Tom Cappel is old enough to be Michael Orris' grandfather. So does that mean that the 64-year-old Cappel is too old to coach the Illinois-bound point guard and direct one of the state's elite programs, that the game of basketball has passed him by?
Orris did his homework. In fact, he and teammate Marvie Keith served on a committee that interviewed applicants for the head coaching position at Crete-Monee. They agreed that Cappel was the best man for the job.
"He is a Hall of Fame coach. He knows what he is talking about," Orris said. "He has coached a lot of Division I athletes. He has been around for a long time. He had a lot of success at Hillcrest.
"I feel we have some Division I talent on our team and he would be good for us. He will be able to develop us. The age factor is what it is. He has kept up with the culture. I dont feel the age difference is a factor."
In 23 years at Hillcrest in Country Club Hills, Cappel won 502 games, produced two Elite Eight qualifiers and built one of the most successful high school programs in Illinois. Now he is eager to start all over again at another south suburban venue, Crete-Monee.
"I'm excited to be coaching again," he said. "I spent two years as an assistant coach at St. Xavier, at the NAIA level, but I missed the high school game."
After taking an early retirement option at Hillcrest, he left in 2007. But it wasn't so easy getting back into the high school ranks. He sent out several resumes, had a lot of interviews and, for a time, he was uncertain if he would get another coaching opportunity.
"I thought high school coaching was pure, innocent. The kids aren't tainted at that age. I found it to be exciting," Cappel said. "I was going crazy at home. You can hunt and fish and play golf, which I do a bit, but in the winter there isn't much to do. I don't like ice fishing. And you can take only so many trips. I have four grandchildren, all girls.
"There were jobs all over the Chicago area. But I turned down one school because the job wasn't what I was looking for. I interviewed at Crete-Monee the first time but didn't get it. Then, when it opened up again, I interviewed for a second time. I was looking for a job first. Now it is a dream job."
Cappel, who once studied to be a priest, was a walk-on basketball player at DePaul. After graduating in 1970, he served as an assistant at St. Rita (football star Dennis Lick was on the team) and Oak Forest before landing at Hillcrest. A resident of Orland Park, he was familiar with Crete-Monee, the old Dome, the good teams with Phil Henderson and Kenya Beach.
Crete-Monee was ranked among the top 15 teams in the Chicago area in the preseason and Cappel is anxious to realize those expectations and achieve even more. He wants to win 600 games and take his team to Peoria. For the time being, he looks forward to returning to the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament at Rich South and a January 24 game against his old school, Hillcrest.
"I'm having as much fun as ever," Cappel said. "I run six miles a day and work out in the gym three days a week. This is everything I hoped it would be. The further you get into it, the more you realize you have a good time. At first, you are hesitant. It's a new school. You don't know anybody. You wonder how the kids will respond."
But he has a good group to work with and they are responding to his old-school approach. Orris is one of the best point guards in the state, Cappel's kind of floor leader, tough, gritty, a pure point guard. He is surrounded by 6-foot-3 senior Maurice Hopkins, junior guard Marvie Keith, 6-3 junior LaQuon Treadwell and 6-foot-8 sophomore Rashod Lee.
Cappel likes what he sees. And he thinks Crete-Monee fans will like what they see, too, an up-tempo trapping defense and an offense hell-bent on getting down the court as quickly as possible after grabbing the ball off the backboard. The philosophy worked at Hillcrest and Cappel sees no reason why, with the talent at his disposal, it can't succeed at Crete-Monee.
"We don't need to change anything," he said. "We have similar type of kids. You do what you are comfortable with. Will these kids respond to me? I don't see any difference with kids today. All kids have problems. All schools have kids with problems. If you don't like kids, you shouldn't be doing this. I treat them like my own kids. If I have a problem with them, I will bend an ear, ask them what they think, get it out on the table."
Cappel has a seasoned staff -- former Blue Island Eisenhower coach Mike Lyman, former Thornridge coach Danny Turner, John Cullnan and Al Hutton. He has 55 in the total program and plans to raise money for some perks -- pregame shirts and practice gear for everyone.
Orris has been through his own soap opera. The son of two ministers, he attended Palatine as a freshman and sophomore, then moved to Crete-Monee.
Cappel is his third coach in three years. On top of that, Orris committed to Creighton last spring, then de-committed in late June and chose Illinois on September 11. Now he believes he has everything in order.
"This is my team. I'm the leader," Orris said. "The state championship is our goal this year. Team first is the coach's message. This is a team game and everybody has to play their role. The bottom line is to win. It isn't about personal rewards."
Last year, Orris was surrounded by other Division I talent so he settled into a pass-first, shoot-second mentality. He averaged 10 points and seven assists for a 25-4 team that lost to Normal Community in the supersectional.
Orris knows he is a pure point guard, what Illinois coach Bruce Weber desperately needs. That means he is a quarterback on the floor. He has to know where everyone is on the offense, every play, when and where to get them the ball, how to put them in position to be successful on the court, to do whatever it takes to lead them. And, if necessary, to score.
"I'd rather make a cool pass than a basket, so long as we win," he said. "That's what I have to do at Illinois. But I'll have to score more this year, maybe 15 to 20 points per game for us to be successful. This year probably won't be pass first for me. Next year, it will be."
Orris also believes the 2011-12 Warriors will get a helpful boost from 6-foot-6 senior Jordan Perry, 6-foot-5 junior Mark Connor and 5-foot-11 senior guard T.J. Morris, a transfer from Seton Academy.
"No," he said, summing up his expectations for the upcoming season, "(Cappel) doesn't seem like a grandfather to me."