Lorenzo Donegan was at home and cutting the grass in his front lawn when he received a telephone call from Johnny Roland, whom he had coached at Crane and had transferred to Englewood.
"I had resigned (at Crane) and thought I was done with coaching," said Donegan, who has been a Chicago firefighter for 24 years.
But Roland was insistent. "Why not come to Englewood and help coach?" he asked Donegan.
"It was a challenge," Donegan said. "I heard about the shared gym (with Urban Prep) and only 90 minutes of practice time. But it is a new program. The kids want to win. It was a change for me to start my own program.
"The sophomores are good. There is great chemistry and they are unbeaten in the conference. And there are some good freshmen, too. I want to stay and see how they develop. We can go to the Red Division after this season and they can keep us in the Red. My blood is flowing again, my competitive juices. It's hard to walk out on the kids now. It's all about the kids."
TEAM Englewood is 16-4 after last Friday's 70-66 loss to Little Village. Earlier, the Eagles defeated their chief Blue Division rival, Jones, 67-62. They will meet Urban Prep on Monday night in their final tune-up for the Public League playoff and a February 16th match with North Lawndale.
"We are a leg up to move to the Red Division. Our vision has to go to the Red Division," Donegan said. "How good is this team? As good as it wants to be. The big thing is the commitment by the kids. We have set high schools. We challenge them all the time. And they have answered it."
Who is TEAM Englewood? The school has been open for five years. It occupies the old Englewood High School building, which includes a refurbished gymnasium. The school shares the building with Urban Prep. It has an enrollment of 520 students.
Donegan, 54, knows how to win. This is his first full year at the helm. A graduate of Westinghouse in 1976, he wasn't good enough to make a basketball team at a time when Eddie Johnson was the star and Mark Aguirre was walking in the door from Austin.
"(Westinghouse coaches) Frank Lollino and Roy Condotti were my gym teachers. They were great influences on me," he said. "I always wanted to be a basketball coach. That was my mission in life."
Donegan coached softball for 20 years in Washington Park's Sunday League. He also was the sophomore basketball coach at Crane and Hubbard. Two of the most talented players he helped to develop were Sherron Collins and Othyus Jeffers. He also coached Johnny Roland.
At Englewood, Donegan interviewed with Bo Delaney, the dean of students and former basketball coach at Manley--and Roland's stepfather.
"When I heard they were looking for another sophomore coach, I called and asked (Donegan) to help us out," Roland said. "I was a freshman at Crane and he coached me on the sophomore team. I loved him. He was a great coach. He pushed me hard every day in practice.
"Why is he a good coach? Because he pushes his players all the time in a positive way. He helps us on and off the court. And he keeps our heads in the books. There is a lot of trouble in Englewood. We have to deal with gangs all the time. He encourages us to stay in the gym and off the streets."
According to Donegan, Roland "makes us go. He is a complete point guard. I have seen a lot of point guards this year and he is among the top 10. Illinois State is talking to him. He has a lack of exposure because we are in the Blue Division but he is a diamond in the rough. More colleges should be looking at him."
Roland, a 5-foot-11 senior, averages 17 points and 8 assists per game. Shartone Moore, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, averages 14 points and 10 rebounds. Other starters are 6-foot-1 junior Jonathan Owens (12 ppg, 8 rpg), 6-foot-3 senior DeAngelo Rocquemore (15 ppg, 10 rpg) and 5-foot-10 sophomore Ashten Hilliard (12 ppg, 5 rpg).
Primary reserves are 6-foot-2 senior Malek Johnson (8 ppg, 4 rpg) and 5-foot-7 senior Montrell McLaurin (6 ppg, 3 assists).
Against Jones, Owens had 12 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists and Moore contributed 14 points and 12 rebounds. "Moore has great potential, a great upside. His potential hasn't been reached," Donegan said.
Roland doesn't believe his potential has been reached, either. He has been playing basketball since he was 5 years old, with his three older brothers on the court across the alley from their home, two-on-two, HORSE. Oldest brother Luther, who played for Bo Delaney at Manley, usually won.
But playing on the playground and playing in the Public League are two different things. Roland prides himself on being a complete point guard. He utilizes his speed and his instincts and his senior leadership. He hopes the whole package is enough to earn a college scholarship.
He has offers from Texas-Pan American and Oklahoma State-Panhandle, a Division II school, and he also has interest from Alabama-Birmingham, Illinois State and Roosevelt. He would like to attend UAB, a big-time program in a big-time conference, Conference USA.
"One of my friends, (former Hubbard point guard) Aaron Johnson, went there. He just graduated and now he is playing overseas," Roland said. "He had a lot of nice things to say about the program. I hope to hear from them."
Meanwhile, he hopes to complete a 20-victory season and help to talk TEAM Englewood to the Red Division.
"We're very excited about going to the Red Division," the coach said. "But we have to mature. The kids have to know that every game is a war. They have to seal the deal. We don't want to go up to the Red for one year and come back down. We have a bulls-eye on us now. We have to be more focused and make a name for ourselves."