Highlights: St. Edward vs. Montini
John Paul's No. 43 is the only jersey that has ever been retired at Elgin St. Edward. He graduated in 1953, which should tell you all you need to know about how successful the basketball program has been since it tipped off for the first time in 1944.
Legendary coach Greg True won 301 games, or 60 percent, in a 21-year career. But he won only one regional championship. Only two teams ever advanced to the Class A quarterfinals -- Joe Tullo's 23-6 team in 1987 and Kent Payne's 23-8 team in 1992. St. Edward hasn't won a sectional title or as many as 20 games since 1997.
"Our goal is to win 20 games," coach P.J. White said. "I thought it was a reach. I thought we'd win 13 or 14 games this year and we have exceeded that. We're a year ahead of where I thought we'd be. I thought it would take four years. It isn't just one thing but the seniors have done more than I expected."
The Green Wave is 17-5 after last Friday's 68-64 signature victory over Montini and Tuesday's 75-54 loss to Walther Lutheran. They hope to regain momentum as they look ahead to the remainder of the season in the Suburban Christian's Gold Division. They meet Chicago Christian on Saturday and Marian Central next Wednesday.
"This is our best team in at least 15 years," White said. "We have a good mixture of youth and experience. The kids play well together. They respond well to coaching. I finally have a group that wants to take it to another level. They won't accept seven or eight wins."
The catalyst is 5-foot-9 senior point guard Antonio Domel, the son of assistant coach Gus Domel. Against Montini, he scored 12 of his game-high 20
points in the fourth quarter as St. Edward overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to avenge two earlier losses to the Broncos.
This is a very important season for Domel because it is his last. He ranks No. 1 in a class of 77 and scored 30 on his ACT. He plans to attend the University of Illinois to study structural engineering.
"This is it for me, the end of my basketball career," he said. "I have confidence in myself. I felt I would have a good year. I knew I would give it all I had. And all the guys on the team know we can have a good season, that we can go somewhere.
"Practice is intense. Everybody wants to win 20 games and win the regional and get past the sectional and go all the way. For the last two years, we had one guy who was the star and led in scoring. We relied on him or we fell apart. But everybody contributes this year. We don't have to rely on one guy. We rely on each other. Everybody can make something happen.
"We want to make a name for ourselves. People come to St. Edward and think they will pound us by 20 points and it will be an easy game. But we're 18-4 now and teams know we are serious and won't give up. People in the area are in shock when they see us. We're putting us on the map."
Domel and 6-foot-3 Adrian Ponce, the other senior starter, approached White before the season and informed him that the team's goal was to win 19 or 20 games. They had assessed how well the other players had developed over the summer and agreed that it was a reasonable goal.
"That is a great goal," White told them. "But I was thinking 13, two more than last year."
But Domel saw some things that made him feel that this team could achieve much more. Ponce had gotten bigger over the summer. Nick Duffy, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, had matured and figured to be a factor. Davontae Elam, a 5-foot-11 junior, was a difference-maker who would emerge as a sparkplug off the bench.
The other starters are 6-foot- junior John Butzow and 6-foot-1 sophomore Danny Favela. Coming off the bench with Elam are 6-foot-3 junior Ryan Matthews and 6-foot-4 junior Logan Danner.
Duffy, Ponce, Domel and Elam average in double figures. Domel averages five assists and three steals per game. Ponce averaged seven rebounds per game, Duffy five.
"I don't look at statistics," White said. "Against Burlington, we had five in double figures and the sixth man had nine points. We're trying to spread it out so we don't have one kid who gets a box-and-one from opponents. If everyone can get in double figures, we'll have a good chance to win."
White, in his third year, is a 1979 graduate of Batavia and a disciple of former Batavia coach Jim Roberts. He served on Roberts' staff for 25 years. He wanted to succeed Roberts as head coach at Batavia but Roberts didn't retire until a year after White left.
"One of the players I coached in track and basketball at Batavia was coaching at St. Edward and asked if I would help him," White said. "They said they wanted a basketball coach. So I've been here for nine years. I was athletic director. Then they asked me to coach the basketball team.
"Honestly, I wasn't looking to be the head coach at the time. But they twisted my arm. I couldn't find anyone else who was suitable. I was in the interview process with others who were applying for the job. They they pulled me into a room. 'We don't see anyone who is a good fit. Will you do it?' they said. So here I am."
White, 52, won seven games in his first season and 11 last year. He admits he stole everything from his old friend and mentor, Roberts...offense, defense, teaching methods, motivational tools. It was a
system that worked at Batavia. So why not at St. Edward?
"It was a challenge. We were in a rebuilding mode, trying to find an identity," White said. "They had let one coach go in the middle of the year. We were trying to retool the entire athletic program. I had a blueprint from Roberts on how to build a program.
"It wasn't just about basketball but the entire community. You have to know the parents and get involved with the booster club. The basketball portion is to get the kids interested, set the bar higher, not settle for second best, get a good summer program going, get the kids playing all year long."
White said the biggest thing that helped to turn the athletic program around was that all of the coaches agreed to share the athletes. Rather than focus on specialization, with kids focusing on one sport on a year-round basis, they were encouraged to participate in two or three sports.
"In a school of 400 students, you have to have kids play more than one sport or you won't be successful in any," White said.
He said the basketball team is turning the corner because the freshmen and sophomores are doing well, the sophomores who came up to the varsity are playing like seniors and the juniors have accepted their roles.
"I thought it would take four years," White said. "It isn't the first five who make the program but the next seen, the guys who don't play on Friday or Saturday. Practices are tough. We have a lot of kids who are playing hard."
Domel said the victory over Montini, which had beaten St. Edward by double digits in two previous meetings, was a measuring stick of how much the Green Wave has improved and provided a steppingstone to the Class 2A tournament.
"It was the biggest win we've been in, in front of a home crowd, with Comcast covering the game, a great atmosphere. We have strict rules so the fans couldn't rush the floor. They wanted to but they couldn't. It's a great feeling to win a game like that, really special," Domel said.
"Everybody thought we'd lose but we outplayed them and outworked them in almost every aspect of the game. It showed we are as good as any team out there. With the regional coming up, if we play hard, we can go to the sectional or farther.
"Now when people see St. Edward, they come up and talk to you. It's cool to get recognition. We're not like scrubs anymore but a legitimate team. Now our goal of winning 20 games isn't enough. I feel we can go farther. Why stop at 20 when we have something special going on?