By Joe Henricksen
While everyone goes gaga over De La Salle (the Hoops Report did in the June 15 blog), raves about the recent success of Hales Franciscan, discusses all the wins Leo has piled up in the last decade and thinks back to the last big school state champion from the Catholic League back in 1985 (Mt. Carmel), there is another program in the Chicago Catholic League ready to join the basketball conversation.
St. Rita is building and the Mustangs are coming fast. Coach Gary DeCesare, the former DePaul assistant and legendary high school coach at St. Raymond's High School in the Bronx, has a young nucleus that is ready to take a big step forward this winter. The Mustangs just won the PEHS Shootout at St. Xavier this past weekend, with a trio of juniors who continue to blossom in 6-7 A.J. Avery, 6-1 Tony Hicks and guard Cullen Foulkes. DeCesare also has a couple of senior guards in point guard Marshawn Tobin and shooter Luke Barry who are valuable commodities.
A big part of the resurgence has to do with DeCesare, who brought instant credibility to the basketball program. It's not every day a high school basketball program gets to bring in a coach with college coaching experience and who compiled a 286-142 record, won four New York City championships, two state titles and produced more than 30 Division I players in 16 years at the prep level. That will open the eyes and grab the attention of any high school player. In addition, people are seeing more of St. Rita basketball than ever before, both in their scheduling and how active the program has become in playing in various summer events. That is such an underrated plus for a program, especially one trying to take the next step, as St. Rita played in events like the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout, Hoop Mountain Shootout, the PEHS Shootout and others.
It's not as if St. Rita basketball has been horrific. The Mustangs have consistently been in the 14-17 win range over the past several years. There was a three-year period where the program struggled between 2003-2006, but it's basically been a 15-win-a-season program that has lacked postseason success.
However, this is a school where the baseball, football and wrestling programs have taken off over the past 10 years. The baseball program is arguably the strongest in the state of Illinois since 2004. The football program has averaged over 10 wins a season the past seven years with a state title in 2007. And in the winter, the wrestling program has been a monster over the last decade with numerous state trophies since 2003. Maybe it's time basketball takes that next step on Western Avenue between 77th and 79th streets.
DeCesare's presence and the talent level in place should translate into more success. The program is in a strong position going forward with young talent and more on the way with a trio of incoming freshmen this fall, two of which are among the Hoops Report's top 15 in the Class of 2014.
While De La Salle is clearly the team to beat in the Chicago Catholic League, don't be surprised if St. Rita's resurgence is sooner rather than later.