2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 3/25/2014 10:44 PM

Conrad enjoys special season coaching at Benet

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How often have you asked someone if he or she enjoyed the weekend upon your arrival at work on a Monday morning?

It would be difficult to find somebody who enjoyed the weekend any more than Kevin Conrad.

The longtime St. Charles resident virtually hit the trifecta this past weekend in Peoria.

Conrad, an assistant on Gene Heidkamp's coaching staff at Benet Academy, helped guide the Redwings (25-8) to a school-best second-place showing in the Class 4A state basketball tournament.

Conrad also had an opportunity to watch his youngest son, Jeff, receive a state medal as 1 of Benet's 15 varsity players this season.

Some 35 years ago, Conrad was a starting guard for a Benet Academy team that recorded a third-place Class AA state finish in Champaign.

You can just imagine the thoughts that danced through Conrad's mind on the journey back home Sunday.

"It was an incredible weekend," said Conrad. "I'm not sure it has all sunk in yet. When you're coaching, you are so occupied in preparing for the next game that you don't always have the chance to appreciate what your team has accomplished.

"It's unbelievable what these kids really accomplished this season."

Led by 6-9 senior all-state center Sean O'Mara, Benet Academy earned its first state championship game appearance with a 38-33 semifinal triumph over Edwardsville on Friday night.

The win set up what several media members billed as a "David vs. Goliath" title matchup against nationally ranked Whitney Young and 6-11 senior standout (Duke-bound) Jahlil Okafor.

"I picked up a local paper Saturday in Peoria and saw where the point spread was predicted to be 27 points," said Conrad.

That is Benet Academy picked to lose by at least 27 points.

"All I know was that there were 17 guys in our locker room who believed we would win," said Conrad.

Trailing by 11 points with 3 minutes remaining, the Redwings made a furious comeback before dropping a 46-44 decision to a Whitney Young team that didn't lose a single game against an Illinois-based opponent all season.

Conrad admits that the philosophy of coaches and players differs greatly.

"It's really weird," said Conrad. "As a player, you think you're never going to lose and as a coach you think you're never going to win."

During his playing days at Benet, Conrad did a lot of winning.

In addition to capturing 3 consecutive regional and sectional titles, the Redwings amassed a record of 84-8 covering Conrad's sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

In 1979, Conrad earned all-tournament accolades as he scored 22 points during a 53-51 double-overtime loss to Quincy and poured in 21 points during Benet's 69-60 third-place victory over East Moline United.

"That was a great year for Illinois high school basketball," said Conrad of an era that included the likes of St. Joseph's Isiah Thomas and Proviso East's Glenn 'Doc' Rivers.

Last weekend offered Conrad a chance to stroll down memory lane.

"It was very nostalgic," said Conrad. "It brought back tremendous memories from 1979. Several players from that team came back to watch us over the weekend."

One story in particular served as a fitting tribute to Conrad.

"Four minutes before the Whitney Young game, a man came down to our bench and asked if I was the Kevin Conrad who played at Benet in the '70s," said Conrad. "I said, 'yes, I'm the guy.' He told me that he modeled his game after mine when he played at East Aurora.

"Being part of it all from a coaching standpoint was like a dream come true."

Conrad, who played collegiately at the University of Dayton from 1979-83, has spent the past 19 years affiliated with the St. Charles Storm youth basketball program and has coached the Illinois Flyers AAU team.

Along with his wife, Mary, Conrad has watched all 6 of their children play high school basketball -- Kevin (29), Bethany (28), David (25), Anna (23), Chris (21) and now Jeff (17).

"Obviously basketball is of incredible importance to our family," said Conrad. "I remember buying a T-shirt that read 'Basketball Never Stops' for my wife. She has probably sacrificed more than anyone in our family."

Their first 5 Conrad kids all played at St. Charles North before Jeff decided as a freshman to follow his father's footsteps at Benet Academy.

"He had always wanted to come to Benet and it all came together," said Conrad. "There are quite a few of Jeff's teachers who taught me when I was in high school. Benet is a special place."

When Heidkamp took over at Benet in 2008, he contacted Conrad about possibly joining the Redwings' coaching staff.

"I couldn't do it because my first priority was watching Chris play his junior and senior years," recalled Conrad. "Once Chris graduated, Gene called me again and one thing led to another. Jeff's decision to attend Benet allowed me to join the staff. I'm very thankful and appreciative."

Conrad admittedly has been fortunate throughout the years surrounded by positive influences.

"I've been incredibly blessed to have played for three great coaches -- my dad, Bob Conrad, Bill Geist at Benet and Don Donoher at Dayton," said Kevin, a 2009 inductee into the University of Dayton Athletic Hall of Fame. "All three of them have had an incredible influence on my life.

"I've gotten to know Gene (Heidkamp) the last four or five years and he is everything that is right about high school athletics. Everybody is valued in the program -- from the players to the managers to the secretaries.

"After Saturday's game, the first group he thanked in the locker room was the kids who prepared the eight guys who played. Even with all of the David versus Goliath stories, we expected to win the game. That's a tribute to Heidkamp."

Coaching has become a genuine passion for Conrad, who expects it to continue even after Jeff graduates from Benet in 2015.

"I love to coach and I enjoy the interactions with kids," he said. "I have no idea what path I'm going down but coaching will play a role in some way down the road."

No matter what lies ahead, this past weekend's turn of events will be tough to top.

"Some of the most rewarding things from a coaching standpoint happened this weekend," said Conrad. "As soon as we got to our locker room after the game, I looked at my phone and had already received 71 text messages. About 80 percent of them were from kids I've coached. That is a great feeling."

Upon entering the locker room, Conrad also learned that Dayton had upset Syracuse for its first Sweet 16 berth since 1984.

"I'm still very connected to Dayton," he said. "My daughter Anna works in the basketball office there."

Yes, it was a good weekend for the Conrad clan.

You can reach Craig Brueske at csb4k@hotmail.com

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