SPRINGFIELD — It’s not often that a pair of underclassmen are dynamic playmakers. On the Effingham County boys basketball team, however, it’s the youngsters who are getting the job done night in and night out.
A duo that has electrified the program features brothers Khiry and Keion Wallace. A sophomore and freshman, respectively, the pair has revitalized what was a 6-20 team a year ago.
“It feels good because last year, it was bad —really bad,” Khiry said. “Coming from that and working hard over the summer, everybody just wanted to work hard and get better. Everybody wants to work hard as a team.”
“It’s a great feeling, coming in from last year. They won six games and we just developed,” Keion added.
Khiry endured the trying 2018-19 season. As a freshman, he knew the team was capable of doing so much more so he spent his summer dissecting film searching for ways to make himself and teammates better.
“I developed my mind,” he said. “I had to study film more. I watched other people to see what they do. I watched my teammates to see what they are comfortable doing.
“Then I paid attention to the areas that needed improvement so we can work better together as a team.”
Keion, on the other hand, has no idea what it means to struggle. He’s enjoying the success of a team that is currently 11-4 overall and 3-1 in Region 2-AAAAAA.
The siblings won’t settle and neither will their family. Their cousins are constantly pushing them to reach the pinnacle of their game. Their relentless pursuit has earned them roles as starters on the varsity squad.
“Our cousins hold us accountable,” Khiry said. “They want us to do better than them. If we hang a banner, they will have accomplished something through us.”
The pair comes from a long line of Effingham County basketball players. Their aunt, Danielle Powell, and father, Keith Powell, played, as well as their cousin, Jakeenan Gant, who was a standout shooter who went on to play for Missouri before transferring to Louisiana-Lafayette.
Gant flourished as one of the Sunbelt Conference’s best players and now competes for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, an NBA G League affiliate of the Indiana Pacers.
Despite their family history, the Wallaces know it doesn’t guarantee them hoops success/
“We always used to play each other to get better,” Keion said. “To this day, we still go down to the YMCA and play each other one on one.”
“Sometimes we go to our older cousin’s house to get better experience,” Khiry said. “We’ll use Keion’s move against them to see if it works.”
Keion is happy with his experience at the high school level thus far but said the transition came with a few butterflies.
“I’ve never had experience going up against seniors and juniors,” she said. “But after playing with them in practice, I am comfortable with them on the court and they always find the best ways to score. Khiry gave me some tips about how it would be and playing against older players.”
On some nights, it’s Keion who steals the show. Khiry, however, doesn’t mind when his little brother is in the limelight. He isn’t fazed by his brother’s early success, either.
“I want him to succeed as much as myself,” Khiry said. “If I see he’s open, I’m going to pass him the ball and let him do his thing.”
Although the duo can strike from anywhere on the court, Khiry noticed teams have started keying on him more. Realizing he was up against stiff defense, he decided to take the attention off himself.
“I try to get Keion the ball as much as I can,” he said. “Then they’ll forget about me and focus more on him.”
Both have aspirations to play at the next level. Keion has always favored Duke but for now he’s solely focused on working through the Rebels’ slate of region games.
“Now is the time to get serious,” Keion said. “The region games are the ones that count.”