Back in the day, this high school basketball league was played at the Joy of the Game complex in Deerfield.
But that was then and this is now. With new ownership taking over Joy of the Game two years ago, Mike Springs and Kurt Vahle have opted to relaunch their fall league at Trinity International University under the Let’s Play Hoops banner.
Joy of the Game will continue to host its own high school fall exposure league.
Last Sunday was opening day for the new league, which features 22 varsity teams and six other squads. The varsity teams are called by school nicknames rather than by the school name and the players coach themselves. Basically, the concept is really close to what was run at Joy of the Game.
“I went to Trinity and graduated in ’09,” Vahle said. “It helps Trinity get a little exposure in the community. A lot of people don’t realize that there’s a school here where you can get a competitive education and play good basketball.”
He talked about the concept behind the league.
“What we want to do is have competitive games. This week was an opportunity to see how teams might match up, and we’ll set the schedule from there,” he said. “We’re also trying to schedule games against teams that might not normally play one another.
“For example, North Chicago played Fremd. They’ll never see each other normally, not even in the playoffs. Warren played Prairie Ridge. Those teams never play each other. We want to get matchups like that, that are also competitive. Once the playoffs come, we’ll seed the teams and play it out.
“This year, we’ve introduced free substitutions at the varsity level. Previously. we subbed every five minutes. This year, we’re giving the opportunity for the kids to lead. Obviously, their coaches aren’t allowed on the bench, so the kids are in position to make their own decisions.”
One of the teams worth watching on Sunday was Waukegan, which has new players and a new coach — Mike Wasielewski, who came over from Elmwood Park, but was not in the stands watching his club on this day.
In a 60-57 loss to Warren, Jachai Taylor led the Bulldgos with 17 points. Tyron Whittington had 16 and Damien Bell added nine. All three are seniors. Freshman Carson Newsome added five.
Taylor, an athletic 6-6 forward, is Waukegan’s most seasoned returning player, and he plays like it. His putback with 30 seconds left pulled Waukegan within 58-57, but a Warren bucket restored a three-point lead, and Tyler Williams missed an opportunity to tie it from long range. Adrian Deere missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but the Blue Devils grabbed the rebound to end the game.
Afterward, Taylor talked about the team’s new coach.
“He met with us as a team to talk about what he expects from us,” Taylor said. “He expressed how fortunate he felt to have the opportunity to coach here at Waukegan. He has a great attitude. He has some concrete ideas on what he wants to do, and he seems committed to helping the program move forward.”
Obviously the Bulldogs won’t be able to implement any schemes until the season officially starts in November, but the players aren’t going to waste these Sundays in the fall.
“We’re going to use the fall to work on our communication and just getting used to playing with each other. This is a much different team than we had last year, so it’s important for us to bond and get familiar with each other’s games,” he said.
“I know that people think because we lost Jerome (Davis, now at Zion-Benton), Devonte (Taylor graduated) and those guys, that we aren’t going to be much of a threat, but we’re working hard to bond and get better as a team. By the time the season starts, I think we’re going to be a better team than people expect.”
Also on Sunday, North Chicago was badly outplayed by Palatine Fremd in a 47-41 loss, and often looked like it was playing with only the Big Three on the court. JayQuan McCloud had 14 points and Big Kurt Hall 16 for the Warhawks.