As soon as his junior season ended, Richmond’s Mike Tillman went right back to work on improving for his senior year.
It wasn’t all about basketball, though.
“He began working out with a personal trainer,” said RHS coach Joe Luce. “It wasn’t about getting more shots, or becoming a better ball handler. He wanted to work on his agility, his foot speed. He did that throughout the entire spring and summer, and all fall, until the season started.”
Once the season started, Tillman’s hard work was apparent. It paid dividends, both individually and for Tillman’s team.
Tillman is the 2013-14 Palladium-Item Player of the Year for boys basketball. Red Devil coach Joe Luce is the Coach of the Year.
Richmond returned to championship form this season, with the Red Devils earning their first North Central Conference crown in more than a decade, and their first outright title since 1988.
They didn’t stop there. The Red Devils also ended a sectional championship drought that dated back 18 years.
“Just being a part of that team, and being the team to break that trend, it’s a great feeling,” Tillman said.
Richmond teammates Joel Okafor and Davious Webster were also considered for the Player of the Year honors, while several area coaches were strongly considered for that top spot.
Northeastern’s Brent Ross guided the Knights to new heights, winning the program’s first Tri-Eastern Conference since 1984 and its first sectional crown. Josh Jurgens led Seton Catholic to that program’s first sectional championship as well, while Tri-Village’s Josh Sagester squad returned to Ohio’s Division IV state finals for a second time.
Richmond finished 6-0 in the NCC and were state-ranked by the Associated Press and the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association for most of the season.
The Red Devils then ran through their Class 4A sectional, defeating Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Greenfield-Central and three-time defending champion Pendleton Heights, all by double digits, to claim the New Castle crown.
“It is all about the players,” Luce said.
“It’s been a process, a five-year process to get where we were at this year, lots of great players who have helped set the standards each year.”
Luce also praised the RHS coaching staff.
“We definitely have a great coaching staff,” he said. “Rick Wedlow moving into that varsity assistant position this year, Mark Hinkey continuing to be a varsity assistant, and David Cruse. Jeff Williams became the JV coach and still helped. That coaching staff is probably as good as you can get for high school basketball.”
Tillman was the Red Devils’ leading scorer, averaging 14.8 points per game.
He was a long-range 3-point threat, canning 89 treys for a Richmond squad that finished 22-3.
“I just knew that I was going to have to produce this year for us to be successful,” Tillman said. “That’s why I worked so hard. I definitely tried to get the most out of every workout I had.”
Tillman also added 3.4 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-3 sharpshooter netted a game-high 21 points in Richmond’s first game, a 67-55 win over Dayton Thurgood Marshall of Ohio, setting the stage for things to come.
He set the Bob Wettig Tournament record for total 3-pointers when he swished 18 in four games as RHS took second place. His strong tournament play continued into the postseason. Tillman struck for a game-high 21 against Pendleton as the Red Devils advanced to their 63rd sectional, and first since 1996.
“The physical tools, the strength and agility, allowed his natural basketball skills to come out this year,” Luce said. “That just tells you the intelligence this young man has. He’s a very smart basketball player.
“He definitely worked himself into a great player.”
Tillman was invited to the Top 60 Senior Workout, earned all-NCC honors and was an all-state Honorable Mention pick by both the IBCA and the AP.
“Anytime when your teammates are looking to you for a go-to bucket, it means a lot,” Tillman said. “Just being able to do that for my team, it’s really an honor.”
Added Luce: “He just refused to be an average player. He refused to do anything other than be a star at Richmond High School. He is a fantastic basketball layer and I’m just thankful I had a chance to be a part of his career.”