It might have been one of the biggest upsets in the history of the state tournament. But it was in Class 1A so hardly anyone noticed. It was all about Mooseheart losing. Does anyone outside of Deerfield acknowledge that Chicagoland Jewish High School won the game?
For the record, senior Jake Newlander scored 25 points and his sophomore brother Josh Newlander scored 21, including four three-pointers in the third quarter, as Chicagoland Jewish rallied from an 11-point deficit with three minutes left to stun Mooseheart 70-67 on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Class 1A sectional at Mooseheart.
Mooseheart came into media prominence when the Illinois High School Association ruled three foreign exchange students from Sudan, who happened to be 7-foot-1, 6-foot-11 and 6-foot-7, ineligible. After Mooseheart protested, however, the IHSA reversed its decision.
Mooseheart defeated highly rated Hinckley-Big Rock but couldn't cope with Chicagoland Jewish's pressure defense. And that's just the way coach Marty Dello had it figured.
"It played out like we thought it would," Dello said. "I felt our pressure would wear them down. They had some injuries and they only had a rotation of six guys. Halfway in the fourth quarter, they put in two players who hadn't played earlier.
"What was amazing about our victory is they were 7-foot-1, 6-foot-11 and 6-foot-7 and our tallest starter was 6-foot-1. This is Class 1A. The perception is the caliber of basketball isn't very good but it is better than people think. Most small schools play only six or seven kids. But we play 11 kids. That's our edge. We wear people down."
Dello hopes the same strategy will work on Saturday night when Chicagoland Jewish (21-3) meets Newark for the sectional title. Newark defeated Chicagoland Jewish in the sectional in 2010 and won the Class 1A championship in 2011.
Chicagoland Jewish, located in Deerfield, was founded in 2001. It opened with 23 freshmen and three sophomores. Today, the enrollment is 160.
Students come from 44 synagogues, mostly in the north and northwest suburbs.
As a member of the Chicago Prep Conference, the Tigers finished second to Class 2A power Providence-St. Mel.
In his second year at the school, Dello has turned around a program that was 11-15 last season. A 1987 graduate of Woodstock, he coached at three colleges for 10 years, then coached at Crystal Lake South for three years and at Barrington for six years. He resigned after the 2009 season to care for his seriously ill wife.
"I wasn't going to coach again," said Dello, who still teaches driver's education at Barrington. "But Chicagoland Jewish made a coaching change two weeks into the season (in 2011) and asked me to coach. They asked me three times. I finally changed my mind."
Dello was persuaded by athletic director Josh Gleicher, who had assisted Dello when he was working part-time for Niles West coach Bob Williams.
"It's a different situation. It is perfect for my family situation," he said. "We can't practice or play on Friday. We don't have a summer program. It isn't a pressure situation like Barrington or a larger school."
He still puts in as much time as he always did with scouting, film breakdown and practice. But he has time to teach driver's education, care for his wife and watch his son Tory play hockey. Tory, a sophomore at Crystal Lake Central, is committed to Notre Dame.
Dello credits Chicagoland Jewish's transition from 11-15 to 21-3 to the players buying into his system, the same one he ran while developing several winning teams in college.
"You have to be smart and play off one another. We go from opening tip to the end of the game with a lot of pressure, a full-court man-to-man pressure defense with trapping," he said.
He isn't surprised by his team's postseason success. After six seniors returned from the annual three-week senior experience to Israel in early January, he felt they would peak at the end of the season. "We're where I thought we'd be," he said.
The key seniors are 5-foot-10 Jake Newlander (13.5 ppg), 6-foot-3 senior Daniel Fishbaum and 6-foot Daniel Sigler. Jake starts with 5-foot-11 point guard Josh Newlander (16.3 ppg), 5-foot-7 junior Joshua Silverman (11 ppg), 5-foot-11 junior Avidan Halivni and 6-foot-1 junior Nate Moses. Other top reserves are 5-foot-7 junior Jeremy Goodman and 5-foot-10 junior Hillel Schwartz.
It was Jake Newlander's three-point shot with 25 seconds to play that put Chicagoland Jewish ahead to stay against Mooseheart. Nobody likes Dello's new system more than he does.
"Last year was our first year with a new coach. We had to adjust to different styles," Jake said. "This system suits us better. But we had to get used to a new system and a new coach and we had to get comfortable with each other.
"I like that we are putting pressure on opponents. It wears them down. I love how coach Dello preaches how we fight to the end. Against Mooseheart, we were focused for the whole game, even when we were behind by 11 points with three minutes left. Then we made our run. We had to pick up the pace, make plays and make shots. We knew we could pull it off if we kept fighting."
The Newlanders have been playing basketball since they were old enough to bounce a ball. Hoops in the driveway, one-on-one, games of HORSE. No bloody noses, but a lot of sweat and very physical competition. They don't keep score. "We're pretty even," Jake said.
"We've been thinking about the Class 1A title since the start of the season," Jake concluded. "Nobody thought about us. They didn't realize how good we are. No one thought we could win. But it would mean so much. This is the best year in school history. And it has all come together in such a short time."