The Fenwick basketball program has made a splash.
With the hiring of Rick Malnati as its next head coach, Fenwick has made its biggest splash since McDonald's All-American and pro Corey Maggette led the Friars to Peoria and the Elite Eight in 1998.
Malnati, who most recently was a college assistant coach to Porter Moser at Loyola, returns to the high school game, where he was once the head coach at New Trier for nine seasons.
While working for Moser and Loyola was a memorable learning experience, Malnati felt this move was the right one for him at this time.
"It was a great opportunity working for Porter these past two years in helping trying to build that program," says Malnati. "I learned a ton, and it was awesome. But it's a 24/7, 365 days a year job. One thing high school coaching allows you is a little more flexibility. That's important to have with a family that is getting older."
He takes over a Fenwick program with some talented pieces in place and a solid foundation. That was one aspect of the Fenwick job that was appealing to Malnati.
"John Quinn has done such a great job at Fenwick," Malnati says of the former Fenwick coach he will take over for. "I am able to follow in his footsteps, much like I did with coach [Mel] Sheets at New Trier, in taking over a great and established program."
Malnati believes Fenwick's Oak Park location and the school-wide opportunities and high-level academics makes the school and basketball program an attractive place for student-athletes and for himself as a coach.
"There are kids that can benefit from a Fenwick education and the allure of a good basketball program," Malnati believes. "I have always liked the idea of using basketball as a way to help change certain kids' direction. Those are the kind of success stories you want in basketball."
Always considered one of the elite high school coaches in the state while at New Trier, Malnati was named the City/Suburban Hoops Report Coach of the Year in 2002. He led the Trevians to the state quarterfinals in 2000 and a Class AA fourth-place finish in 2002. Malnati's Trevians stunned a Proviso East team that featured Dee Brown and Shannon Brown in the super-sectional to highlight that 2002 season. New Trier also won a sectional title in 2005.
Malnati stepped down as head coach at New Trier following the 2007-2008 season and then joined Moser's staff in 2011. First, he served served as the assistant to the head coach for one season. He spent the 2012-2013 season as one of Moser's three assistant coaches.
"I learned a ton from Porter," says Malnati of his two years working at Loyola. "Porter took a lot from Rick Majerus, one of the best minds in basketball. I was also able to watch a lot of film of what other coaches and teams do. The experience I had at the college level broadened my understanding of the game."
The veteran coach says he will use "some of the stuff I was comfortable with at New Trier" and incorporate a lot of what he learned while working under Moser.
There is talent in place at Fenwick, which finished 17-9 last season and won a Class 3A regional championship. Although senior guard Luke Lattner graduates, Scott Lindsey, an athletic 6-5 junior, returns. Lindsey is among the top 40 prospects in the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Class of 2014 player rankings.
Lindsey is one of five players returning that saw extensive minutes last season. Juniors Dan Dwyer, a 6-8 post presence, 6-6 Thomas Planek and guardd Keshaun Smith all return for the Friars.
In addition, talented freshman guard Michael Smith, who was a major contributor at the varsity level all season, will be a Fenwick fixture for the next three seasons.
"I'm excited," says Malnati, who will also teach be teaching part-time at Fenwick. "This is a great opportunity for me."
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