By Joe Henricksen
The news of Bobby Locke resigning as head coach at Evanston has been in the rumor mill for a few weeks, with the idea floating around that Locke would be leaving Evanston and headed to the Chicago Public League as the new head coach at Brooks. Now both the Brooks and Evanston coaching jobs -- a pair of quality high school coaching positions -- are in the headlines late in the summer.
Locke is reportedly headed to Brooks. There are many in the Chicago Public League who have felt the Brooks coaching job is one of the more underrated jobs in the city. With the new facilities, good academics and a talent base on the South Side -- not to mention a strong nucleus coming back this year -- Brooks is a rising program. And now Locke has the chance to take the program to the next level.
Former Brooks coach Chris Head, who was dismissed in early June, helped put the program on the map. Head's teams won 20-plus games in each of the four seasons he was at the helm, including a 27-win season that included Class 3A regional and sectional championships in 2009. With a senior-dominated group, headed by Wisconsin recruit George Marshall, guard Michael Powell and 6-7 twins Keith and Kevin Gray, Locke hopes to challenge for a Class 3A state title this winter. Locke may also have the luxury of having a talented incoming freshman -- his son, 6-0 guard Erick Locke, one of the better prospects in the Class of 2014.
Locke, who felt it was in his best interest to step down as coach for various reasons, leaves an Evanston program that is brimming with talent. The tandem of guard Garrett Jones and 6-7 James Farr are a pair of Division I talents who return from last year's team. The Wildkits went 29-26 with some young teams the past two years, with plenty of promise ahead this winter. Locke led Evanston to back-to-back sectional championships and Central Suburban League South titles in 2007 and 2008, with the Wildkits finishing third in state with a 30-4 record in 2008.
Now the Evanston job, which has always been recognized as one of the top basketball coaching jobs in the Chicago area, is open. While there is pressure and scrutiny that can come with the Evanston basketball job, the talent and history in place goes a long way. The Evanston basketball program has made nine trips to the State Finals since 1950, with a state title in 1968, a runner-up finish in 1984, a fourth-place finish in 2003 and Locke's third-place finish in 2008. The program has won 18 regional championships and eight sectional titles since 1980 and averaged just over 20 wins a season over the past 25 years.
The timing of the opening is certainly a little different with the start of school just around the corner. Plus, Locke was not a certified teacher working in the building, which means the opening for a teacher/coach this late in the summer may not be a need in the district.
While the job will be coveted, the hiring process could be tricky. Evanston could fill the position on an interim basis with what is left over from the Locke coaching staff. But there is, however, another intriguing possibility. There is a highly-regarded coach who is not currently on the bench in the north suburbs and is itching to get back into coaching. While he is a former coach of Evanston's biggest rival -- New Trier -- the successful Rick Malnati may be the perfect fit for the Evanston program.
Malnati, a former City/Suburban Hoops Report Coach of the Year in 2002, has the experience, credentials and name-recognition a program like Evanston will be seeking and satisfy its loyal following. In Malnati's first big run at New Trier he went 26-5 and led the Trevians to the Elite Eight in Peoria after taking over for the successful Mel Sheets. In 2002 New Trier went 25-8 and finished fourth in the state and won another sectional championship in 2005. Might Malnati be the fit to take over a talented Evanston team and add to the program's legacy?
Best Seasons in Evanston Basketball History
1956-57 .... Led by 6-1 Dave Tremaine, coach Jack Burmaster's Wildkits finished 21-4 and reached the Elite Eight, falling to Quincy Notre Dame.
1963-64 .... Evanston headed into the postseason unranked in the final AP Poll but managed to upset Chicago (Crane) in a memorable double overtime win in the supersectional. Burmaster's club lost in the state quarterfinals to to Decatur (Stephen Decatur)
1967-68 .... The size of 6-4 Bob Lackey, who scored 80 points in four state tournament games, and 6-6 Farrel Jones helped lead Evanston to a 30-1 record and the school's first state basketball title. Evanston dominated in Champaign, winning its three games by a total of 57 points.
1971-72 .... Another surprise run in March for an Evanston team that finished the season 17-9. Burmaster guided his fourth team to Champaign, where Evanston was crushed by Peoria Manual in the state quarterfinals.
1983-84 .... One of the more memorable Evanston teams in history finished second in state. The Wildkits, led by the great Everette Stephens, wrapped up the regular season ranked No. 1 in the state with a perfect 25-0 record. Coach Herb Williams' team, however, fell to Simeon and the late Ben Wilson in the state championship after two thrilling wins in Champaign -- beating Benton in overtime in the quarterfinals and knocking off St. Joseph 58-56 in the semis.
1985-86 .... Evanston nearly pulled off an upset in the Elite Eight, but the Wildkits fell to mighty Chicago King, the eventual state champion, 64-62. Coach Mike Hart's Wildkits finished the season 23-9.
1987-88 .... Hart guided Evanston to a return trip to Champaign just two seasons later but the results were the same -- a state quarterfinal loss to the eventual state champion. Evanston fell to LaPhonso Ellis and East St. Louis Lincoln to finish 25-6.
2002-03 .... After beating Belleville (West) in the state quarterfinals behind Mike McKinney's 15 points, Evanston dropped its next two games (to Peoria Central and Glenbrook North) to finish fourth in the state with a 22-9 record.
2007-2008 .... In the Class 4A semifinals in Peoria, Evanston fell in a heartbreaker to Zion-Benton when Ronald Steward drilled a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. An unselfish, balanced Evanston team that featured five players averaging between 7-10 points a game, bounced back to beat Lockport to finish third in Class 4A with a 30-4 record.