Okay, so it's the Ohio Division II state championship game and one team has a player who became arguably the greatest basketball player of all time.
To a handful of players from St. Bernard, however, the concept of TEAM really meant that. For Roger Bacon High School, the 2001-02 may well be considered the school's greatest team ever.
The team would set a school record for the most victories (25-3) and won the Greater Cincinnati League title (13-1). Its legacy was made with a victory in one of the most talked about games in the history of Cincinnati prep basketball – a 71-63 victory over Akron St. Vincent-St Mary and its star player, LeBron James.
LeBron guaranteed victory in a TV interview the night before the state title game. A state-tournament record crowd of 18,375 packed Ohio State's Value City Arena. Most expected SVSM to cruise to its third straight Division II title with James. The Irish were 75-0 against Ohio teams in James' first three years, losing only three games against the best national competition.
A year before, the late coach Bill Brewer knew he would have a strong team, so he added a December game against James and the Irish at the MAC Center at Kent State. The game was tied at 66 with four minutes to go, and although SVSM won, 79-70, the Spartans vowed the next time would be different.
"The atmosphere in the locker room at the conclusion of that game was one of anger, but more importantly, opportunity," said Brian Neal, assistant coach at the time. "Every one of our players knew that while LeBron was a great player and SVSM a very good team, they were beatable. This was one of Coach Brewer's finest hours and probably the best coaching move that he ever made."
Roger Bacon was no team to overlook. The Spartans were tall, aggressive on both offense and defense, and determined. They had four double-figure scorers, led by 6-3 all-state guard Josh Hausfeld.
Brewer's plan to stop James was to not try to stop him. He hoped Beckham Wyrick could contain James man-to-man with Monty St. Clair and Frank Phillips taking turns and assigned the others including Dave Johnson, to shut down James' teammates.
His plan worked for the first three quarters. James had only eight points at halftime. Roger Bacon led by 11 late in the third quarter. But James brought the Irish back. He made a steal at half-court and soared for a thunderous dunk that brought the crowd to its feet. Then he hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to cut Bacon's lead to five. By then, James had four fouls, but he took over on offense. He moved to the low post and scored 13 points in the last eight minutes. He dunked to make it 66-63 with 30 seconds left. James then had a chance to tie the game, but he passed off, and a teammate missed a 3. Another Irish player's technical foul helped Bacon hold on.
James, who finished with 32 points, was gracious in defeat. He went over to the Roger Bacon bench and hugged and congratulated the Spartans.
Roger Bacon had four scorers in double figures (Hausfeld 23, St. Clair 15, Wyrick 14 and Phillips 13). SVSM had two. When it came time to pick the all-tourney team, it was those four Roger Bacon players and LeBron. Hausfeld was MVP.
The Spartans – the only Ohio team to ever beat LeBron – knew right away they had done something special. "They had the best player, but we had the better team," said Brewer, who died of a heart attack in 2007. "… the team chemistry this group developed was something quite special. They were a group of guys who genuinely liked being around each other," Neal said. "… As a show of solidarity and team building, the Spartans decided that they would all do something a little extreme, shave their heads … it was a bold move (and not a great look) for many of the other Spartans."
The team recently got back together as part of an ESPN production showcasing the 20th anniversary of RB's state championship and Neal noted, "The lasting memory from that weekend was seeing these guys who met each other as teen boys now laughing and sharing stories as men – as husbands, as fathers, as business owners, as coaches. They are champions in more than high school basketball."
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