After winning the South Suburban Conference Red Championship in each of the last two years, the Oak Lawn Community High School boys basketball team faced a huge challenge this season and especially Tuesday night in Blue Island as the team took on Eisenhower with the title on the line. Both teams had identical 11-1 conference records entering the contest--it was winner take all.


It may have taken a little extra effort and heart, and a breakout performance by sophomore Omar Saleh, however, the Spartans ultimately pulled off the victory and hoisted the conference plaque for the third year in a row after beating the Cardinals, 62-54.


Junior Donte Montgomery led the attack with a game-high 23 points for Oak Lawn, and Saleh added 14 big points to help the Spartans prevail. As a team, Oak Lawn attacked the boards all night and played its usual tenacious defense.


“As I told our guys after the game, we’ve had a couple teams in the past have their hearts broken and conference championship aspirations dashed with a late-season loss at Eisenhower,” head coach Jason Rhodes said. “To win one in that gym was really special. This one was for the classes of 2018 and 2020 that helped lay the groundwork for what has happened here the past three years.


“Our league was up for grabs on our side with no clear favorite between us, Eisenhower, and Evergreen Park. Each team had its own style of play with excellent guards. We were fortunate to have a few things go our way, but luck also favors the prepared, and I would like to think our players were prepared well for the rigors of the season.”


This season has been unique for the Spartans, as they mixed and matched different combinations on the court and counted on contributions from a ton of different players to win the title. It was a true team effort.


“Our two most consistent performers have been Donte and Jack Dempsey, both underclassmen,” Rhodes said. “They have great chemistry together on the court, and both guys are excellent shooters, playmakers, and rebounders as guards. They have been the constant in our lineups and provided the team with stability when it was needed—it’s very difficult to take either one of them off the floor.


“We had more different starting lineups for a winning team than any I’ve ever coached. The kids did a great job holding down the fort when senior Corey Lee was out for a month with his injury, and it forced them to expand their roles and for us to build a deeper bench, which ultimately proved to be a benefit for our players and our team. I’m proud of unsung seniors like Kyle Brennan and Sean Ryan, who may not get a lot of the spotlight but who play with an edge and always try to give our team what it needs to be successful. They are contributing and impacting winning.”


With the conference three-peat in hand, the Spartans now focus on their upcoming Illinois High School Association Regional game with Reavis next week at Kenwood Academy.