Naperville North has made a big splash in replacing retiring coach Jeff Powers.
Marist coach Gene Nolan, who led the RedHawks to a 27-5 record this past season before losing to Simeon, 53-48, in the sectional championship, will be named the new Huskies head basketball coach.
Unranked when the season began in November, the RedHawks finished this past season ranked No. 8 in the final Sun-Times Super 25 rankings.
Nolan, a Marist graduate, has been the head coach at his alma mater for the past 18 seasons and has built it into a consistent winner.
Nolan took over what was a struggling program in 2000. After putting the pieces in place and laying the foundation during his first three years as the head coach, the program took off. In the past 15 seasons Nolan has compiled an impressive 313-133 overall record while competing in the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference.
In the past eight years Nolan has won 18-plus games every season and averaged 22 wins a year during that stretch. The Redhawks have four straight 20-plus win seasons and have won two consecutive regional titles while compiling 54 wins the past two years.
“I’m humbled and honored to be the next head coach at Naperville North,” says Nolan, who is just 44 years old but has nearly two decades of high-level head coaching experience under his belt. “I am really looking forward to joining and being a part of a school that offers so much academically and athletically. What stood out to me in this process is the commitment the school has in developing the character of young people.”
Nolan takes over a program with a solid foundation of its own. Powers led the Huskies to 51 wins the past two seasons, including a DuPage Valley Conference title this past season and the program’s first sectional championship in 19 years two seasons ago.
Naperville North athletic director Bob Quinn fielded a wide-ranging list of candidates from all over the state.
“First and foremost we are getting a guy who loves kids, loves working with kids and developing them both on and off the court, and that’s crucial to our mission,” says Quinn. “With a great pool of candidates, Gene clearly separated and established himself from everyone. He will be a tremendous mentor for the players in the program and for the kids at Naperville North.”
What it took for Nolan to leave Marist was a special opportunity. This is a coach who spent 26 years at Marist –– four as a student, four as an assistant coach and 18 as head coach. He was the engine that fueled a turnaround in Marist basketball as the RedHawks were a combined 35-41 in the three years before he took over the program in 2000.
“I fall short of words of what Marist has meant to me,” says Nolan. “It’s been about the people, the experiences and friendships. It’s a place I’ve called home for 26 years of my life. I’m forever grateful and thankful to the administration, my coaching friends and teaching colleagues.”
While leaving a school and basketball program he’s so attached to, Nolan is excited about the new opportunity at Naperville North.
“I can’t wait to meet the players and the assistants and to get a sense of the culture that’s been established at North,” says Nolan.
Quinn was quick to point out one of those assistants, Clint Hunter, has played a big role in keeping the program afloat over the past couple of months.
“Clint has been the glue to keeping this program together during the transition,” says Quinn. “He has selflessly helped and worked hard to keep the program going during this process.”
Quinn said he was impressed and proud that Hunter was in his office talking about the future of the program within an hour of finding out Nolan would be the head coach.
“After being the bridge during the transition and doing all that he did, it’s pretty neat that he was back in my office and ready to go,” says Quinn. “Clint came in and said to me, ‘Just so you know, I have folders of information and ideas ready to help coach Nolan in any way I can.’ That says a lot about Clint.”
The highly-successful Nolan is ready to be a part of something new –– from a new basketball program and conference, to a new school and community. And he’s eager for a fresh challenge and to be a part of something fresh and different.
Naperville North loses four starters from last season but returns Division I prospect Tom Welch, a budding 6-7 forward who is among the top players in Illinois in the Class of 2019.
“In the end, kids want a great experience, and I think that’s defined in the journey and not always in the wins and losses,” says Nolan. “I want it to be an experience they love.”
Follow Joe Henricksen and the City/Suburban Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport