Behind a trio of third-year starters, the Moline boys' basketball team won 19 of their first 21 games this season.
The Maroons climbed as high as No. 7 in the state rankings by early February and looked every bit like a Sweet 16 sectional final rematch for defending Illinois Class 4A state champion Belleville West.
However, dropping five of the final nine games cost Moline more than an outright Western Big Six Conference title. The Big Six co-champs also had their season cut shockingly short with a loss in their postseason opener.
"We should have gotten back," to the Sweet 16, said Deonte Billups, one of Moline's big three seniors, "but the season didn't end the way it was supposed to."
The consolation prize comes Monday, when Billups teams up one last time with old friends Brody Harding and Drew Wiemers in the boys game at the Iowa-Illinois Senior All-Star Showcase.
Augustana's Carver Center again hosts the 20th annual affair pitting teams of the top 12th-graders from both sides of the Mississippi River in separate boys and girls games.
Played under college rules on a college floor, the last blast also features a 3-point shooting contest for both sexes at halftime of the 6 p.m. girls' game, and a dunk contest at halftime of the 7:30 p.m. boys' game. Admission is $5.
"I'm really close with them," Billups said about Harding and Wiemers. "We've been playing together since middle school.
"The last four years went by so fast, it just doesn't seem real this is our last game together. It's been so much fun playing with those guys. We had a lot of success together and made some great memories. So to go out with them and have some fun together one last time is a great feeling."
Monday's game offers those three Maroons a better ending, too, after compiling a 67-24 record together the last three seasons and reaching the sectional as both sophomores and juniors.
"Also, I'm close with the guys from the rest of the Big Six. So to get a chance to play our last high school game together is a lot of fun," Billups said, pointing to Showcase participants from Big Six co-champ Rock Island (JaMir Price), as well as Alleman (Sam Mattecheck), Galesburg (Keith Cunningham) and United Township (Daveon Ellis, Jean Luc Wilson).
"To have all of our teams combined, it's going to be a great crowd and a great game."
The Showcase also affords Team Illinois a chance to reclaim a bit of the bragging rights lost in December when their cross-river counterparts claimed the Genesis Shootout.
"We didn't expect to lose that many games. Illinois just didn't come through at the time. But Monday will be our revenge day," promised Billups, named this weekend to the Illinois Associated Press 4A All-State first team.
"It's going to be a fun game. We know a lot of guys from the Iowa side, too. I know they're going to try and make it a competition so we're ready for them. A lot of us play for the QC Elite, so it'll be just like competing in practice there."
Moline's newly crowned all-time leading scorer hopes to become the local AAU program's latest addition soon to big-time college hoops.
After Monday's game, Billups takes advantage of Spring Break at Moline to visit a pair of Division I college suitors — Western Illinois and Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne.
Billups also is considering D-1 scholarship offers from Northern Illinois and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as well as D-2's Quincy and Winona State (Minn.). Junior college for a season also is a possibility before looking to transfer to a larger school.
The NCAA's Spring Signing Period to ink with a school begins April 17.
"I'm supposed to be going to an exposure camp in Chicago next Sunday," Billups said, "but I don't think I'm going to wait too much longer before I commit."
So the game plan for Monday is simple, as Black Hawk coach Darren Bizarri has told Team Illinois in practices this weekend.
"This game is all about having fun with the guys," Billups said. "The first 30 minutes, we're going to have as much fun as we can, and then go after the win in the last 10 minutes."