400 wins and counting for Farragut's Nelson

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400 wins and counting for Farragut's Nelson

William "Wolf" Nelson, to his everlasting disappointment, will forever be remembered as the coach of one of the best high school basketball teams never to win a state championship.
 
It happened in 1995, when Farragut, ranked No. 1 in the state with a lineup that included future NBA star Kevin Garnett, three-time All-Stater Ronnie Fields and Michael Wright, lost to Thornton 46-43 in the Class AA quarterfinals.
 
"That was my most disappointing moment in coaching," said Nelson, in his 22nd season. "I'll never forget that team. It was our first trip to state and I was the new kid on the block. I wasn't prepared for all the hoopla, the circus surrounding the state tournament."
 
Nelson didn't scout Thornton. He didn't think he needed to. He thought his team was invincible, that it could overcome any adversity and overpower any opponent. "My first chance was my best chance at winning the state title. Now I regret it," he said.
 
"If I could have it to do all over again, if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have lost that game. Before the game started, there were things to do and we didn't follow through. I wasn't totally prepared. I didn't know what to expect. I thought who we were and what we were was enough. But it wasn't. You have to do what you need to do to be ready."
 
Nelson, 52, has learned from his mistakes. On Jan. 12, he recorded the 400th victory of his career as Farragut rallied to edge Thornton Fractional North 63-60 at the Bob Hambric Coaches Against Cancer Shootout in Calumet City.
 
The Admirals, who started 0-3, defeated Crane 58-52 on Wednesday to extend their winning streak to nine games. Last Thursday, however, they lost to top-rated Whitney Young 77-63, then lost to Gary (Indiana) West Side 61-49 on Saturday, and to North Chicago 69-65 on Sunday. They'll try to snap their three-game losing streak against Orr on Wednesday.
 
Nelson never has been skittish about playing tough competition. Playing in the Public League's Red-West Division, one of the strongest conferences in the state, is a given. But Nelson always has sought to fill his schedule with other state-rated or nationally ranked opponents.
 
"We had so-so teams but the turning point was when I got Curtis Ganes and Ronnie Fields to go to Farragut. Until then, we lost kids who lived across the street from the school to Marshall or Crane or Westinghouse. I wanted to get kids to stay in the neighborhood," Nelson said.
 
A 1978 graduate of Farragut, Nelson admired basketball stars Billy Lewis, Sonny Parker and Anthony Brown. But he didn't play basketball. He was captain of the chess team. He had his own fan club.
 
"I was one of the top chess players in the city," he said. "Chess players had fans, too. I had a following around the city, like a big basketball star."
 
He played basketball at a youth center. As a seventh grader, he was introduced to the game by Ron Dunlap, a 1964 All-Stater at Farragut who went to Illinois. "I wasn't good enough to play on the varsity. But I was a student of the game. I could explain how you played the game. I just couldn't do it," he said.
 
Nelson studied electrical engineering and math at Illinois-Chicago and Northeastern Illinois. As a college student in 1983, he began serving as an assistant coach on Farragut's frosh-soph basketball team. In 1989, he began teaching math at his alma mater. When head coach Thomas Peppers left in 1990, Nelson became head coach.
 
He knew the history of the program. From the outside looking in, he recalled the powerful Lewis/Parker teams that coach Wardell Vaughn produced in the 1970s. As good as they were, however, they weren't good enough to beat Crane or Marshall or Hirsch or Phillips or Morgan Park or Vocational.
 
"Something was missing," Nelson said. "I didn't have war stories to tell to motivate kids."
 
So he persuaded Ron Eskridge, who had been an assistant under Vaughn, to join his staff. Eskridge was an invaluable addition. If nothing else, he accomplished two things that led to Farragut's rise. He persuaded Garnett to enroll at Farragut for his senior year and served as Fields' Svengali.
 
Meanwhile, Nelson sought to build a reputation as one of the most successful coaches in the Public League. He looked up to Vaughn, Marshall's Luther Bedford, King's Landon Cox and Simeon's Bob Hambric. He wanted to accomplish what they had accomplished--and more.
 
"I asked myself: 'When will I be able to go out to big tournaments like Proviso West and persuade good players to come to Farragut?' When we finally were invited to Danville for Thanksgiving, and Proviso West for Christmas and the KMOX Shootout in St. Louis, I knew we had arrived. We were doing what Simeon and Whitney Young are doing now," he said.
 
Nelson has built a well-founded reputation as "the best big man coach in the state." He has a knack for taking big kids who never played basketball before or couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time, and developing them into well-coordinated and athletic virtuosos on the court...players such as Ganes, Garnett, Wright, Elliott Poole, Ollie Bailey, Mike Dunigan and Rashaun Stimage.
 
"I'm a student of the game and I can tell you what you are doing even if you don't know," he said. "I've always been a teacher, even as a chess player."
 
The All-Nelson team? His all-time starting five? Garnett, Fields, Wright, Poole and Theotis Owens, who played on his first team in 1991 and later played at Kankakee Community College.
 
"[Nelson] has never gotten the level of respect that he deserves for the job that he has done at Farragut," said recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye. "His longevity and track record are testament to his ability as a coach.
 
"Most importantly, he does things the right way. We have never heard of any allegations of him recruiting players. We can truly say that we have as much respect for him as any coach in the Public League and there is no question that he is one of the best."
 
Nelson will continue to coach as long as he is having fun, as long as he believes he can develop young men and make a difference in their lives. But he admits it isn't as much fun as it used to be, before Garnett arrived at Farragut and brought street agents with him.
 
"We had to watch kids all the time. They are very fragile," Nelson said.
"Today, a lot of them are driven by AAU coaches. Other guys try to take over your program. You aren't in control as much as you would like.
 
"Young coaches don't have as much morals as old-time coaches. They don't develop kids as much as they used to. So many are in it for the wrong reasons. They don't respect the game. Coaches, parents and officials think the game is about them and not about the kids."
 
As president of the Public League Basketball Coaches Association, Nelson said he is trying to figure out what he can do to get young coaches to be more respectful of the game. He also wants the coaches to have a better relationship with the Public League's sports administration.
 
"I definitely would like to have more involvement with the sports administration," he said, "It is more of a dictatorship. We have problems with scheduling and officials and transfers and eligibility. We have no say in what is going on.
 
"We want a better relationship with (sports supervisor) Calvin Davis. We want to make it a smooth running machine. What are the rules? I have been coaching for 22 years and I still don't know the rules. Why is this kid eligible and this kid isn't?"
 
All Nelson knows for sure is (1) he isn't thinking of retirement, (2) he won't attempt to win 900 games (like St. Joseph's Gene Pingatore) but (3) he would like to win 500.
 
His current squad figures to move him closer to that goal. "It is a carbon copy of all my teams. We have pieces but we lack depth. We only have 11 players on the roster," Nelson said.
 
Most critics talk about 6-foot-6 junior Sire Carroll (16 ppg) but Nelson insists the best player on his roster is 6-foot sophomore point guard Ernest Johnson (12 ppg, 9 rpg, 4 assists). Two other starters are 6-foot-4 junior Ashawn Jones (12 ppg) and 5-foot-9 sophomore Joshua Adams (13 ppg).
 
"I would love to add a post player to this group and we could compete with anybody," Nelson said. "Next year's team will be one of the best I have coached."
 
Checkmate.

Lake Park's Gino Romano goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Lake Park's Gino Romano goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Everyone who took part in the recently-held fifth annual Franklin Middle School Dodgeball Madness charity tournament played for various charitable reasons. The Lake Park Lancers football team chose to honor a person who embodied the true meaning of service and sacrifice.

Lake Park junior linebacker Gino Romano took a few minutes to explain why they decided to play in honor of fallen Bloomingdale police officer Raymond Murrel, the first ever officer who died in the line of duty for the village.

Romano also discussed the Lancers’ offseason and the team’s overall preparation for the upcoming 2017 football slate.

I caught up with Romano at the tournament in Wheaton. Proceeds benefited the school, the DuPage Hundred Club, Team Red, White and Blue and The Pat Tillman Foundation.

Watch the following video above.

2017 CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area Team

2017 CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area Team

The 2016-17 high school basketball season is finally in the books as the Chicagoland area saw a lot of star performances from throughout the year.

So it's time to unveil the 15-man, three-team, CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area team.

While other awards might only count regular-season accomplishments, the CSN Preps All-Area team is unique because we also include postseason accomplishments and titles when considering the three teams.

Only players from the Chicagoland area are consisdered for the All-Area teams as factors such as strength of schedule, final statistics, team accomplishments and personal awards are all weighed in the final decision.

Here's a look at the three All-Area teams and the CSN Preps Player of the Year. 

First Team

Alonzo Verge, Thornton senior guard (Player of the Year) -- The choice for Player of the Year is Verge after he burst back on the local scene after a year away. Leading the Wildcats back to a Class 4A sectional title game, Verge averaged 26 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals per game as he was the most unstoppable player in the area this season. Verge helped Thornton to a Southwest Suburban Red title while he earned MVP honors at the Big Dipper for leading the Wildcats to victory. 

Ayo Dosunmu, Morgan Park junior guard -- The only junior to make the All-Area team, Dosunmu averaged 18.3 points per game while helping the Mustangs win the Public League Red-South and Class 3A state championship. Although Dosunmu didn't play much in Peoria when the Mustangs won state, they definitely needed him to get there as the junior had some big-time playoff performances. 

Cameron Krutwig, Jacobs senior center -- One of the best players ever to come out of the Fox Valley Conference, Krutwig finishes his career with 1,528 points and ninth in state history with 1,258 career rebounds. A monster senior season saw Krutwig put up 15.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.4 assists per game entering regional finals as he was the area's best post player this season. Led Jacobs to three straight Fox Valley titles, three regional titles in four seasons and a sectional title this season.

Nojel Eastern, Evanston senior guard -- Another prolific four-year player, Eastern was a third-team CSN All-Area selection last season. After a solid regular season that saw him average 18 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks per game, Eastern elevated his play to an elite level in the state playoffs in helping the Wildkits to a Class 4A sectional title. Eastern put up 31 points, 10 rebounds and six steals in the Super-sectional loss to Whitney Young and 29 points and 17 rebounds in a win over Waukegan for the sectional title. 

Lucas Williamson, Whitney Young senior guard -- The unsigned senior had a final year to remember as Williamson helped the Dolphins to a Class 4A state title. The 6-foot-4 Williamson averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line. Also the MVP of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Williamson improved dramatically as a perimeter shooter over his four-year high school career.

Second Team

Nana Akenten, Bolingbrook senior forward -- The Nebraska commit was able to combine high-flying above-the-rim plays along with a lethal perimeter jumper. The 6-foot-6 Akenten shot 49 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range during the season. Akenten put up 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game for the Raiders, as they finished third in Class 4A. The MVP of the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, Akenten has as much upside as anyone on this list. 

Evan Gilyard, Simeon senior guard -- After a four-year varsity career, Gilyard will go down as one of the better floor leaders that Simeon has ever had. The senior led the Wolverines to back-to-back city titles and back-to-back trips to Peoria as he averaged 15.9 points, 3.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the free-throw line. The A.C. Williamson award winner at Pontiac, Gilyard is committed to UTEP. 

Elijah Joiner, Curie senior guard -- After helping Curie win a Class 4A state title last year, Joiner had a very strong senior season as he averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. Joiner helped the Condors win a Red-Central conference title while he had a 40-point game on rival Kenwood. An all-tournament selection at Pontiac, Joiner is committed to Tulsa. 

Teyvion Kirk, Joliet West senior guard -- This uncommitted senior had a tremendous season on both ends of the floor for the Southwest Prairie champion Tigers. The 6-foot-3 Kirk averaged 19 points, four rebounds and three assists per game this season as he recently set his final four schools to Arkansas, Middle Tennessee, Ohio and St. Bonaventure. Kirk helped Joliet West to a sectional title last season and a regional title this season while earning all-tournament honors at Pontiac.

Justin Smith, Stevenson senior forward -- A CSN third-team All-Area selection as a junior, Smith is back on the list after a stellar senior season. Smith put up 21 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in the regular season for the Patriots as he put down some of the best dunks in the area over the last three years. Smith won a state title as a sophomore starter alongside Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw and emerged as a star in his own right this season. Smith is currently committed to Indiana.

Third Team

Kyle Sliwa, Fremd senior guard -- One of the area's most efficient shooters, Sliwa hit some of the biggest clutch shots of the season. Sliwa twice helped Fremd beat rival Conant with game-winning three-pointers, including a buzzer-beater to win a sectional title. The 6-foot-1 Sliwa averaged 16.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. Named MVP of the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament, the Wheeling Hardwood Classic and the Mid-Suburban West, Sliwa helped Fremd to a 31-0 start and fourth-place finish in Class 4A. 

Dillon Durrett, Wheaton-Warrenville South senior forward -- The area's most improved player was the DuPage Valley Conference's best player after only averaging 2.3 points per game as a junior. Durrett was versatile on both ends of the floor for the Tigers as he averaged 17 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-3 Durrett often had to play bigger for a small team that won multiple in-season tournaments and went unbeaten in conference play.  

Jack Nolan, Benet senior guard -- Clutch players are tough to come by and Benet had a good one in this senior point guard. After Nolan helped lead the Redwings to a second-place finish in Class 4A last season he averaged 18 points per game and made 40 percent of his three-pointers. Also averaging three assists and two rebounds per game, Nolan was all-Tournament at Pontiac, MVP of the Loyola-New Trier Thanksgiving Tournament and an all-conference in the ESCC.

Tai Bibbs, West Chicago senior guard -- It wasn't quite the season that West Chicago hoped for but Bibbs still put up huge numbers, averaging 26 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while drawing a lot of Division I offers. The 6-foot-3 Bibbs was a two-time all-Upstate Eight Valley selection and he was the Valley's Player of the Year this season. Bibbs won MVP of the West Chicago Thanksgiving tournament and also was all-tournament at Dayton as he put up a tournament-best 32.8 points per game.

Demarius Jacobs, Uplift senior guard -- The best player in the Public League Red-North, the 6-foot-3 Jacobs was one of the premier two-way guards in the city. Jacobs helped the Titans win the Red-North and stay in the CSN Preps Power Rankings for most of the season as he averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. An All-Tournament selection at Proviso West, Jacobs signed with Southern Illinois in the fall.