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7 Days in Late December: X-Factor

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You figure out the tournament eight minutes into game 26, the second game of day four.

You now know the two teams that will play in the championship.

You saw Josh Cunningham and Morgan Park dominate Thornton Fractional South last night.

Stevenson High School is putting on a show against New Trier. Heading into the second quarter, New Trier hasn't scored. 20-0.

This is the first time you've seen Junior Jalen Brunson play.The point guard looks as good as advertised. Last year, he took a usually nondescript Stevenson squad down state, where they lost to Jabari Parker and Simeon in the 4A State Finals. This year, Stevenson is one of the best teams in Illinois. In terms of completeness, their team is neck and neck with Morgan Park.

You're already salivating at the potential matchup.

With 3:20 left in the half, New Trier makes a free throw and the crowd cheers louder than you've heard all tournament.

Thirty-six to 10 at halftime.

With three minutes left in the third and his team up by an impossible margin, Jalen gets pulled and the crowd cheers like crowds cheer when stars exit and take a final bow.

Morgan Park plays at night. You spend the rest of the day thinking about Morgan Park-Stevenson like it's guaranteed. Morgan Park beat them last year in the semifinals. But Morgan Park was different then, powered by senior leadership. Now, Morgan Park is younger. Stevenson's stars have matured. You try to work through the potential matchup, weigh strengths against weaknesses. You don't get anywhere. You think Jalen gives Stevenson the edge in the backcourt. But Josh Cunningham wins the frontcourt.

You wait, watch the other games play out and hope for Morgan Park to present an x-factor in their game against Maine South. You want something to tip the advantage away from the north suburbs. And then you remember you're a journalist. Or at least trying very hard to act like one.

When Maine South leads 22-25 at halftime, you don't panic because you're a South Sider. You panic because your story is in trouble. Maine South can't miss. They're well-coached and run smooth plays with first, second and third options. Most importantly, they're handling Josh.

Then the x-factor shows up and saves your story.

Junior Kain Harris takes over. For the second day in a row, you see domination. This time it's from behind the arch.

Kain hits a three to tie it up at 25.

Then another to extend the lead.

Then Maine South responds.

Kain gives them the lead again, with another three.

You've seen Kain play all season, but you never imagined him capable of something like this.

He hits six threes in the third quarter, gives Morgan Park the lead and they don't let go.

Final score: 60-56.

Kain finishes with 33 points and nine threes, one shy of tying the tournament record. Josh racks up a respectable 18, but Kain couldn't be stopped.
So there's your story, alive and breathing.

You wait outside the Morgan Park locker room after the game. You wait an hour for Nick Irvin to shower and come out, the team already on the bus. You know he loves Kain, you've seen it in practice. The way he demands a little extra from him. You've seen it in the press. When he referred to him as "Baby Kobe" to the Chicago Sun-Times. Once Josh graduates, this is going to be Kain's team. But you still didn't think Kain was capable of producing history.

You walk with Nick through the now deserted building, down a dark hallway and ask him what he said to his mini-Kobe before the game.

He laughs.

"I told him to be Mamba."

You get to your car, and don't realize your back hurts until you reach the highway.

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