces eventually lost to Nashville, 63-55, in the finals at Du Quoin.

Mt. Carmel put together some of the best basketball performances of the recent past with uber-impressive routs of Pinckneyville (50-23) and Olney (61-30) in the Capital Classic (which the Aces won for the first time in school history), defending state champ Harrisburg followed by then-Big 8 leader

Mt. Vernon, Ind. (63-43) to win the first Carmi Invitational crown since 1981, before excoriating Carmi, 72-29, in the regional semifinals before a Hilltop audience.

“It’s exciting, but just like the individual awards on the player side, it shows the success the team had,” Buss said. “I was just very fortunate to coach a group who had a great season.”

It may have taken Buss only three years to achieve “coach of the year” status, but he is mindful that coaches with many more years under their belt never reach that level.

“I was talking to a former coach who said ‘cherish these because they are hard to get.’ Winning regionals isn’t something that happens every year.  We’ve been fortunate to win the last two and are fortunate to have something rolling in the right direction.”

The Aces lose four multi-year starters from the team. But, with assist-maven Levi Laws back for his senior season and an influx of new talent including 6-foot-5 freshman-to-be Jackson Marcotte, the cupboard isn’t exactly bare.

“We’ll see if I really earned that coach of the year award next year having to replace the talent we had,” Buss joked. “We are excited about our seniors coming up that in a lot of years would have played more but they just happened to be behind a talented group. We’re going to keep the same expectations.”

The event was held at the Bone Student Center on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal. Past coaches and players, along with officials, media and friends of the sport were named to a spot in the IBCA Hall of Fame. A meal preceded the awards program.

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