Joe Murphy has been coaching basketball at Winnebago for 26 years. So it is understandable if he gets confused from time to time. Like when he is talking about the starting lineup of his currently unbeaten team and mentions Brad Reinke.
He meant Matt Reinke. His brother Brad played on Murphy's 2009 team that finished fourth in the Class 2A tournament. Then there was his brother Wes, who played on Murphy's 2004 and 2005 teams that finished second in the Class A tournament. And Mitch, who played on Murphy's 2002 regional finalist.
As a sophomore, Matt was called "Baby Reinke" by the coach. Matt didn't like that very much. He is the youngest and last of four brothers to play for Murphy, who has won more than 500 games and could achieve two milestones this season by becoming the first unbeaten team and first state champion in school history.
Matt, a 6-foot-4 senior who averages 19 points per game, probably is the best player produced on Jeff and Christine Reinke's driveway. Growing up, he attended all of Winnebago's games and went to summer tournament with his brothers. And then there were those brutal one-on-one sessions in the driveway. The rim broke two years ago because it was worn out.
"I was always smaller than my brothers," Matt said. "They wouldn't let me win. There were a lot of bloody noses. One-on-ones would turn into fistfights. We'd battle for 10 minutes, then start playing again. Mom and Dad would just let us settle things among ourselves."
He went to Peoria to observe the state finals. He watched Wes and his best friend, Devan Bawinkel, play on three teams that went 90-8, including the 2004 and 2005 state runner-ups. Bawinkel is a legend in Winnebago, the school's all-time leading scorer and a two-time All-Stater who played at West Virginia and Iowa.
"Winnebago is a basketball town, a lot of tradition," Matt said. "For a Friday night home game, everyone is there. The town is dead except for the gym. Any summer day you can find 20 or 30 kids playing at the park. You always see someone dribbling a ball. There is a basketball hoop in almost every driveway.
"I sensed I could play the game when I was growing up and watching Wes and Devan play. They were a lot better than everyone else around. I wanted to be like Devan. He brought new life to the basketball program. He put our program on the map."
But as good as Bawinkel was -- he was named the Class A Player of the Year as a senior-- he never achieved what this team has the opportunity to achieve. At the moment, Winnebago is one of only two unbeaten teams in the state. The Indians, who won the Chuck Dayton Holiday Tournament at DeKalb in December and have been tested only twice this season, have averaged 69 points per game while allowing only 50. Last week, Winnebago defeated state-rated Rockford Lutheran by three points on Matt Reinke's last-second shot. Earlier, the Indians edged Oregon in overtime. They have two signature dates remaining--against Aurora Christian and a rematch with Rockford Lutheran.
Reinke heads a lineup that includes 6-foot senior point guard Jacoby Posley (15 ppg, 4 assists), 6-foot-1 sophomore Dalton Menke (10.5 ppg), 6-foot-1 senior Derrick Polkowski (6 ppg) and 6-foot-5 senior Brent Campbell, an All-State football player who hadn't played basketball since seventh grade -- until this season.
"He decided he wanted to play last spring and he played all summer," Murphy said. "He is big and strong. He has given us muscle and rebounding."
Top reserves are 6-foot-3 junior Ryan Swigart, 5-foot-8 senior Taylor Shumate, 6-foot-2 senior Joey Morrissey and 6-foot-3 junior Isiah Yanni. Swigart quarterbacked the football team that lost to state champion Aurora Christian in the Class 3A quarterfinals for the second year in a row.
"Potentially, this could be the best team I have had," Murphy said. "What we do well is shoot. We have a lot of good shooters. We also have a lot of speed. All of the teams that I have had that were very good could do something well and make big plays. That's how you get downstate."
Last year's team wasn't one of those teams. Winnebago finished 16-14.
"We were pretty young and learning," Murphy said. "We knew it would be a tough season. We had only two seniors, a freshman and a sophomore on the varsity and the tallest player was 6-foot-3."
With four starters and four top reserves returning, however, Murphy had very high expectations for 2012-13. And he hasn't been disappointed.
"They did real well in the summer," he said. "They are quick and fast and know what they are doing. We also have more experience."
The Indians are 21-0 after Friday's 72-50 victory over Byron. They meet Aurora Christian on Tuesday. Against Byron, they went on a 25-8 run in the second quarter and built a 42-21 halftime lead. Posley scored 16 points and Reinke added 13. They are ranked No. 3 in Class 2A behind once-beaten Harrisburg and unbeaten Pleasant Plains.
Murphy, a graduate of Rockford Boylan in 1971, was a wrestler in high school. At Illinois State, he majored in industrial technology. He wanted to be a coach. But he wanted to coach football, his favorite sport. He once was head coach in football and basketball at Winnebago.
He attended Illinois State when Will Robinson was the basketball coach and Doug Collins was the star player. So he got the itch to coach basketball. His first opportunity out of college was to coach basketball at Larimer Junior High School in Oak Forest.
After one year in Oak Forest, he went to North Lawn Junior High School in Streator for two years, then to Winnebago. He had hoped to go to a larger school. Even when he landed at Winnebago, he planned to move to a Rockford school one day.
But he never left Winnebago. He started as freshman football coach and also coached sixth grade boys basketball and seventh and eighth grade girls basketball. He coached girls basketball for five years, then became the head football coach. Finally, the basketball job opened up and he was hired. He coached football and basketball for three years.
Murphy, 60, credits Streator's Mike Blair for mentoring him. And he credits freshman coach Ben Powers and sophomore coach Matt Kauffman for teaching the fundamentals and individual skills to the younger players. Both of them played for Murphy.
"They work on individual skills, not team skills," Murphy said. "The kids shoot for 30 minutes in practice and dribble up and down the halls because we don't have a lot of gym time."
The Indians can go 10 or 11 players deep and boast four or five players who can score 10-plus points in any game. That wasn't the case last year.
"Are we better than the other teams? I looked up to them. But I wouldn't change a thing. I'm confident of our team right now. I wouldn't swap for anyone or any of the other teams," Matt said. "I averaged 17 points per game last year and teams played a lot of box-and-one defense on me. But I don't see it as much this year because so many others can score. Our edge? Speed. We are able to play with athletic teams."
The fact that Winnebago has never produced an unbeaten team or a state champion hasn't gone unnoticed by Reinke and his teammates.
"It definitely is in the back of our minds. Three times we have gone downstate. We were good, but not good enough. If we won the state title, we would have one up on the other teams," Matt said.
And one up on his older brothers.