At 6-foot, 185-pounds, Daeshawn Hemphill hopes to do some damage at fullback or linebacker — or both — for the Evanston football team in March and April.
But first things first. The Evanston senior still has some unfinished business left on the basketball court, and the hard knocks on the football field might actually be easier than the task that’s fallen on Hemphill this week.
Guarding players a half foot taller and 30 pounds heavier, Hemphill mustered up enough energy to deliver big play after big play in the final 90 seconds of a gutsy 64-57 victory over rival New Trier Friday night in Winnetka.
The Wildkits (13-1 overall) rallied from a 10-point deficit early in the third quarter for a sweet win over their neighbors to the north and remained deadlocked with Glenbrook South atop the Central Suburban League South division standings.
Hemphill had to deal with a 6-foot-6 opponent in most of Wednesday’s triple overtime win at Maine South and Friday’s assignment was just as demanding. The Trevians (6-2, 5-2 CSL South) rotated in 6-foot-8 junior Jackson Munro (game-high 23 points) and a half dozen other players 6-4 or taller in an attempt to dominate Evanston’s new-look 5-guard lineup.
But Hemphill had the last laugh, delivering a couple of key steals and a critical 3-point basket with the game and the division lead at stake in crunch time.
“I told Dae Dae that no one has sacrificed more than he has, with football (practice) starting this week, and he made that sacrifice pay off. He wasn’t going to waste an opportunity. He wanted to make a statement while he still can,” said Evanston coach Mike Ellis.
“To see it pay off tonight, I’m just so happy for him. He’s hit some big 3s in his career, when teams forget about him, and this makes two games in a row now that his interior defense has earned victories for us. I think people underestimate his strength inside. He defends really well before the catch (by an opponent) in the post, and after the catch, that’s when we try to help.
“Everybody hit a crucial shot tonight against (shooting) rhythm. They still made those plays, and that’s what senior teams do. These guys just will themselves to win. Seniors are capable of finding ways to win even when the matchups aren’t in your favor, or the shots aren’t falling. No matter what the circumstances are, seniors find a way.”
One of those seniors, Hemphill, still believes there’s more than a conference championship to play for, too. The Wildkits want to represent the CSL South in a season-ending invitational tournament involving elite teams from the Chicago area, an unofficial state championship since no Illinois High School Association state finals will take place this year because of the pandemic for the second straight season.
Beating New Trier again in Saturday’s rematch at Beardsley Gym should secure a chance to play on the final weekend.
“It’s all about toughness, sacrificing your body, doing whatever it takes,” Hemphill said. “I’ll do anything to get the job done. I’ll guard a 1 through a 5, whatever it takes. We were the toughest team down the stretch tonight and that’s why we came out on top.
“Sure, football is on my mind. I really want to get out there with the guys, but I have to take care of business here first. This team needs me here and we want to win that state championship.”
Evanston was clinging to a 56-55 lead when Hemphill fired in a 3-point basket from the left side with 1 minute, 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter. He forced one turnover, knocking the ball loose, but ETHS couldn’t capitalize.
So on the next trip down the floor, the senior swiped a pass underneath the basket and this time Isaiah Holden’s 3-point shot found nothing but net and there was no catching the Wildkits in the final 43 seconds.
Hemphill finished with 7 points, the only ETHS starter who didn’t reach double figures. Blake Peters (20 points), Elijah Bull (14 points, 5 assists), Holden (13 points) and Rashawn Bost (10) gave the Kits four players in double figures for the first time this season, and all 5 contributed 3-point baskets.
As a team, the Kits buried 11-of-16 3-point attempts after shooting just 32 percent from beyond the arc entering the game.
“We had more opportunities to set our defense tonight because we were making shots,” Ellis pointed out.
Munro, a junior, bullied the Kits inside and made 10-of-11 from the field. But the rest of the Trevians combined to sink only 13 of 32 shots, 4-of-11 in the third quarter when the momentum shifted to the visitors.
Peters poured in 8 straight points to pull ETHS back from the brink after they fell behind 42-32 on a pair of Munro free throws. The lead changed hands 7 times in the third period, which ended in a 42-42 tie when Munro threw in a three-quarter court length shot that swished at the buzzer, to the delight of the three dozen New Trier fans in attendance.