Columbus North girls basketball coach Pat McKee knows his team’s inclusion in the Coaches vs. Cancer High School Shootout on Thursday in St. Louis is a tremendous honor.
He also knows that his players haven’t spent much time thinking about the national showcase event.
In the midst of their regular-season grind, the Bull Dogs (11-1 and ranked No. 3 in Indiana) have other, more important priorities.
“They were excited the other day when I cut 20 minutes off practice,” McKee said.
The enormity of Thursday’s challenge (1:30 p.m. tipoff) might not hit the Bull Dogs until right before they take the court for their game against Rock Bridge (Mo.) at the Scottrade Center.
“Some of that will come when it is happening,” McKee said. “And I really haven’t talked tons about it. We really do go with a one-game-at-a-time approach.
“But this is, in a way, like playing in the state finals. We will be playing in a facility similar to our state finals venue, similar to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. And the quality of the team we are playing is very, very good. They have great size and tremendous players across the board. They have six players who have signed to play Division I.”
Rock Bridge, the Class 5 defending state champion in Missouri, is 8-2 this season, with its losses coming against out-of-state, nationally-ranked opponents by a combined four points. The Bruins have seven players on their roster who are 5-foot-11 or taller, including two players who are 6-4. Columbus North has two players on its roster 5-11 or taller.
Bruins’ 5-11 senior guard Chayla Cheadle has signed with Kansas, and her sister Kayla is a 6-1 senior guard who also will attend Kansas but play volleyball. Cierra Porter is a 6-foot-4 junior center who has committed to Missouri.
Also headed to Missouri for Rock Bridge are 6-2 senior forward Bri Porter and 6-1 junior guard Sophie Cunningham. Audrey Holt, a 6-1 senior forward, will play basketball at Missouri State.
North certainly has its share of Division I recruits in junior Ali Patberg (Notre Dame) and seniors Kelsey Cunningham (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Tayler Goodall (Florida Gulf Coast), but it certainly doesn’t have the size to match up with the Bruins.
“As big as they are, they can do some things we don’t see regularly,” McKee said. “But they have to guard us, too. The question is ‘Can we do what we do?’ If they can compete with us on the perimeter, then we have some big challenges.
“But I expect us to compete, and compete well. Our kids have played enough, and they’re smart enough to handle these situations.”
The Coaches vs. Cancer High School Shootout is in its fifth season and it matches premier high school basketball teams from throughout the country to help raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
Thursday’s event features 16 teams from Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky. Two of the eight games feature girls basketball. Besides North and Rock Bridge, Incarnate Word Academy meets Regis Jesuit of Colorado.
A year ago, when North was the No. 1-ranked team in Indiana, McKee received an inquiry from Coaches vs. Cancer organizers asking if the school would be interested in attending the event. North received a formal invitation and contract in April.
“The moment you cross the state line, there are special circumstances (when it comes to making a trip),” McKee said. “This will be an overnight trip for us. We are going on Wednesday and coming back after the game on Thursday.”
The trip had to be approved by the school corporation, but it was obvious it would provide the Bull Dogs with a great experience.
“We want to give our players special memories,” McKee said. “We want to create things that they will remember when they are 35 or 45 or 75. In the regular season, we try to craft one or two things a year that are special.”
North beat Anderson County (Ky.) 62-42 in the Louisville High School Hoop Fest on Dec. 14.
McKee admitted that this trip is even more special to him.
“I grew up in St. Louis,” he said. “There will be people there who never have seen a team that I have coached. That makes it fun.
“My first-grade (St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Crestwood) teacher, Connie Dorsey, is going to try to attend. She is 99. Her daughter, Addie Tomber, was my fifth-grade teacher, and she is going to be there.”
The North girls will spend time at the Gateway Arch Museum of Westward Expansion. However, McKee said the Bull Dogs won’t have much down time to experience other educational opportunities.
He noted that the event gives North stipends to reduce the cost of the trip. McKee said that the overall cost of the trip would be even less than a trip to Pike in Indianapolis.