By Joe Henricksen
If you could go back in time, just five or six years ago, who would have ever thought Crete-Monee basketball would be a discussion on a prep basketball blog like the City/Suburban Hoops Report? And in the offseason to boot?
But thanks to former coach Rocky Hill, Warrior basketball mattered for the first time in decades when he arrived as coach prior to the 2006-2007 season. Hill, the highly-successful coach at Thornton before a brief stint at Julian, brought name recognition and instant credibility to a program that had zero basketball tradition or success.
The basketball program has been in the spotlight ever since. And almost overnight, the Crete-Monee basketball job is considered high-profile in Chicagoland prep basketball. Imagine that a decade ago.
Hill led Crete-Monee to four years of success, including winning the program's first conference championship in 25 years, compiling a 64-44 record and winning three consecutive regional titles. Crete-Monee basketball mattered, really for the first time since all-stater Phil Henderson played in the mid-1980s and was a McDonald's All-American before going on to play at Duke.
Crete-Monee, using budget cuts and other fuzzy jargon, ultimately eliminated Hill's dean's position and did not hire him back as coach in the spring of 2010. Matt Ryndak was hired to take over as head coach and he promptly guided a talent-laden program to the school's best season in school history last year, winning the school's first-ever sectional championship and a school record 25 wins.
So for a program that had won five regional titles in school history prior to Hill's arrival in 2006, it has won four straight regional crowns and a sectional championship. Plus, there is plenty of talent coming back.
The headliner is Division I prospect Michael Orris, who de-committed from Creighton earlier this summer and is one of the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2012 in Illinois. Orris, a heady and winning point guard, veteran junior guard Marvie Keith, rising junior Laquan Treadwell and up-and-coming big man Roshod Lee are all expected to return.
The problem now is, as of the middle of August, there still isn't a coach in place. That's never a good thing. There hasn't been a coach all summer after Ryndak was "officially" fired by the Crete-Monee school board June 21 after being charged with criminal sexual assault in May.
The allegations stung and the controversy was a major hit to a program riding so high. Aside from the public relations nightmare, a summer without a coach was also damaging. The last thing any high school program with high hopes for the upcoming season wants is a missed summer of opportunity and growth, which can really only happen with a coach in place.
The finalists have or are currently being interviewed with a decision coming soon. Henderson was the hot name for awhile, but he reportedly isn't interested in the job. There have been plenty of names bandied about, with the biggest rumored name being former Hillcrest coach Tom Cappel as a possibility. Cappel is one of the more successful coaches in south suburban high school basketball history with over 500 career victories in 23 seasons.
How about a blast from the past? Veteran Tom Shields has reportedly been among the interviews at Crete-Monee, according to sources. The veteran coach has been around the block, with his heyday coming in the mid-1980s when he coached arguably the best small school state champion in state history -- the 1985 Providence St. Mel team led by Lowell Hamilton and Fernando Bunch. Shields has had several coaching stops, including Andrean Catholic in Merrillville, Hales Franciscan, Pontiac, York and College of Lake County among others. His last stint on the bench was coaching high school girls basketball in New Mexico.
But all indications are the decision will come down to either former Thornridge coach Danny Turner or former Wilmington head coach and, most recently, Joliet Central assistant coach Brian Koehne. Both Turner and Koehne were hired by the school board in July -- Turner as a guidance counselor and Koehne as a physical education teacher.
Turner took over the Thornridge program when coach Mike Flaherty departed in 2006 and has also coached girls basketball at Joliet Township and lower level boys basketball at Rich Central. Koehne went 39-96 in his five years as head coach at Wilmington, but he finished 16-13 in 2008-2009, his final season as head coach.
The roller coaster ride may continue tonight as there is a Crete-Monee School District 201-U school board meeting at 7 p.m. at Crete-Monee High School.