Among St. Francis coach Bob Ward's many facets is a respect and appreciation for Illinois basketball history, taking special pride in local boys, and men, made good.
On Saturday, St. Francis will honor its boys basketball alumni before the 7:30 p.m. game against Prairie Ridge. Highlighted will be the 1989 team that finished 27-5 and fourth in Class A, coached by Mike Harper, who in April will be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
"Mike has given our teams over the last three years great support and encouragement," Ward said. "He is the first person that we have speak to our players each year -- a coach's coach who is an outstanding teacher on the court and in his history classroom."
Ward likely had to bend over backward to convince Harper to relent to a moment in the spotlight. Though Harper won 315 games and 19 titles of one sort or another (regionals, conference, etc.) between 1982-2006, during that era he seemed almost uncomfortable acknowledging success as coach, mentor and role model. Harper resigned the position to spend more quality time with children Drew and Margaret and wife Julie.
"He did his thing, he didn't look for a bunch of publicity for what he did," said Mike Healy, the point guard for those 1989 Spartans, a former Wheaton Warrenville South coach and current athletic director. "He's always about the kids and making sure that the kids were the ones that got the publicity. He just did it the right way."
The first person Harper may thank if he gets a speaking role Saturday will be former St. Francis athletic director Larry Baker, who Harper believes showed great patience with a young coach who'd won 19 games his first four seasons. Even when Healy and teammates like Jason Gilroy, Dan Lenert and Scott England were juniors, the Spartans went 11-14.
"From the time they walked in the door I recognized their talent," Harper recalled. "They had all the components -- good guard play, a little size, they had shooters. Then it was just a question of whether or not they would come together as a team and mesh together well. And they did, but it took time."
Now, 25 years later, time has come for those players to reunite and help celebrate their accomplishment as well as the coach who, as Healy said, has "had an unbelievable impact on my life."
"It was a special time in all of our lives," Harper said, "and to all come together after 25 years and relive all those memories, it's very, very special."
A postgame reception for St. Francis basketball alumni at The Bank Restaurant in Wheaton also could be very special. Entering Friday's game at Marmion, Ward sits on 299 career victories.
Neuqua Valley let slip a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead, but in a 69-68 victory over Rockford Auburn on Monday at Hononegah, Wildcats coach Todd Sutton earned the 500th win in his 24-year career. He moved to 501 later that day with a 49-35 victory over Hononegah.
Sutton on Wednesday pointed out the irony that he was a 1981 graduate of Auburn -- not the Rockford school, but Auburn in southern Illinois.
"We've been very successful, we've had great players. It's been a lot of fun. I'm the first one to practice every day, so I'm just excited to be there every day," Sutton said over the phone as he and wife Janet arrived at Illinois Wesleyan to watch son Tyler, a sophomore guard for North Central College. His older boy, Drew, is a junior pitcher for the North Central baseball team.
Todd Sutton amassed 162 victories in nine seasons at Pecatonica before starting the Neuqua Valley program. Starting a new tradition in south Naperville, not reaching victory milestones, was the goal.
"It was about trying to build something the kids would have a lot of pride in," Sutton said.
In those early seasons at Neuqua, the coach listed both his sons as assistant coaches on the team roster. Eventually both took their turns on the floor, Drew ranking No. 1 in assist-turnover ratio at 5.91, Tyler first in 3s in a season with 101.
"I'm just so proud of all the players I've had at Pecatonica and Neuqua Valley," Todd Sutton said. "It's been a pleasure. I spent five years coaching my two boys on the varsity and it's been the greatest years of my life ... with three Suttons and a young mom sitting in the stands."
A year ago Glenbard East was in the midst of a one-loss romp toward another DuPage Valley Conference title.
This year? Needless to say it's been a bit more of a struggle.
"It's been a while since we haven't competed for a conference title," said Rams coach Scott Miller. "In more ways than one it just feels a lot different."
Glenbard East (4-13) enters the weekend winless through six DVC games. The Rams wrap up the first half of the conference season Friday at home against Wheaton Warrenville South, which is also 0-6 in the DVC.
After losing to the three conference front-runners to start the season -- West Aurora, Naperville Central and Glenbard North -- the Rams have held their own despite losing to Wheaton North, Naperville North and Lake Park.
Led by senior guard JaRon Hall, the team's lone returning starter who's averaging nearly 21 points a game, Glenbard East is rebuilding around a young team featuring sophomores Patrick Peterkin, Jack Grigat and Terrance Lakes, and freshman Mike Finley.
It's not an ideal situation, but the inexperienced group has improved throughout the season.
"We're right there with teams, but in the fourth quarter we just seem to crumble," Miller said. "I think that's pretty common with young teams. The fourth quarter is a lot different than the first three at the varsity level."
Miller is hopeful the Rams will get on a winning track in the season's second half. Something to give the program momentum heading into a promising off-season.
"They're getting used to the speed of the game, but the physicality is going to take some time to adjust to," he said.
Hinsdale Central is the new host for the 17th annual High School Hoops Showdown. The doubleheader tips off at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Benet, a regular participant in recent years in the event, kicks off the action as 6-foot-9 Xavier recruit Sean O'Mara and the Redwings face Milwaukee Hamilton and UCLA-bound forward Kevon Looney, regarded as one of the nation's top prep players.
Coming off Friday's key East Suburban Catholic Conference matchup at St. Viator, Benet coach Gene Heidkamp knows his team must be at its best to compete with Hamilton and Looney.
"This is a tough stretch for us," Heidkamp said. "It doesn't get any easier for us."
The second game tips at 8:30 p.m. between Hinsdale Central and Fenwick.
Also on Saturday, the When Sides Collide tripleheader begins at 4 p.m. at Glenbard East. Plainfield East plays Sandburg, and then the host Rams face Palatine.
The highlight of the event is the 7 p.m. showdown between Stevenson and Marian Catholic.
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