Boys basketball: LZ's Pitcher makes the break to Lake Park
Chris Kutsor, the father of Lake Zurich senior Ryan Kutsor, texted head basketball coach Billy Pitcher the other day.
Chris Kutsor wanted to share a photo he found from several years ago of grade-schooler Ryan in a team huddle doing his water-boy/ballboy duties, as first-year varsity coach Pitcher addressed his team.
It was time to reminisce about the growth of a player, coach and program. Ryan Kutsor is moving on following a three-year varsity career that culminated this past season with Lake Zurich playing in a supersectional for the first time.
"Having those relationships, seeing kids grow from third- or fourth-graders into varsity players, was really cool," Pitcher said. "I certainly have nothing but love and respect for Lake Zurich and everything that happened here."
A lot happened at Lake Zurich for Pitcher, who also is moving on.
Lake Park made its hiring of Pitcher as its new boys basketball coach official this week.
"A really a tough decision for me," said Pitcher, whose Bears captured Class 4A regional titles in 2018 and 2016. "To get to the sectional final two of the last three years felt magical."
Lake Zurich hired the then-30-year-old Pitcher away from Libertyville in 2010 and made him a first-time varsity head coach. Pitcher inherited a team that went 3-24 the previous season. The Bears improved their win total by only four games in Pitcher's first season but then posted back-to-back 15-win campaigns. Pitcher had his program on the rise.
Lake Zurich has won 111 games in the last five seasons. The Bears' 26 wins this past season were one shy of the school-record total coach John Zarr's squad posted in 2004-05.
In eight seasons, Pitcher's Bears, without ever having a Division-I player, went 148-103.
"One of things I'm most proud of is the relationships -- the friendships made with players, people in the community, feeder parents, teachers, other coaches," Pitcher said. "The other thing that I'm proud of is that I thought we were a class program on and off the court. We were able to be very competitive, but also our kids conducted themselves well. Our players didn't get personal fouls. We weren't talking trash going up the floor. We cleaned up the bench. We were model kids when we'd go to a hotel or restaurant."
Pitcher takes over a Lake Park team that went 6-19 last season but before that posted double-digit wins consistently. Coach Josh Virostko resigned following last season. A year after Virostko's Lancers won a sectional title in 2015, Pitcher's Bears beat Lake Park in the McHenry regional final.
"They've always had really tough kids," Pitcher said. "They've had a lot of skilled players too. ... I've always liked that program and the area around there. It's just a real good mix of kids. Very similar to Lake Zurich."
Pitcher understands he's leaving job security at Lake Zurich, where he was tenured. At Lake Park, he'll teach an AP business class.
"The opportunity to do something different and at the AP level really interested me," Pitcher said. "I felt (leaving Lake Zurich) was a risk worth taking. I just felt really comfortable and really impressed with not only the administration at Lake Park in my interviews but also just the atmosphere and culture there, the pride there. Those were all driving factors."
In an email to Lake Park parents and guardians this week, Lake Park athletic director Pete Schauer noted the numerous volunteer endeavors that Pitcher's Lake Zurich teams were involved in.
"He has demonstrated a commitment to academic success, positive student behaviors, leadership and sportsmanship," Schauer said. "These values parallel Lake Park's organizational values and mission, and we look forward to partnering with Coach Pitcher to bring his program vision to Lake Park."