CHAMPAIGN — Sonny Walker could only describe the first-ever Coleman Carrodine Alumni Game once it concluded Saturday night in one way.
“It was a success,” the former Centennial boys’ basketball standout said proudly.
The new event, organized by Walker, brought together past stars of Centennial and Champaign Central boys’ basketball for four quarters of exhibition fun at Coleman Carrodine Gymnasium.
The final result almost was immaterial.
Although the Maroons’ alumni no doubt would like folks to know they knocked off the Chargers’ alumni by a 124-82 margin.
More worth noting was how many spectators showed up on a sweltering summer evening to spend some time together under the banner of Champaign basketball.
The bleachers on both sides wound up nearly full by the time play tipped off. And there was no booing or jeering among the throng of attendees.
Just an enjoyable night reliving basketball memories, and making a few new ones.
“I don’t know what the numbers were, but it was a lot of people that came out and supported the community,” Walker said. “So I’m just happy.”
Among the event’s features were a DJ at one end of the floor, a halftime musical performance and various basketball shooting contests for kids during breaks in game play.
A Carrodine-named scholarship was also announced, to be given to multiple Champaign athletes. And plenty of individuals desired a photo opportunity with Hall of Fame and former Central coach Lee Cabutti, who sat courtside for part of the game.
What had the crowd most fired up, though, was the basketball itself.
“It makes me feel good,” Walker said. “With all the negativity we’ve had in the town the last few years, that we can get something positive and get a whole bunch of people together … I’m just happy and I’m proud of the community.”
Fans were invested in the action from the opening jump ball.
They popped for a no-look, behind-the-back pass from Quin Nottingham to Kasey Carter that gave Centennial a pair of first-quarter points.
They rose to their feet when former Maroons teammates A’Kieon Gill and Tim Finke connected on an alley-oop dunk.
They threatened to tear the roof off the gym when Central’s Germaine Roebuck threw down thunderous dunks on back-to-back possessions — the first a two-handed slam, the second a one-handed jam.
“It was awesome,” Walker said. “It was still competitive and a good atmosphere. The Central guys deserved it. They won. They played hard. But we’ll come back next year and see what happens.”
Finke is preparing for his final season of Division I basketball at Wright State. The 2018 Maroons graduate finished summer workouts with the Raiders on Thursday, meaning he was in tip-top shape for this showcase.
“It’s cool. I actually loved that they put this together,” said Finke, whose older brother, Michael, was supposed to play for Centennial before a professional commitment pulled him away. “To bring the community together and then to bring us players, people who haven’t played together but know each other, makes it fun.”
Save for the final few minutes, when players resorted to showing off their three-point shooting range or dunking skills, the game featured plenty of intensity and fast-paced action.
“I didn’t think it was going to be like that coming in when I was asked to play,” Finke said. “But all week leading up, there was talk it was going to be serious. … It was fun. It was a good game.”
Jeff Johnson, a junior on the 2008-09 Chargers team that won a Class 3A state championship and who wound up playing in college at Eastern Kentucky, served as one of Centennial’s coaches on Saturday night.
“For both of these programs, there’s a lot of great basketball talent and great athletes in this area,” Johnson said. “Bringing on that tradition of doing things the right way and having integrity and just loving the game … that alone was worth showing up for. It’s a great cause.”
Spence Johnson, a 2006 Central graduate, was named the game’s most valuable player after producing 19 points, including 11 in the first quarter. He and fellow 2006 Maroons graduate Jordan Lee were the two oldest players to hit the floor.
“It’s cool, man,” Jeff Johnson said with a smile. “Some of them are still in pretty good shape, for sure. It’s crazy now that I’m 30. They’re still going, so more power to them.”