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Henricksen: Successful Conant coach Tom McCormack stepping down after season

Conant’s Tom McCormack, one of the classiest and selfless coaches in the game today, is greatly respected in the Mid-Suburban League and throughout the northwest suburbs.

But the veteran coach has been largely overlooked and underrated by the masses in the high school basketball world, both statewide and throughout the Chicago area.

No one ever wants to play a McCormack-coached team, an always disciplined and systematic team that communicates and makes things difficult for opponents. That’s a high compliment.

With the announcement Friday that the longtime Conant coach is stepping down, there are just a few weeks left to appreciate one of the best coaches in the business before he retires.

When talking with McCormack earlier this week, it was easy to hear in his voice the parts of the game he will miss most. He’s a teacher of the game and cherishes the time he spends at practice with his players. McCormack said he will miss that time in practice, miss the games and miss the relationships he builds with players and teams.

However, the time commitment in the offseason, which dwarfs what it used to be years ago for coaches, has become a factor. Going forward, it’s a chance to spend more of that time with his family and seeing his grandchildren.

Before those days come, however, there is some business to attend to with this 2016-2017 team and promising season. Can this talented and highly-regarded Conant team send this very likable coach out with a bang? The Cougars, who won a sectional title last year, are 23-4 on the season and are a realistic threat to reach Peoria in March.

What McCormack has built at Conant is pretty remarkable, especially when you consider where the program was three decades ago.

McCormack took over at Conant in 1986, following a season in which the Cougars had just gone 0-24. In fact, in the six years prior McCormack taking over at Conant, the basketball program was a combined –– Are you ready for this? –– 11-137.

Within four years McCormack won 23 games and regional and sectional championships in 1990. And Conant basketball would never look back.

In McCormack’s 31 years as head coach the Cougars have won 12 regional championships, four sectional titles and an Elite Eight berth in 1994. In the past 28 years, McCormack has averaged just under 20 wins a season.

McCormack, who has won 570 games as the Cougars head coach, built a program in the northwest suburbs with staying power. But it’s been more than just the success he’s achieved.

Through the years McCormack’s players would learn how to be better people, better teammates. His coaching strength of getting players to buy in was paramount.

McCormack fostered a belief in his players that what they did, both as a team and individually, mattered –– from the style and system Conant plays to the 5:30 a.m. practice times you endure while playing for the veteran coach to the way you conduct yourself away from the court –– and to convince them of what was best for the good of the team.

The self-effacing coach doesn’t want anything to be about his retirement or this being his final season. It’s all about the boys, the players on this team that have already pushed past 20 wins on the season.

Nevertheless, the hope is for Conant to go on a run in March and return to the State Finals in Peoria for the first time since 1994. Then everyone can appreciate and recognize McCormack, the coach, one last time.