He's known as "Coach Z" not because his personality or style will put you to sleep.
While Brian Zyrkowski says being named Libertyville's new boys basketball coach is a "dream come true," we can't confirm he dreams, because that would require sleep. The first time Coach Z catches up on Z's might be his first time.
"My friends always say I'm crazy, and I know I am," said Zyrkowski, who's 35 and single and has the energy of a single guy in his twenties. "But I feel to be a successful coach, you got to put in that time."
He learned that coaching work ethic from Tom McCormack. A 2000 graduate of Conant, where he played hoops for the recently retired McCormack, Zyrkowski started coaching basketball straight out of high school. He coached Conant's feeder program as well as AAU ball, played two years at Harper College and finished up his undergraduate degree at Illinois.
All the while, his coach whistle was never far from his side.
"When I was in college, I was driving home to coach AAU teams in tournaments over the weekends," Zyrkowski said. "I loved coaching basketball. I loved putting in that extra time. That (love of basketball) goes back to the days when I would see Tom McCormack in one of the rec-center gyms, and he would work with me individually."
On Monday, Libertyville's school board is expected to officially approve Zyrkowski as the varsity's new basketball coach. In his sixth year as a math teacher at LHS, Zyrkowski replaces Brent Mork, who stepped down for family reasons after going 28-27 in two seasons.
As long as he's been a part of the Libertyville family, Zyrkowski has been the head sophomore coach. He applied for the head varsity job after Scott Bogumil stepped aside two seasons ago, only to see Mork get the job. When the position opened again following this past season, Zyrkowski applied again. If this wasn't his dream job, the Conant job was.
Replacing McCormack, an IBCA hall-of-famer whom he calls a "great man and role model," would have meant a lot to Zyrkowski, but Libertyville has become his second home. He lives here and eats, breathes and lives Libertyville buckets.
"It's a great school and a great community to be a part of," said Zyrkowski, whose family lives in Schaumburg. "Words cannot really even describe how I'm feeling."
If Zyrkowski is the next McCormack, this is a slam-dunk hire for Libertyville. A 6-foot guard during his playing days, Zyrkowski later coached the freshman basketball team for three years at Conant, where he also served as a teachers aide.
"It was wonderful (coaching) because I got a chance to sit with Tom McCormack on the varsity bench," Zyrkowski said. "It's different when you played for a coach and then you also get to coach under him. I learned a lot about myself and where I wanted to go with my coaching."
McCormack's teams played man to man and defended tenaciously. Zyrkowski's teams try to play the same way.
"I want our players to play with another level of intensity," Zyrkowski said. "Offensively, I'm more of an up-tempo guy. I like to put a lot of pressure on the defense to stop us in the full court. Defensively, we want to dictate the action. I like to pressure the basketball. There's no shot clock. We want to create the turnovers."
When his team has the ball in the half court, Zyrkowski will stress spacing and screening to create a quality shot. Defensively, the Wildcats will hound, jump in passing lanes, pressure and deny.
That's the plan, anyway.
"Something I've always believed in is that in order to play good zones, you have to be able to be a very effective, man-to-man, defensive type of team," Zyrkowski said. "That's where it begins. I want all of my lower levels playing some tough man-to-man defense, working on those defensive fundamentals and getting everything down by varsity year."
Zyrkowski says his coaching staff -- Rick Kolze, Jimmy Ori, Jonathan Malats, Jeff Heiden and Sean Matthews -- deserve a "shout-out."
So does the new head coach, who owns a master's degree from Concordia University and has been waiting for his opportunity. He may be single, but the word "commitment" doesn't scare him.
"My friends and a lot of people I know, they know how much this means to me," Zyrkowski said. "When I have free time, I like going to feeder tournaments, I like going to AAU tournaments and seeing or kids, our future Wildcats, play. I love doing workouts with players, developing. I put in that extra time. It's important to me because when I was in high school, my coaches did the same thing for me. I feel I can keep giving back to our student-athletes."
Libertyville basketball fans can sleep tight. Coach Z is wide-awake.
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