This is Jasper Williams' 10th year as head basketball coach at Bloom in Chicago Heights. And it could be his last...unless someone or something comes along to persuade him to remain on the job.
"I'm retiring from teaching after 35 years. This is it," Williams said. "I probably won't coach next year. I just want to do other things, spend time with my family, do some traveling. If the administration asks me to stick around, I might consider another year or two."
Williams is a 1972 graduate of Parker (now Robeson), where he played with Bo Ellis and Steve Washington. He joined Bob Sullivan's staff at Thornridge in 1982, then served as Mike Flaherty's assistant for 20 years before moving to Bloom.
Last year, his 28-5 team finished fourth in Class 4A. This year's team might be better. And next year? Williams describes 6-foot-3 junior Jared Johnson as "the next great player at Bloom."
That might be enough to persuade Williams to stick around for a year or two.
The Blazing Trojans, led by 6-foot-4 senior Johnny Griffin and 6-foot senior Dejahown Freeman, are 13-3 going into Friday night's game against Kankakee.
Last Friday, they crushed highly regarded Crete-Monee 61-45 in a game that Williams said "will show us how good we are." Griffin scored 22 points and 6-foot-3 senior Nhyree Mitchell had 12. "For four quarters, this was our best game. We just need to keep building on this," the coach said.
On Tuesday, they dismantled Joliet Central 55-34 as Zerrell Jackson had 11 points and four steals, James Coleman had 10 points and five rebounds and Griffin had eight points and nine rebounds.
"This team has the potential to be as good or better than last year," Williams said. "We only have one starter back but four kids saw quality playing time. If we come together and accept our roles. We could do well like last year. We had no ego problems last year. We haven't got to that point yet this season but I see improvement.
"I expected us to be further along this year at this point. The strength of this team is we defend well and we have the potential to be an exceptional rebounding team with no one taller than 6-foot-5. This team has more guys who can score quality points. Last year, only three guys scored."
Last year's powerhouse was led by Donald Moore and Lejavius Johnson, who combined for 25 points per game. This year's squad features Griffin (12 ppg, 9 rpg), Freeman (14 ppg), Mitchell (7 ppg), 5-foot-10 junior point guard Zerrell Jackson (7 ppg, 5 assists) and 6-foot-3 junior center James Coleman (5 ppg, 5 rpg). Johnson (5 ppg) and 6-foot-3 senior Jateryn Dejareaux come off the bench.
"Freeman should have more assists and Jackson must be better on defense," Williams said. "I knew they would be Johnson and Moore offensively but I thought they'd be better on defense."
At tradition-rich Bloom, there is always someone waiting to step up. Job security always is at stake. Freeman backed up Moore and Johnson last year Dejareaux was the starting center a year go but struggled early this season and Coleman took his spot.
"At Bloom, we like to keep underclassmen in the starting lineup to build for next year," Williams said.
Griffin knows all about the tradition. "What I think about is the earlier teams and how good they used to be, the great players they used to have and the conference and Thornton," he said.
As the leader of this year's team, he thinks last year's experience will be a big plus as they prepare to make a return trip to Peoria.
"Last year, everybody had a role on the team and knew what it was," Griffin said. "We jelled, had good chemistry and started 13-0. Everyone knew who the scorers were and who to get the ball to at the end of a game. And the main thing was to play defense.
"It was a good experience at Peoria. Now we know what it takes to get back down there. I'm the leader this year and I have to push my teammates.
"We know our roles now. It took this team some time to find them out. But in the second half of the season, we know what is expected of everyone."
Bloom has some advantages that give Griffin & Co. an edge over most opponents. "We have the most athletic team in the suburbs and one of the best rebounding teams in the suburbs. Everyone is over 6-foot tall and everyone plays hard and defends," Griffin said.
The leadership role isn't new to Griffin. A year ago, he was the team captain. But he said he was ready to handle it when Williams approached him with the important assignment which is usually given to a point guard.
"As the leader, I have to be the finisher. I have to be aggressive and rebound on both ends of the court," he said. "I have to keep my teammates going and be an example for the team by working hard every day."