Feb. 22, 2019

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --- A gathering of Helias basketball stars from days of glory past were honored Friday night, the Final Four teams from 1993-94.

Wow, 25 years ago ... a full quarter of a century.

That's not possible, is it?

"No, it's not," said Bill Blanton, who coached the Crusaders to those consecutive trips to the Final Four. "It's just incredible."

As were those teams, who were honored at halftime of the Helias-Rock Bridge game at Rackers Fieldhouse.

A total of 10 members from those teams were on hand, nine players and one manager.

"I keep a really good bond with a lot of these guys," Blanton said. "These kids (well, these kids are now in their early 40's) deserve the recognition."

Blanton coached the Crusaders for 11 years and is still the winningest coach in program history with 215 wins. If the recently retired Josh Buffington (195 wins in 10 years) would have coached one more season, he likely would have passed Blanton.

"Josh probably wishes," Blanton said with a smile, "he'd coached one more year."

The 1992-93 Helias team included All-State 6-8 senior Jason Eaton, who was also an Honorable Mention McDonald's All-American. Other than Eaton, however, this was not a big team.

"We essentially played with four guards --- (Chris) Amick and Eddie (Blanton) and (Jason) Ralston and (Chad) Laune," Blanton said of 1993 team, which finished 24-7 and third in the state. 

"And that made us really tough to guard."

The 1994 team, led by All-State guard Eddie Blanton, went 24-6 and also finished third.

"All those kids (the seniors) had played together since they were in fifth grade," Bill Blanton said. "That was really a tug at my heartstrings when they graduated, because they were such good kids and they all worked together really well.

"You know those kids so well as individuals, and then when you have a son in the mix, well ... it was just a special group."

Blanton feels the Crusaders had a good shot at winning it all in 1994. The year before? Not so much.

"We ran into the best high school team (Borgia) I've seen on our level," Blanton said. "They had five kids who were all 6-5 and they all started, and they all went to college and played a sport --- basketball, baseball or football. They were all studs.

"That was hands-down the best 3A team in the state that year."

The next year, the Crusaders ran into Jennings in the semifinals. More to the point, they ran into 6-7 senior Kelly Thames, who went on to average 13 points a game during a solid four-year career with the Missouri Tigers.

"That was tough," Blanton said, "especially since the referees out there couldn't count to three. When you let a kid like that stay in the paint all night, we couldn't do anything with him.

"I was yelling 'three seconds' every time down the floor and couldn't get a call all night."

Still, what great memories.

"To have a team as good as we were --- and to be the first-ever Final Four team in Helias history --- was really special," Eddie Blanton said. "Then to be able to come back and do it the next year was even more special.

"It's an absolute pleasure to come back here after all these years."

The now retired Bill Blanton, 72, had nine stops during his 38-year coaching career, finishing 215-90 at Helias and 716-341 overall. He took three schools to the Final Four, including Fulton (1987) and Laquey (2009), and was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000.

But his heart remains at Helias.

"I still have real emotional ties to this place," Blanton said. "I think Helias made me a much better person and made me really embrace my faith."

This was a great halftime, which also featured the volleyball number of Ellie Rockers (12) being retired.

Sandwiched around the great stuff was the game, which was quite good for a half. The powerful Bruins (19-3, No. 5 Class 5) led only 28-23 at the break against the Crusaders (12-13), before pulling away for a 60-42 win in the regular-season finale for both teams.

But once districts start, who knows? Anything can happen.

Sure, perhaps it's a long shot, but maybe there will be a halftime ceremony honoring the 2018-19 Crusaders in 2044.

Loeffler's Link

Crusaders' 1993-94 Final 4
basketball teams honored

Tipton girls enjoying
historic season, still
hungry for much more

Former Helias Crusaders coach Bill Blanton addresses the crowd as members of his 1993-94 Final Four teams listen on during a halftime ceremony Friday night at Rackers Fieldhouse.

Chris Leuckel