The south suburbs have been on a fairly severe down cycle the past few basketball seasons. There just haven’t been the usual amount of dynamic, talented teams coming out of what is traditionally a hotbed of high school hoops.
The first reason is clear: there are ways around residency rules and several of the most successful Public League teams regularly scoop up high-quality south suburban talent.There has also been a significant population shift west. Towns like Oswego and Plainfield are growing while South Holland and Harvey are shrinking.
To make matters worse, several successful and established coaches have retired or plan to do so soon.
John Chappetto, who led Richards to the Class 4A state championship in 2008, recently resigned. Homewood-Flossmoor coach Jim McLaughlin stepped down in May. He was 201-62 in nine years as head coach.
On Monday, Thornton coach Troy Jackson announced this would be be his last season.
“It’s just time,” Jackson said. “I spent a lot of years coaching and it’s just that point, time to give it up. Sometimes it’s good to give it up before you are over the hill.”
Jackson started his head coaching career at Proviso East. He spent two years in Maywood, where he coached future NBA players Shannon Brown and Dee Brown. He’s been at Thornton for the past 11 seasons, guiding the Wildcats to three state appearances and a third place finish in Class 4A in 2009.
Jackson’s career mark is 293-86 and his teams have finished with 20 or more wins in 11 of his 13 seasons as head coach. The 2001-02 Proviso East team, featuring Dee Brown and Shannon Brown, was expected to compete for the state championship but were upset by New Trier in the supersectional.
“It was a big experience for me as a first year coach,” Jackson said. “I don’t think I would be the coach I am today without that, dealing with that criticism. I took parts of that and got better for it.”
High school coaching isn’t all about wins and titles. Jackson will be remembered as a good man, the type of coach that kids enjoyed playing for, the type of guy that stood in front of the media and faced the music, usually with a smile on his face no matter the outcome of the game.
“All the kids love him,” said former NFL player Tai Streets, the current freshman coach at Thornton and founder of the influential Meanstreets club program. “The college kids that come back always have stories about Troy. That’s the greatest sign of respect. He inspired them.”
Jackson sent dozens of players to college. One of his most successful recent players was Joevan Catron, who starred at Oregon.
“Troy was always cool, he let me play my game,” Catron said. “He had some really nice schemes for speeding the game up and his run and jump full court press was amazing, we still talk about that. Off the court he was always there for me, he looked out for me.”
Streets has long been considered the heir apparent at Thornton. Jackson said that he’d like someone from his current staff to take over the program.
“I hate to see Coach J go, but he’s ready to enjoy another part of life,” Streets said. “I am interested in the job. I know it’s going to be a hot job. It’s a matter of hoping everything works out.”
Streets remembers the sold out crowds and talented teams that made the south suburbs one of the top high school basketball destinations in the country during the 90s and early 2000s and he’d like to be part of a new group of coaches that helps turn things around.
“I can’t pinpoint the reason,” Streets said. “We’ve been a little down, maybe just a trend. Hopefully we can get it going again. The city schools have been outdoing us. We need to get it back.”