If you are a basketball fan in North Chicago and have either a long memory or a scrapbook, you can confirm that the following appeared in print in this newspaper on January 18, 2012:
“The champion Eagles were led by Tineesha “Princess” Coleman, who is the granddaughter of North Chicago High boys basketball coach King Coleman. The Princess is 5-foot-11 and the school’s all-time leading scorer with more than 400 points over two seasons. She also averages more than 16 rebounds per game. Neal’s other go-to player is Zyaire Strowder, who averaged 10 points and eight steals per game. Defensive specialist Alexis Means is the third member of the Big 3.”
That was written after the “Big 3” led Neal Middle School in North Chicago to the Lakeland Conference eighth-grade girls basketball title. A year earlier, the same team won the league’s seventh-grade title.
Now, fast-forward to the present, which is the start of varsity girls basketball for the 2013-2014 high school season.
Coleman, Strowder and Means are now sophomores, and they were expected to have to do the heavy lifting as the Warhawks try to climb out of the also-ran pile and into the group of contenders.
Only a funny thing happened on the way to the 2013-2014 basketball season at North Chicago.
A DIFFERENT “Big 3” showed up when school started in late August. Suddenly, wearing Red/White were speedy guard TT Maggett from Zion-Benton, star guard Sam Rodriguez from Zion-Benton, and forward Kylah Collins from Waukegan.
Now THAT’S a “Big 3” which, if you add them to the school’s original “Big 3” gives you enough talent to contend for some serious honors this hoops season.
Here’s what the players themselves are saying as they begin practice for the season-opening Naperville Central/Benet tournament:
■ Collins: “I think we can be really good. We have so much potential. If we work together, we can accomplish some big things. I’m looking forward to it.
“We all can contribute in some type of way, on offense and defense. No matter what our role is, we have to stick together. We’re a family.”
■ Rodriguez, who started on the Zion-Benton team that finished second in state in 2011: “We definitely have the potential to be playing downstate, but we still have a lot to work on. We have a lot of good players, but we have to grow and come together team. Having people from so many different schools is a challenge. Not only have we not played together a lot, but we’re used to doing things differently.”
■ Strowder, who played the point for the Warhawks last year as a freshman. With Maggett out 5-6 weeks while she recovers from a meniscus tear, Strowder and others will have to take on more of the ball-handling duties: “Even though we have a lot of new players, we’re still a family. We have a lot of players who can contribute offensively. We have to focus, adapt, and learn to take what the defense gives us.
“Everyone on our team can play good defense if we put our minds to it. The big thing is making sure we listen and communicate, let each other know when screens are coming, and things like that. We always have to be looking out for one another.”
As for the coach who had this all happen around him, it’s Lawrence Brown who had this to say about the upcoming season:
■ RE: The girls talking about state:
“That’s the goal. As long as they play within themselves and work together as a team, they’re going to do great. My expectations for this team are really, really high, and they should be because the sky is the limit for this group. I like their attitude. I like their work ethic. It’s a lot better than it has been in the past. The commitment is a lot better, and it’s a more challenging practice.
“We’ll see how it goes. It might be a little rocky at the start. We have some tough games at the beginning of the year, and we might lose some while we develop the chemistry we’re going to need at the end. Everybody has a role they’re going to have to play. When you have a lot of good players, you have to learn to accept where you fit in. If you think about the Miami Heat, they had great players, but they didn’t really figure out how to play together until the second year.”
■ RE: Fitting those pieces together:
“We have some players who can really score, but they need to understand that they won’t all get 18 every night … unless we’re averaging 75 points a game. That’s up to them. It’s definitely possible with this group, because we’re going to be a fast-break team.
“Kylah has already accepted the role that she’s going to take it off the boards and get her points that way. That’s going to be a good thing to see. They’re all used to being a leader on their team, but being a leader also means making adjustments to your game to complement the strengths of your teammates.”
■ RE: What about the other girls. Do they understand that we don’t need them to score, but to play defense and not turn the ball over?
“It’s not always easy for kids to learn or accept, but for some of them, that’s their role on this team: playing defense, grabbing rebounds, those kinds of things.”
■ RE: Sam Rodriguez knows what it takes to get downstate. How important is it to have a player who can convey that to the girls?
“It’s great to have someone with that experience. She’s speaking up and conveying to the girls what it’s going to take for us to get there. For some of these girls, it’s a change because they’re not necessarily used to being pushed, but I think they’re taking it in a positive way. They understand it’s not about the criticism, but about getting better.”