Hillcrest’s Royall honored with win
Updated: June 8, 2011 9:26PM
When Hillcrest’s Brent Buchanan leaned in, reached up and launched a shot at the end of overtime in Wednesday’s Hillcrest Summer Shootout game against Homewood-Flossmoor, he had three on his mind.
But he had 30 in his heart.
Thirty was the uniform number of teammate and friend, Ryan Royall, who was slain after leaving a birthday party early Sunday morning.
It was a moment Royall certainly would have relished, a chance to be a high school basketball hero. Buchanan, who replaced Royall in the starting lineup, wasn’t just shooting for himself.
“This is really Ryan’s spot because he worked hard for it,” Buchanan said later. “He came a long way. Now he’s my motivation.”
It was a swish heard throughout the Hillcrest community.
“That was for Ryan,” Buchanan said after Hillcrest’s 47-44 victory. “From now on, we’ve got to go all-out for Ryan.”
The Hawks returned to the court for summer league games Wednesday for the first time since Sunday’s tragedy. Hillcrest also played a second contest against Eisenhower, winning that one 67-54.
The basketball atmosphere was pretty intense, especially during the first game, when Hillcrest and H-F traded the lead bak and forth, battling torridly into overtime. Hillcrest senior-to-be, Ryan Troutman, one of the Royall’s best friends, put down a thunderous dunk at one point that brought the fans to their feet.
The Hawks played with a lot of energy, despite heavy hearts.
“They’ve done a great job,” Hillcrest coach Don Houston said. “They’ve been real resilient during the whole situation. They’re going out and doing a good job of keeping me going.
“When I’m around them, my natural instinct of coaching kicks in, and blocks everything out temporarily.”
The Hawks were scheduled to play in a summer league on Sunday. That morning, news began to pour in about Royall’s death.
The team instead gathered at Royall’s home to console his mother.
“She really appreciated it,” teammate Jalen Loving said. “She talked to my mom and told her that that’s what touched her heart the most, when everybody came over to give her a hug and told her that we were there for her.”
After they left, the players asked if they could go to the gym.
“Obviously I said yes,” Houston said. “So I let them come down to the gym and they shot around for about an hour, just to get their mind off of things. It was like a safe haven for them.”
Informal practices continued through Tuesday. Today, they are back on schedule.
But business as usual? Not likely.
No one will wear No. 30 during the 2011-12 season. Houston said that Royall’s current uniform will be framed and given to his mother. The players next season will wear patches on their uniform in his honor.
“This group of kids is so close-knit, I don’t think it’ll ever be business as usual as far as they’re concerned,” Houston said. “A part of us is missing. And when a part of you is missing, nothing is ever business as usual.
“But I think they’ll go out and play their hardest and everything. I told them, we never want to make someone’s death motivation or anything like that. But I told them that I would coach with him in my heart, and that they should play with him in their hearts.
“They let me know for sure that they would do that.”