PEORIA — If ever there were a perfect moment for Austin Sloan to get his due, it came just before 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Carver Arena.
With 1:30 left in the fourth quarter of a convincing win over Concord Triopia in the Class 1A third-place game, Central A&M coach Rob Smith sent his final round of subs to the scorer's table. On came the underclassmen. Off came the starters. Sloan, the lone senior starter on the Raiders, walked off the floor for the final time.
He looked up into the stands with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals under his belt and saw a euphoric crowd ushering him to the bench. When Sloan walked past his teammates, he embraced every one of them.
“It’s crazy," Sloan said. "It’s a hard feeling knowing it’s the last time you’ll ever walk off the floor, but I loved it."
Sloan averaged 4.5 points, but that's hardly the definition of the 6-foot-5 farm boy who will study Agricultural Engineering at Lake Land next year. Sloan is steady on defense — Smith can't recall one mistake that Sloan committed in 37 games — and is exactly who opposing coaches don't want to see open in in the corner when the big three of Connor Heaton, Jacob Paradee and Griffin Andricks attack the basket. He knocked down 36 triples on the season.
Even still, that's not the definition of Sloan.
“I can’t explain enough how much he means to this team," Heaton said. "He’s always got a smile on his face. The thing about him is he’s calm, cool and collected. He knocks down shots when he needs to. He plays his heart out and gets offensive rebounds all the time. He’s just a team player, a team-first guy. That’s the type of guy we need on a team like this. The reason we’re so successful is because of him.
“For four years, he’s been a huge value to our program. For the past two or three years he’s been a huge part of it. This year he really stepped up."
With 9:54 left in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sloan hit one of his three 3-pointers, a bucket that Paradee said got the team going. When asked what his season high for points is, Sloan simply smiled, "I have no idea. I really don't."
The Raiders went on a magical run through the regular season nearly unscathed and blew through the postseason all the way to the state finals. Sloan was with his best friends. All of those summers going from shoot-outs or weight lifting back to the farm to clean grain bins paid off. Nothing else mattered.
But the 13 points was a fitting way for Sloan to end his basketball career. All Smith could do was chuckle with an ear-to-ear smile.
“That is so special," he said. "I’m so glad we got to do it. We’re really going to miss him."
Sloan had come a long way from being a player on a team that lost in the regional championship game as a sophomore.
“I’m so glad he had that type of game to end his career," Heaton said. "He had an incredible career here. We’re really going to miss him. He meant a lot to this team. It’s going to be a big role to fill next year."
After the Raiders put the finishing touches on a win, Sloan took his seat in the post-game press conference. When it was his turn to answer a question about his final basketball game and what it meant to end with a win, he leaned back in his chair with Smith's arm around him. At first, the message was succinct.
"I wish I had one more year here," he said through a smile.
Then there was more.
“It means everything," he said. "Playing with these guys, I love them, They’re my best friends. It feels great to end this year here. We’ve had a heck of a time all year. It’s been a fun ride, but it’s got to end some time."
Before it officially ended, he hugged Heaton at the stairs of the press conference stage. Just under two hours later he walked across the floor at Carver Arena, heard his name announced for the final time, dipped his head down and received his medal.
“He means everything to us," Paradee said. "It’s hard saying goodbye to a good player like that."