By Joe Henricksen
Whether it's been fair or not, the Whitney Young basketball program has been judged by so many over the past two years. The critics must now stop. The Dolphins captured the Class 4A state championship Saturday night with a win over Waukegan and a huge weight was lifted off their shoulders.
The critics maybe now realize the plan all along was to be where the Dolphins stood on this March night -- as state champs. Those nine regular-season losses don't mean a whole lot when you're hoisting that big first-place trophy. No one is going to give a darn about that loss to Morton at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. So what if they didn't win the city title. Who cares where you're ranked in early December, Jan. 15 or the start of state tournament play. Slaughter wanted his team challenged and battle-tested for the state tournament. And playing the state's toughest schedule, which included 10 quality out-of-state opponents from coast to coast, did just that.
Slaughter also made some pivotal moves along the way that were instrumental. Despite an abundance of talent, he had to piece that talent together like a puzzle while keeping a lot of those players happy and on the same page. This could be the first state champ in history -- or at least in decades -- where a single player didn't average more than 10 points a game. And Slaughter did so while shortening his bench a bit and limiting minutes to a few players. He brought super talented sophomore Sam Thompson along slowly, nurturing the baby prospect to the point where he was a starter and major contributor by the end of the season.
When talking with Slaughter over the course of this season, he spoke of his program wanting to be where some of the other elite programs in the city and state have been. He kept a good balance between knowing it's still high school basketball while maintaining his program's own high expectations. He knew and accepted the challenge that to be considered an elite program the Dolphins had to bring home the same hardware the likes of Simeon, Marshall and North Lawndale have in recent years.
Whitney Young now has that coveted state championship, the first in the Slaughter era after coach George Stanton led the Dolphins to the 1998 state title behind a star-studded team led by Quentin Richardson.
Yes, Whitney Young does it a little differently. The schedule the Dolphins played was unprecedented. The academic side of it is also impressive in this day where so many top players struggle but Young's typically strive. Plus, the future remains very bright. The Dolphins will be right back at it next season as a state title contender, especially if a couple of the younger players in the program elevate their games.
Anthony Johnson, a 6-3 junior guard who is committed to Purdue, will return. Oregon State commitment Ahmad Starks returns to the backcourt. And Thompson, the versatile 6-5 sophomore is poised for a breakout year. Then there is the incoming talent, led by little but talented freshman point guard Derrick Randolph, 6-5 freshman Jermaine Winfield and the potential arrival of 6-7 Tommy Hamilton, the 8th grader who may be heading to Whitney Young.
Shhhh, listen .... The critics are finally quiet.