By Joe Henricksen
At a school where football is a behemoth, wrestling is a state giant and baseball has been a power over the past decade, basketball is a distant fourth at Mount Carmel. Well, not anymore. Enter Mike Flaherty.
Mount Carmel, after knocking off St. Ignatius on the road in the regional semifinal, upsetting Farragut in the final and beating Catholic League rival DeLaSalle in the sectional semifinal, will now have a shot at winning its first sectional championship since 1985. The Caravan, who will face Whitney Young Friday night, brought home a state title in 1985 and had a nice run of regional championships in the 1990s, but have been an afterthought since.
Flaherty is without question one of the top handful of coaches in the state of Illinois. It can be argued he's the best. And he's showing everyone why once again. After making a name for himself by leading Mendel Catholic to a storybook second-place finish in 1981, which included the stunning upset of mighty Quincy in the state semifinal game, Flaherty moved on and had a successful run at Thornridge. People don't realize that before Flaherty's arrival in Dolton, the tradition-rich Thornridge program had gone 16-37 the two years prior. Flaherty promptly won a regional title in his first year. He went on to win 12 more regional championships, a pair of sectional titles and a trip to the Elite Eight.
When Mount Carmel needed a coach to raise the level and profile of its basketball program, it couldn't have made a better hire. Flaherty and Mount Carmel were the perfect fit. The veteran coach brought instant stability, credibility and flat-out coaching ability. I have spoken with rival coaches that have gone up against Flaherty over the years, as well as college coaches, and Flaherty has the respect of them all as an individual who looks out for his players and builds character. Flaherty's teams typically overachieve. He did it at Mendel, plenty of times at Thornridge and is at it again on Chicago's South Side. This is a No. 11 seed playing in what is considered one of the strongest sectionals in state history.
This is not a bunch of sorry hoopers -- the Caravan were ranked in the preseason top 15 by the Hoops Report -- but the run they are currently on is pretty impressive no matter the talent level. And this will be far from a one-year hit. But regardless of what happens Friday night against Whitney Young, the Caravan have talented young players who will be around for more and a coach to elevate this program into the statosphere of the school's football, wrestling and baseball programs. Mount Carmel basketball is back and poised to stay among the elite in the near future.