One of the greatest basketball teams in Rockford history and one of the greatest sports stories in Rockford history is the 1993 Guilford Vikings boys basketball team. The Vikings finished second in the State that year in class AA.
That is an impressive achievement, but what added to the Vikings’ story was how they got to State and the imposing opponent they met in the championship game.
The ’93 Vikings team picture is captured in time in Guilford’s trophy case. A talented group of teenagers with a 25 year old head coach Mike Miller. The same Mike Miller who now coaches Hononegah.
“There’s times when that seems like such a long time ago, and you see some of the pictures and you see how some of have aged. Me not so well,” says Miller with a smile.
The Vikings had a ‘big three’ of athletic point guard Johnny Rucker, equally athletic forward Tony Fletcher and 6-8 center Ben Holmstrom. But the talent didn’t end there.
“We had good players…Brian Thiede, Chuck Hanserd, Dan Kroger, all these guys were…Kevin Rennert. They were solid good players who did the right things,” says Miller.
Despite that talent there were some bumpy moments that season. The Vikings lost six games during the regular season. There were some mid-season injuries that slowed them up. The Vikings didn’t even win the conference. Boylan did.
“The conference was great that year,” says Miller. “Every night was a dogfight and then we just kind of caught fire.”
The Vikings went on a ten game winning streak at the end of the season and into the postseason, but there was another bump in the Sectional Semifinals at Rock Valley College. Guilford trailed Auburn by five points in the final minute but the Vikings battled back.
“We were down but we decided we were going to start fouling with about three minutes left and they missed enough free throws to give us an opportunity,” says Miller. “We were down two with five seconds to go and Tony Fletcher gets a rebound and outlets it to Ben Holmstrom and Ben gave it to Johnny Rucker and Rucker goes fullcourt and banks in the shot.”
“They passed it to me and I go all the way down and as I’m shooting the jumper Theatric Ishmon, me and his hands collided together and I hit the shot off the glass and it was like crazy!,” says Rucker. “It was unreal!”
“Without that shot we don’t get the opportunity to play Boylan and we beat Boylan by thirty-something in the Sectional Final, and then beat LaSalle-Peru (in the Super-Sectional) and then the dream started,” says Miller.
In those days there were only two classes A and AA. Eight teams in each went to Champaign to compete at State. It seemed the entire community of Rockford was behind the Vikings.
“That was one of the best things about the whole thing,” says Rucker. “You go against the Auburns and Boylans and all that all year long and then to see everybody on your side, the whole community, it was just, man it was awesome!”
“All of Rockford, I know we’ve had a lot of teams that have had success in a lot of different sports, but it seemed like that team, this town just adopted,” says Miller.
In the State Quarterfinal game on Friday night Guilford beat Edwardsville 48-40 to advance to the semifinals Saturday morning. That day didn’t start well for Holmstrom.
“He woke up and was just in terrible, terrible condition,’ says Miller.
“So that morning I got up went into the bathroom and passed out. I was basically unconscious,” says Holmstromg. “I think Frank Cushing has to break the door down to get into the bathroom.”
“Honestly I think I just had a really bad case of something, the flu, food poisoning. I don’t know what it was.”
Holmstrom didn’t start the semifinal game that morning against Palatine Fremd, but as the game went on he felt better. He played and played well and Guilford edged Fremd 60-58 to advance to the Championship game. That’s when things got really interesting.
Guilford’s opponent was one of the all-time great teams in Illinois history 31-0 Chicago King led by future NIU star point guard Ronald Minter and two giants…7-1 future Badgers’ star Rashard Griffith and 7-4 Thomas Hamilton.
“I’ve never felt so small in my life,” says Holmstrom. “At 6-8 you always felt tall and like you were ducking through doorways and then you run into that. It was definitely an experience.”
“I tell everybody after the game Thomas Hamilton shook my hand and his fingers were touching my elbow,” says Miller. “That’s how big (he was)! Our cheerleaders were posing for pictures coming up to his waist.”
“To get out there and see two seven-footers really took the cake,” says Rucker. “It felt like you were in the pros or something because this team was like ready. They came in with their leather jackets on.”
No one in the state gave Guilford a chance of beating King, but the Vikings believed in themselves.
“No competitor likes to think we don’t have a chance, and I don’t think we felt that way,” says Holmstrom.
“By that time of the year our guys were so bought in, and so believing that we did feel we could win,” says Miller.
“I thought we were going to beat them actually,” says Rucker.
And that belief continued deep into the game. Griffith got into some foul trouble meaning Guilford only had to deal with one of Kings’ giants for much of the game. The Vikings trailed by seven at halftime and again by seven after the third quarter. They were still within striking distance.
“At that point I think we thought we had a chance to keep it close and if we keep it close maybe we could win,” says Holmstrom.
“I still think, and I know I’m biased, we had a three-pointer rim in-and-out at the end of the third qaurter that would have cut it to four,” says Miller. “And I think if that shot goes in now all of a sudden the crowd kind of gets crazy, the pressure gets a little up, and who knows what could happen?”
What happened was King turned into King-Kong. The twin towers woke up.
“They went high-low with their seven-footers,” says Miller. “We hung but you know sometimes talent just takes over.”
King outscored Guilford 33-2 in that final quarter to make the final score 79-42. But Guilford had earned the respect of everyone.
“We hung so long I think everybody was just so proud of the effort that our guys put in,” says Miller.
“I’m very proud of what our team did,” says Holmstrom.
“Everywhere you go somebody reminds you of it all the time,” says Rucker. “It’s like you can never get over it. So it’s good to know that you did something postiive for the community. People still embrace that.”
“I think that’s one of the things that we all appreciate about sports is those guys are bound together for life and that shared experience is something that we’ll all cherish forever,” says Miller.
The ’92-’93 Guilford team will be inducted into the RPS (Rockford Public School System) 205 Athletic Hall of Fame on Saturday, February 25 at the Raddisson Hotel & Conference Center in Rockford.
The other inductees will be former Cubs pitcher Hal Carlson, former RPS 205 Athletic Director Diane Peterson, former Guilford golf coach Roger Lindemann, former Jefferson All-State running back and wrestler Leonard Bell, and former Auburn state champion diver Carrie Zarse (Velasquez).
For more information go to rps205.com or contact Emily Tropp at firstname.lastname@example.org.