The East Peoria Raiders have not had a winning boys basketball season since 2009-10, when they finished the season 15-12.
Coach Matt Wright has been in charge of East Peoria boys basketball since 2012-13 and believes he has laid the foundation to build a program that is focused on playing basketball the right way.
Each season of his tenure has progressed the program forward, Wright said. It is this method and philosophy that he believes will pay off long term.
“Every year has been about putting another brick in the wall. We talk all the time about what your legacy is going to be, building on previous years of success,” said Wright. “It’s not about blaming the guys that came before us, its acknowledging how much work they put into the program and building upon that.”
In Wright’s first season at East Peoria, the Raiders only won two games. However, each year since, their win total has increased.
“The wins haven’t been coming as fast as any of us want, but the wins have increased every year,” said Wright. “The frequency in which we are losing games by a wide margin is not near what it used to be. And that is because every group tries to honor the players that came before them.”
Wright knows that the responsibility of building the Raider’s basketball program is on his shoulders, but in order to be successful, his players must buy into his teachings.
“The biggest thing (my players) can do is truly believe that they can have an impact,” said Wright in regards of what the most important thing his players can do. “Knowing that they can go out there and win and knowing that they deserve to win. In the moments of adversity, they need to know that they are going to succeed.”
Brock Crippen, a senior forward for the Raiders, has seen the improvement grow drastically during his time at East Peoria.
“We are trying to set the tone for what it really means to play basketball at East Peoria,” said Crippen. “We are always making sure we are working hard to put in the time and effort. We don’t look at our record much as we look at practice to make sure we are improving each day.”
As a senior leader on the team, Crippen believes it is important to spread the message of working hard each day in practice.
“When you are an underclassman, you don’t really think about how quick (high school) goes,” said Crippen. “The underclassmen see that we are working hard in practice and it helps. It’s what you do when nobody is looking is what counts.”
Through six contests this season, the Raiders are 3-3, which is spearheaded by their strong showing at the Canton tournament to open the campaign.
“We started the Canton tournament 2-0 and had a chance to win a championship early in the season,” said Wright. “It has been a much been a much better start than we have had in recent years. The experience gained so far is something that will help us grow later on in the season.”
In a strong basketball conference such as the Mid-Illini, Wright knows that it is important to catch up to the rest of the conference if Raiders basketball is going to progress.
“We know what is going to be thrown at us (in the Mid-Illini) and really it has been our goal to chip away at a couple more conference teams,” said Wright. “For a while it was, ‘Hey lets make sure we finish ahead of one team,’ and now we are at the point where we want to be earning splits and sweeps of teams.”