These three IBCA Hall of Fame coaches caught 'the bug' early on
There are many reasons people get into coaching.
But it seems the most common reason they stay in it, for years and years, is a deep love for the game.
Or as Warren girls basketball coach John Stanczykiewicz puts it, he caught "the bug."
"I remember when I first started coaching, and I was learning about game-planning and scouting, it all really appealed to me, it all interested me," Stanczykiewicz said. "That hasn't changed. I enjoy coaching so much because I just really enjoy the game. I caught the bug."
That love and enjoyment of basketball has carried Stanczykiewicz for more than 20 years, and right into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Stanzykiewicz, who recently learned he will be inducted in May as part of the IBCA's Class of 2020, will join two other area coaches who are also afflicted with "the bug," Stevenson boys coach Pat Ambrose and Barrington boys coach Bryan Tucker.
All three coaches boast more than 400 career wins, and 20 years of service to the game as a head coach. Stanzykiewicz has been a head coach for 23 years, 21 at Warren. Ambrose is in his 22nd year as head coach, all at Stevenson and Tucker has been a head coach for 24 years, 11 years at Barrington.
"This was a really nice surprise," Ambrose said of the Hall of Fame honor. "It's a little bit of longevity and a little bit of success and a little bit of notoriety. The Hall of Fame is a cocktail of all of those things, I guess. I just feel really blessed and grateful because I'm doing something I've wanted to do since I was in high school and something like this makes me think of all the people who have helped me along the way to do it, players, assistant coaches, mentors. A lot of people have been in on this."
For most long-term coaches, there have been a lot of people involved, and sometimes a lot of stops along the way as well. Tucker, for instance, served as an assistant coach at Brother Rice and Marist, and a head coach at Marian Catholic and Loyola before landing at Barrington.
Tucker coached both of Michael Jordan's sons, Jeffrey and Marcus, at Loyola and won a sectional championship with the Ramblers.
"I remember working camps with Bryan back when Doug Collins was still the coach of the Chicago Bulls," Barrington athletic director Mike Obsuszt said with a laugh. "That's how far back we go.
"I just have always appreciated how well Bryan knows the game and how well he teaches kids to play the game. His attention to detail and teaching the game the right way, you can really tell how much he loves it."
So how did Stanzykiewicz catch "the bug" in the first place?
"I guess you could call me a frustrated basketball player," Stanzykiewicz said with a laugh. "I never played in high school or in college but I went to DePaul and tried out there for giggles.
"I just really liked basketball a lot. I played in seventh and eighth grade and then when it became clear that I wasn't really going to play beyond that, I started coaching."
Stanzykiewicz's first coaching job was in his church league, coaching grade schoolers.
"That's when I fell in love with coaching and how beautiful basketball can be," Stanzykiewicz said. "There's the constant motion, and five players relying on each other. There's such a beauty in it.
"Then when I was in college, it was kind of the glory days of basketball, with guys like Bobby Knight and Digger Phelps in the game. I liked watching them coach."
Stanzykiewicz kept working basketball camps in the city, coaching grammar school and church league teams, and then when he graduated from DePaul, he did his student-teaching at Gordon Tech, where he served on the basketball staff under head coach Steve Pappas, who ultimately ended up at Deerfield and is now in the Hall of Fame as well.
"I learned from Steve that you can be ultracompetitive at basketball, but still have a lot of fun doing it," said Stanzykiewicz, who also had coaching jobs at DeLaSalle, Round Lake and Richmond-Burton (2 years as boys head coach) before taking over at Warren.
Some of the most fun Stanzykiewicz has had at Warren came during the Sarah Boothe years in the mid-2000s. Boothe was a 6-foot-5 center who was named Illinois Ms. Basketball in 2008. She went on to play four years of basketball at Stanford and is now playing professionally in Australia.
Boothe led Warren to the Elite Eight, its furthest state tournament advancement in program history and the Blue Devils never won fewer than 27 games a season during her four-year varsity career.
"There are a lot of good coaches out there who maybe haven't had the opportunity to win at that level because they haven't had the players to do it," Stanzykiewicz said. "You have to work with the hand you are dealt. But I have been incredibly blessed to coach some really good players who were very talented and willing to work really hard and take to some coaching."
Of course Pat Ambrose likes to reflect on the 2015 season at Stevenson, the year that the Patriots won the state championship and had an almost circuslike following with one of the most highly regarded players in the country in Jalen Brunson, who is now in the NBA.
But Ambrose also likes to reflect on the much quieter early days of his career, of what it took to get to the 2015 season and beyond.
Ambrose credits his players and dedicated assistant coaches like Paul Swan, who has been with him since he took over in 1999.
But he also likes to credit his opponents.
"I remember for my first 10 years at Stevenson, I was in awe of (Warren boys coach) Chuck Ramsey and how he ran his program and I was trying so hard to model my program after his," Ambrose said. "I would stay up late and bang my head against the wall trying to figure out ways to beat Chuck, to be Chuck, or to get to his level. His program was the standard in Lake County, and they were so good and it was so hard for us to beat them. We were trying to do the same things they did, but they just did it better. That was really difficult to accept, but it was also really good for us. It was a measuring stick and it helped our program grow and it helped me grow as a coach.
"It's not that Chuck specifically mentored me or anything, but I definitely credit him with pushing me. He pushed me to try to catch up to him."
In 2007, Stevenson finally had its breakthrough against the Blue Devils, who were the perennial power in not only the North Suburban Conference but also all of Lake County and much of the northern suburbs.
That year, the Patriots, led by Dylan Richter and Kevin Stineman, defeated Warren in the supersectional at the Sears Centre.
"That was a program-changing win for us, a real breakthrough," Ambrose said. "That propelled us to all kinds of postseason success."
Stevenson placed fourth that year, its first trophy in the state finals. Five years later came three straight Final Fours, capped off with the state championship in 2015.
Ambrose says that longtime Lake Forest coach Phil LaScala has also been a big influence on his career.
"Phil is so smart and he always makes me think and question what I'm doing, in a good way," Ambrose said. "He challenges me to be a better coach, just like Chuck did. Always trying to keep up and even ahead of guys like that has really helped me grow."
Ambrose, who played basketball at Augustana and majored in secondary education, knew he wanted to be coach when he was playing basketball at Naperville North, where his earliest mentor was his head coach Dick Whitaker. He also credits learning the game from Bill Wandro at Hoffman Estates and Mark Schneider at Proviso West, both places he was an assistant early in his career.
"I owe all these guys a ton," Ambrose said. "I learned so much. And Bill (Wandro) really spoke up for me when Stevenson was looking to hire a new head coach. John Martin was the athletic director at Stevenson then and he really took a chance on me. I was young and I had never been (a head coach). But I think he saw a very young guy who just really wanted to be there and grow with the program." Ambrose has certainly grown, and grown Stevenson into the new standard in Lake County.
"You've got many memories over the years, and yes, winning state was the mountaintop," Ambrose said. "But it's the people who really stick out, the families, the guys from the team who come back to visit. That's what really brings everything back."
All in the family
What makes the Hall of Fame induction even more special for Bryan Tucker is that he will be inducted at the same time as his older brother.
Larry Tucker, now the principal at Marist High School, is being inducted as a player in May. He was a standout at Marist before going on to a college career at Lewis University.
"I think that's pretty neat for Bryan," said Barrington athletic director Mike Obsuszt. "His brother was a really good player, an All-American at Lewis. It's great that they're both going in together."
Interestingly, Bryan Tucker, who is about 6-foot-6 and certainly looks like a basketball player, didn't follow in his older brother's footsteps with sports. His main focus in high school and college was not basketball, it was baseball.
Tucker was a big left-handed pitcher and wound up playing college baseball at Notre Dame.
"Bryan was at Notre Dame when Lou Holtz was there and it's funny because whenever Bryan talks about how his team will do against another team, he sounds exactly like Lou Holtz, like the other team is the best team in America and how his team is a huge underdog," Obsuszt said with a laugh. "Bryan is just really humble and just a really respectful, throwback kind of guy."
Tucker, who even sports a throwback buzz-cut, uses the same old-school approach in teaching his players the game of basketball.
"He teaches the kids every detail of the game, how to do things right," Obsuszt said of Tucker. "For example, even if we have a smaller team, we always do pretty well on the boards because every time a shot goes up, you'll see all five of our guys boxing out.
"That's something Bryan really teaches, just like all the fundamentals. Discipline is important to him. The little things are the big things."
For a full list of the 2020 IBCA Hall of Fame inductees, visit: www.ibcaillinois.org
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw