By Joe Henricksen
In comparison to a year ago, there have been far fewer basketball coaching openings on the high school front heading into this season. However, with the late movement of some key head coaching figures in August, three prime positions uncharacteristically opened up just prior to the start of the school year.
The Brooks job, one of the up-and-coming programs in the Chicago Public League (as the Hoops Report described in the Aug. 16 blog) was filled by Bobby Locke, which opened up one of the better jobs in the entire state of Illinois at Evanston. The Evanston search is still in the works, with highly-successful Rick Malnati, the former New Trier coach, still in the discussion. Now, with coach Donnie Kirksey's move from Hyde Park to join Howard Moore's staff at UIC, yet another alluring basketball job is open. And some big names are interested.
Hyde Park may not be as established or hold as much basketball tradition as Evanston, but it's an underrated program in the Chicago Public League. The school is in an advantageous location at Stoney Island and 63rd Street, where there are a ton of young kids in the neighborhood with solid feeder schools. And with the right academics in place, Hyde Park has an open enrollment within the attendance boundaries. Plus, Hyde Park principal Thomas Trotter is a former Division I head basketball coach with a vision. In fact, Trotter has been a key figure in helping improve the culture of not only basketball at Hyde Park but the school climate and reputation.
"When we hired Donnie [Kirksey] we were interested in developing a program that we could sustain while doing it the right way," says Trotter, who has a long history of coaching in the Division I ranks. "Donnie did a lot of things away from basketball in the building for our students and staff. He really stepped up to the challenge, holding kids accountable, taking care of responsibility and improving the image. He played a huge and important role here for us."
Although Hyde Park had been a reputable program with some success, Kirksey elevated the program to a new level in his three years at the school. In addition to an overall record of 71-18, which included sharing Red-Central titles in both 2009 and 2010, Kirksey led the Thunderbirds to a city title game appearance and supersectional berth in 2009. Hyde Park reached the city semis a year ago.
Now, with a bit of success in the bank and a roster highlighted with talent, including 6-5 Aqui Shareef, talented junior guard Treyshawn Jones and a host of promising young players in the program, Hyde Park is poised to stay in the thick of the Red-Central and continue to be a player in the Chicago Public League. Any coach with a desire to coach in the Public League, in a program with talent and one that has shown it can even be a stepping stone to a college job, would scratch and claw for the opportunity to be on the bench at Hyde Park.
Trotter admits there is way more interest in the job than he imagined, but he wouldn't divulge any information regarding rumored or potential candidates.
"The person we hire must be able to handle the expectations that I have, which is to continue to instill discipline, integrity and academics into the program -- and then worry about the X's and the O's," says Trotter.
There are several big coaching names being floated around, including former Brooks coach Chris Head and South Shore coach Lamont Bryant, who previously led Marshall to a 108-23 record and two trips to the Elite Eight in four seasons.
Perhaps the most intriguing and interesting name is a Red-Central rival coach -- Curie's Mike Oliver. The veteran coach, who has ruled the very same conference Hyde Park plays in over the past decade, is enamored with the idea of taking over a budding Hyde Park program. The highly-successful and well respected Oliver, who has led Curie to prominence, would be more than a worthy candidate and a potential ideal fit. All Oliver has done over the past 20 years is win games and conference titles but without the fanfare or controversy that surrounds so many other coaches.
Another possibility is Harper head coach Narvel Newson, who has strong Hyde Park ties. Newson is a Hyde Park graduate and at one time coached at the school and has since done a nice job in guiding the Harper program. Hyde Park could hire from within and go with assistant coach Jason Maclin, who is also considered to be a strong candidate.
How about Simeon sophomore coach Leonard Thomas, who was on the short list at Brooks? Thomas has had a terrific three-year run as Rob Smith's sophomore coach, reaching the city title game all three years and winning back-to-back sophomore titles. Marlo Finner, another assistant for Simeon with a terrific reputation in the city, could also be a quality candidate.
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