2001 Boys Basketball Team - 2023 Hall of Fame Inductee
The 2000-2001 Pana Panthers boys’ basketball team came into the season with high expectations. The team returned many key players from the 99-2000 team that went 23-6, winning the conference and the regional. This team consisted of five seniors (Aaron Beyers, Steve Carroll, J.I. McDowell, Brian McMillen, Jake Sinclair); eight juniors (Todd Beyers, Ryan Casner, Jared Cook, Josh Evans, Joe Fitzpatrick, Andy Lebon, Ryan McVickers, Justin Shrake); and two sophomores (David Chernisky and Troy Pinkston). We also had two senior managers (Cole Combs and Michael Kiser) and a sixth-grade manager (Michael McDowell). The mix of seniors and juniors along with a couple talented sophomores made practice an intense competition every day. This is what would push this group to exceed the already lofty expectations.
The Panthers would bounce in and out of the State Rankings all season, finishing 2nd in a very tough Effingham Thanksgiving tournament, 2nd in a loaded Vandalia Holiday tournament, and winning the SCC East conference title for a second consecutive year.
The regional was won with convincing victories over longtime rivals Shelbyville and Nokomis on our home court. Then it was off to Shelbyville for the sectional where the Panthers defeated Central A&M and Rochester. The Super-Sectional was at Millikin where the Pana offense exploded to beat Macon Meridian and earned a trip to the State Finals in Peoria.
The Panthers quarterfinal matchup was with Farmington. The Farmers were capable of putting a lineup on the court that could go 6’5, 6’5, 6’6, 6’7, and 6’7, but the Farmers fell to the Panthers in the final minutes of a thrilling quarterfinal game.
On Saturday morning the Panthers met Bureau Valley in the State Semi-Final. The Storm came into the game 32-1 and had been ranked #2 in the State Polls all season. With 6 minutes to go in the game the Panthers called timeout trailing by 9. Pana would outscore the Storm by 16 in the final six minutes to earn a 7-point victory and a berth in the State Championship game.
The State Championship game was a rematch with Pinckneyville just like 1988. Pinckneyville was on a mission. They had won every game in the postseason by double digits. Our Panthers were running on fumes after two hard fought emotional victories. Unfortunately, Pinckneyville got their revenge and our Pana Panthers finished as the Class “A” 2001 State Runner-Up.
The 2001 Pana Panthers finished with a record of 29 wins and 5 losses. The 29 wins set a school record for most victories in a season. That record was recently tied by the 2022 Pana Panthers. The coaching staff for the Panthers was Head Coach Gary Bowker, Assistant Coaches John McDowell, Tim Casner, and John Scherzer. Gene Price was our statistician and Ron Sims our scorekeeper.
This team set some IHSA Class “A” records that still stand today: Team Most 3-Point Goals Made Tournament – 32 and Individual Most 3-Point Goals Made Tournament – Justin Shrake (22).
The celebration when the team returned home was fantastic. The accolades and recognition from businesses and institutions in the area went on for weeks. The 2000-2001 Pana Panthers took us all on an exciting ride that is still fun to relive today. ~ Coach Gary Bowker