The answer to Larry Bird's prayers for a white basketball savior might reside just off Highway 67 in Poplar Bluff

By the 1:38 mark, the Illinois team -- which will eventually claim the Peach Jam championship -- has clawed back to even at 59-59. All three of the Boot Heel boys are in the game. Tyler quickly grabs a defensive rebound and outlets to Ben. Steadying the tempo as his big men to assume their positions in the paint, Ben feeds Farmer, who hits Tyler down low for another up and under, this one abetted by a timely pump fake. Fouled on the play, Tyler converts the bonus shot.

Another Illinois miss begets a rebound by Farmer, who feeds Ben for a floater in the lane that salts the game away with 45 seconds to play. With six seconds remaining, Tyler hits two free throws to give him 33 points on the day to go along with 12 rebounds. Farmer finishes the 69-63 contest with a solid eleven points, nine rebounds and two critical assists. And after struggling through his team's first three games, today Ben has tallied four points, three rebounds, two assists and a hard-earned measure of respect from his teammates for captaining the second-half comeback.

The pride of Poplar Bluff: Brothers Tyler (left)  and Ben 
Jennifer Silverberg
The pride of Poplar Bluff: Brothers Tyler (left) and Ben Hansbrough
Tyler demonstrates the art of the 
breakaway dunk.
Jennifer Silverberg
Tyler demonstrates the art of the breakaway dunk.

The next morning, before the team's final Peach Jam game against the Alabama Lasers, Coach Claggett assembles his thirteen Eagles in a small room in the bowels of North Augusta's Riverview athletic complex.

"There's nothing better than a bus ride home after a win," the coach intones. "Besides, we owe them one," he adds, in reference to a loss at the hands of the Lasers earlier in the year.

Before the team takes to the court, assistant coach Long launches into a soliloquy regarding the type of interior tenacity it'll take to get off clean shots against Alabama's Richard Hendrix, a six-foot-eight, 260-pound man-child whom the pundits had ranked ahead of Tyler at power forward heading into Peach Jam. "You've got to go up strong against Hendrix -- otherwise he will put your stuff on the glass," Long stresses.

As the team prepares to break for pregame warm-up drills, Tyler raises his voice.

His teammates cut the chatter, anticipating a Gipper-esque speech from their stoic star.

"Eric!" he says, fixing his gaze on Webster Groves swingman Eric Jones. "You got that CD?"

Despite the relaxed mood heading in, by halftime the Eagles have dug themselves a ten-point hole and trail 34-24. Tyler, however, is playing a level game and has outscored Hendrix 13-10. More crucial, he has managed to coax two fouls out of his counterpart, putting the Alabama star in a precarious position entering the second half, which commences with Eagles guard Arthur Sargent sticking a long jumper and Tyler dunking in Hendrix's face.

With the Eagles down by six, Tyler draws a third foul from Hendrix. After a few fast breaks stretch the Lasers' lead to twelve, Tyler coaxes yet another Hendrix foul. The Laser luminary is forced to take a seat on the bench, cueing a furious Eagles run that results in a tie score at the end of regulation -- and, ultimately, a 68-63 Eagles victory. And as his players will proceed to prove on a raucous trip home, their coach knows what he's talking about:

There is nothing better than a bus ride home after a win.

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