Morris McGuire is a 5-foot-10 senior guard on Marist's basketball team. He sits on the end of the bench. He doesn't play at all during the games. But he could be the RedHawks' most valuable player.
"We couldn't win without him," said 6-foot-5 sophomore Nic Weishar, perhaps the best athlete in school history. "In practice, he is one of the scout team guys. At times, he plays the best player on the other team. He is tough-minded, a scrapper. He gets into your face."
McGuire and two senior starters, 5-foot-7 guard Tyler Oden and 6-foot-3 forward Matt O'Reilly, provide the leadership that has turned Marist into a 25-5 team that stunned top-seeded Curie 63-62 in last Friday's regional final and will meet highly rated Bogan in a Class 4A sectional semifinal on Wednesday night at Argo in Summit.
"Our seniors are great leaders. They won't let us do anything less than 100 percent. Our goal is to outwork teams," Weishar said. "In practice, the seniors make us work hard all the time and won't allow us to let up."
But did the RedHawks really think they could beat Curie, a 25-game winner whose only other losses were to top-ranked and two-time defending state champion Simeon, the No. 1 seed in the Argo sectional?
Trailing 62-57 with 50 seconds to play, Marist rallied behind Oden (20 points, five three-pointer), 6-foot-1 junior L.J. McIntosh (15), Weishar (11) and 6-foot junior Lexus Williams (10). Weishar took a pass from McIntosh, drove from the top of the key and passed to Williams on the wing. His three-pointer with two seconds left spelled the difference as Marist won its first regional since 2007.
"My friends wanted us to win but I got a vibe that some of them didn't think we'd win. To be honest, I think they thought Curie was unbeatable," Weishar said.
"But our scouting report said they liked to dribble drive and were good three-point shooters. We had to stop their dribble drive and make them shoot 15 to 17-footers. We executed our game plan well. Once we stopped their dribble drive and made them shoot from 15 to 17 feet, we thought we could win."
If coach Gene Nolan has experienced a more memorable victory in his 12-year career, he can't remember. Marist has won nine in a row and 12 of its last 13 games. So why doesn't Nolan's team get more respect? "That's a great question. But we're not too worried about it. We'd rather be under the radar. We don't mind being an underdog. We have nothing to lose," Weishar said.
After going 25-4, 25-5, 20-7 and 23-8 from 2003 to 2007, Marist slipped to 15-15 and 12-17. Last year's team was 19-11 but lost to Hinsdale South in the regional. This year's team is seeking the school's second sectional title and first since 1981.
Nolan has gone with the same starting lineup throughout the season--Weishar (13 points, 9 rebounds per game), who is better known as one of the leading football prospects in the class of 2014 who already has scholarship offers from Illinois and Northwestern, McIntosh (17 ppg), Williams (13 points, five assists per game), Oden (9 ppg) and O'Reilly (8 ppg). Juniors Jack Barry and Will Brennan come off the bench.
"It is a great group to coach," Nolan said. "We aren't real big but the kids are committed. We came through a tough stretch in January and we found out a lot about our team. We have some kids who believe in each other. They have come together. We have good chemistry."
Weishar likes what he sees and he knows what it will take to get through what is arguably the toughest sectional in the state. "This team is hungry. To keep winning, we have to continue to sustain our effort on defense. We haven't had trouble scoring all year but we must rebound and sustain our defense," he said.
And keep listening to Morris McGuire.