By Joe Henricksen
There are certainly some familiar names remaining in the Class 3A and 4A state basketball tournament field, starting with perennial power and defending state champ Simeon. Coach Robert Smith's Wolverines are a household name in Illinois prep basketball with big named-players and even bigger success that stretches back to the 1980s.
Warren has been a fixture in rankings and postseason success under coach Chuck Ramsey. The Blue Devils finished second in the state in 1999 and have now won six sectional titles under Ramsey over the past 15 years. A Warren sighting in mid-March is no surprise.
Then there is Farragut, the school that produced Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields in the mid-1990s, reached the Sweet 16 in 2002 and the Elite Eight in 2004. And Rock Island has been a state power for decades with eight state appearances in the 1980s and 1990s. Even Crane, with the dominating Sherron Collins, a state quarterfinal appearance in 2005 and five sectional appearances in the past decade, has been a familiar name in prep hoops.
This 2011 version of March Madness, however, has propelled a few up-and-coming programs into prominence. The Hoops Report highlights three programs that have been on the cusp of doing some special things over the past several years and have now broken through. Here is a look at those programs, their struggles and how they have been able to get it done in such stylish fashion.
GLENBARD EAST (26-3)
THE HISTORY: When coach Scott Miller took over the program prior to the 1999-2000 season, Glenbard East was the doormat of the DuPage Valley. In the previous eight years before Miller's arrival, the program averaged seven wins a season and had only five winning seasons -- and just one 20-win season -- since 1980.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: Glenbard East began putting the pieces together in 2004-2005. In the last seven seasons, the Rams have won 19 or more games six times, averaging 22 wins a season in that span with five regional championships. In the DuPage Valley Conference, they've gone from being the laughingstock to a team that has won four of the last six league titles with back-to-back titles and winners of 28 straight games.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW: After falling to Benet Academy in the sectional final a year ago, Glenbard East got over the hump this season and won arguably the state's toughest sectional. While everyone was so impressed with unbeaten Benet Academy all year, kept an eye on a Downers Grove South team that won 18 straight and gawked at superstar Ryan Boatright and East Aurora, it's Glenbard East that remains standing heading into Tuesday's supersectional.
WHY THEY'RE STILL PLAYING: The Rams mix up their defenses and put points on the board with an up-tempo style, with the talented tandem of Johnny Hill and Zach Miller leading the charge. These two were monsters in two sectional victories over Downers South and East Aurora. Hill, who has signed with Illinois State, is a 6-3 versatile guard who can score and impact a game in a variety of ways. Miller, a Northern Illinois recruit, is the consummate point guard, who scored 22 points, dished out 12 assists and had seven rebounds with just one turnover in the win over East Aurora. While the Rams lack size and any sort of low-post presence, Miller and Hill make them go and valuable role players like 6-5 Dante Bailey, defensive whiz Tyree York, invaluable Steve Kinney and Kevin Priebe have stepped up. Glenbard East is executing with precision and efficiency on both ends of the floor.
THE HISTORY: There just isn't a whole lot to talk about when it comes to Crete-Monee basketball history. There was the great Phil Henderson in the mid-1980s, who led the Warriors to a regional title and Big Dipper title game appearance his senior year before going on to play at Duke. But this is a program that began this season without a single sectional basketball championship in school history. In fact, prior to the arrival of coach Rocky Hill in 2007, Crete-Monee had won just five regional championships in the previous 30 years.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: While there was little to no talk about Crete-Monee hoops in the south suburbs for decades, Hill arrived and re-energized the program. In just three years under the veteran coach, Crete-Monee won its first conference championship in 25 years, captured three straight regional titles, won 64 games and revived a program that was on life support. First-year coach Matt Ryndak, who assisted Hill last season, has flourished in leading the Warriors to new heights this season.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW: Fresh off the first sectional title in school history, the Warriors are favorites heading into Tuesday's supersectional matchup with Normal. Crete-Monee, ranked No. 9 in the preseason City/Suburban Hoops Report rankings back in November, is a glitzy 25-3 on the year and a south suburban power. Plus, with some young talent in place, the program is in great shape going forward.
WHY THEY'RE STILL PLAYING: Ryndak's first job as head coach was to get this group of players all on the same page. Then three positives occurred, answering any lingering questions and taking the Warriors from a very good team to a state title contending team. The enormously athletic Jamee Crockett, a DePaul recruit, grew up and took his game to a difference-making level. Big man Greg Mays, who signed with Wisconsin-Green Bay, emerged inside on both ends of the floor. And junior Michael Orris, a transfer from Palatine, solidified the point guard position in a big way. Senior Kentrell King and sophomores Marvie Keith and LaQuon Treadwell give Ryndak quickness and added weapons in support of the Big Three. The Warriors are attacking the glass, which has been a big difference between their big wins and their three lone losses.
THE HISTORY: Well, the history is short. The school is only in its eighth year, so there really aren't any dark days in the basketball program's history. Brooks is a beautiful school on a 40-acre campus in the historic Pullman/Roseland neighborhoods with a solid academic reputation. Now it's a college prep academy with a sooner-than-expected powerhouse basketball program.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: Chris Head, the sometimes controversial but successful coach, took over the Brooks program and immediately put it on the map with three straight 20-plus win seasons in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The 2009 season included 27 wins and a sectional championship before eventually falling to Leo in the supersectional.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW: Brooks struggled a year ago and, the players admit, underachieved. "This season it's been about showing we are better than what we showed last season," senior George Marshall told the Hoops Report earlier this season. "We had two goals: win a city and 3A championship." This year's Brooks team heads into Tuesday's supersectional matchup with Lindblom in a completely different mindset than two years ago. First, Brooks will be a heavy favorite with senior veterans and Division I talent. And second, the Eagles are soaring after winning the Chicago Public League championship in late February and knocking off Morgan Park and Wayne Blackshear in the sectional title game.
WHY THEY'RE STILL PLAYING: Seniors -- and a comfort level playing under first-year coach Bobby Locke. This group of seniors, led by the backcourt of Wisconsin-bound George Marshall and Mike Powell, have been through a lot, including the changing of coaches, injuries and doubters. Keith and Kevin Gray, a pair of 6-7 senior twins, and mainstay Justin Raab, have more games under their belt playing together than perhaps any other team in the state.
And three other March party crashers ...
Niles North. There isn't a basketball program still playing with less basketball tradition and history than Niles North. In two years, coach Glenn Olson has won 36 games, which are more victories than the program experienced in the previous six seasons combined. The greatest season in school history, which includes winning the school's second regional and first sectional title, could add another chapter with an upset win over favored Warren Tuesday night. In
Aurora Central Catholic. This was the fewest amount of wins coach Nate Drye has had entering the postseason in the last four years. The Chargers played a competitive schedule and headed into March with a 13-13 record after averaging nearly 22 wins a season the previous three years. Taking full advantage of a very favorable sectional road, ACC won only its fourth regional and first sectional championship in the last 20 years. Rock Island stands in its way of reaching a state semifinal and claiming a trophy for the first time since the 1977 team finished second in Class A.
Lindblom. Lindblom? Yes, Lindblom. Do you remember 1942? That's when Lindblom reached the Sweet 16 and fell 35-19 to East Alton-Wood River. Since then? Well, there was the 2009 regional championship, but that team finished just 12-19 on the year. Lindblom has 22 wins and shared the city's Blue-Central title with Kenwood this season. This March, Lindblom won its regional opener over Bowen in overtime, beat top-seeded King 42-37 and edged Harper 59-57 in the sectional title game. But the Golden Eagles will be huge underdogs in their supersectional matchup with Brooks.