The Marist-Brother Rice rivalry is as good as it gets in high school basketball. The stakes will be raised even higher in this year’s annual showdown Tuesday night.
The two schools sit two miles apart on Pulaski Road and are a combined 34-3 on the year –– Marist a perfect 19-0 while Brother Rice has won 10 of its last 11 and boasts a 15-3 record.
Fittingly, the two coaches who brought these two teams to this point are graduates of their respective schools. Marist coach Gene Nolan and Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor know and understand this game better than anyone.
“There are a lot of great rivalries and this is our great rivalry,” says Nolan, who has guided the Redhawks to three straight wins over Brother Rice. “Why it’s so good is everyone in the gym –– the players, the coaches, the fans –– know each other from growing up and going to the grammar schools in the area.”
Frasor agrees and says because of the familiarity and proximity of the two schools it reminds him of another great rivalry he was a part of: North Carolina vs. Duke.
“It’s comparable to Carolina-Duke,” says Frasor, who played for the Tar Heels from 2005-2009. “The schools are so close. We pull from the same grammar schools. The families all know each other, so I think it intensifies.”
Marist has won each of the the last three meetings by double figures and enters this one unbeaten and ranked. Is there a better feeling than ruining a rival’s perfect season?
“We are still looking for that signature win to kind of show Brother Rice basketball is back,” says Frasor, whose team has lost to Oak Park, Conant and Joliet West this season. “That’s what we are working towards.”
Brother Rice was a perennial ranked, 20-plus win team with 10 regional titles and four sectional championships under Pat Richardson from 1994 to 2005. The 2005 team, led by Frasor, reached the state quarterfinals in Peoria after stunning Simeon in double overtime in the sectional title game.
After going a combined 26-32 during the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons, Frasor led the Crusaders to a 19-11 record a year ago and has them off to the 15-3 record this year behind the 1-2 punch of Josh Niego (17.4 ppg) and Mike Shepski (14.7 ppg).
Alonzo Verge may have revived Willowbrook basketball a couple of years ago but even that Verge-led team didn’t start the season 16-1. But that’s where coach Chris Perkins has his Warriors this season after watching his team go 4-0 in the Sterling Martin Luther King Tournament.
Highlighted by the breakout year from Verge two years ago, the 2014-2015 season was one for the ages for Willowbrook as it won 21 games and its first conference championship in over 40 years.
Verge transferred out of Willowbrook following his sophomore year –– he’s now a senior at Thornton –– and the Warriors subsequently went 11-19 last season.
But there has been yet another complete transformation at the Villa Park school. Perkins built last year’s team around four sophomores and a freshman at the varsity level. Now Willowbrook is 4-1 in the West Suburban Gold and certainly has a shot at the school record win total of 21.
This still young team is led by 6-6 Ethan Schuemer, who is averaging 17.5 points and 10 rebounds a game, junior Marshawn Phillips (10.5 ppg) and sophomore Matas Masys 10.2 ppg).
Willowbrook, which beat 17-2 East Moline United at Sterling on Monday, has also added talented senior Iman Reynolds, a transfer from Hinsdale South who became eligible this past weekend.
West Chicago star Tai Bibbs is one busy player.
Bibbs is putting up monster numbers, averaging a whopping 28.8 points a game while leading the Wildcats to a 13-4 record. But he’s also now one of the top uncommitted prospects in the state and coveted by Division I schools.
That’s what happens when you’re a talented 6-2 guard with terrific upside who becomes available in the middle of his senior year. But Bibbs, who received a release from Drake after Ray Giacoletti’s early-season resignation as head coach, is back on the open market.
He’s received offers from Elon, Columbia, Lafayette, IPFW, Ball State, Toledo, Marist, UC Davis, New Mexico State and Columbia in the past week. The interest and offers will only increase for Bibbs, who has become a more consistent perimeter shooter while continuing to showcase his ability to get to the basket.