BELVIDERE, Ill. - I sat with Jordan King about 30 minutes after the final buzzer sounded on her Hononegah Indians' sectional victory over arch rival Boylan Thursday night.
We talked for a good while in the cavernous, now nearly empty gym at Belvidere North emptied out, sitting on what had been the Titans bench.
It hadn't been long since that gym had been packed to standing room capacity with a bipartisan, roaring crowd looking on.
It was the kind of atmosphere that I wish every high school athlete could experience, even just once, in their careers. The kind of environment that I step in and immediately know this will be one of those nights I'll never forget.
And nobody shined on the big stage like Jordan did. She scored 24 points, but did so much more than what you might find in a standard boxscore. She tipped rebounds out to teammates, got in the passing lanes to stop potential Titan tun-outs, and controlled the ball down the stretch to close the game out.
After the game I watched as King, long the alpha-dog on a team blessed with skill and character but sometimes lacking in confidence and physicailty, cut down the first strand of the net, and later the last.
I watched her accept well-wishes from people she had known all her life, and from those who had seen her play for the first time that night, but didn't want to leave the gym without telling her congratulations.
Was this the best night of her basketball career?
Yes, came the response, bu the smile on her face and the gleam in her eye told much more than words could say.
Finally, she had gotten her team over the hump. The one they hadn't been over since 2005. She'd also slayed the beast known as Boylan, the team that had given the Indians so much trouble over the past three years.
I've watched Jordan turn from a skilled, skinny freshman to become the best player I've ever covered. That doesn't mean her journey has been easy. Some teams on the schedule seemed to have "Let's beat Jordan King up as much as possible without being arrested for assault" as the number one thing on the scouting report.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a fourth straight disappointing playoff loss.
After the Indians fell to the Titans in January, King and her team have gone on an absolute tear, punishing opponents on a nightly basis. They blew out their first three playoff opponents, and won rather comfortably Thursday.
There would be no letdown, no inexplicable crunch time collapses, no games where shots didn't fall or loose balls weren't collected. There was, simply, solid basketball, night after night. King led the way, of course, but her teammates helped carry the load.
We sat on that bench, in that nearly empty gym, and talked about how great it was she got to put on the uniform one more time.
Jordan walked out of the gym with her family, the way it should be, with the sectional championship trophy tucked away under her right arm. She'd earned it.
The beauty of it is, these Indians aren't done. Far from it. They have a winnable game against Wheaton-Warrenville South on Monday jn Streamwood.
Good news for Jordan? She gets to put on another show, in front of friends, family and an appreciative fan base, and with teammates she loves.
Good news for me? I get to watch it again, and tell the story of a remarkable player and the best team in school history.