O’Brien: Signing-day magic in Chicago Heights

Four Bloom seniors signed Division I scholarships Wednesday.

SHARE O’Brien: Signing-day magic in Chicago Heights
Bloom coach Dante Maddox Sr. with his son Dante Maddox Jr. (Cal State-Fullerton), Martice Mitchell (Minnesota), Donovan Newby (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Keshawn Williams (Tulsa) on signing day, November 12, 2019.

Bloom coach Dante Maddox Sr. with his son Dante Maddox Jr. (Cal State-Fullerton), Martice Mitchell (Minnesota), Donovan Newby (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Keshawn Williams (Tulsa) on signing day, November 12, 2019.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Bloom is one of the traditional basketball powerhouses in the state. In recent decades, however, the school became known as a place where very few talented players qualified academically for college.

Dante Maddox Sr., a Bloom graduate and now the Blazing Trojans’ coach, was one of those talented kids who didn’t qualify.

‘‘Unfortunately, I didn’t handle my business when I was here and was unable to accept a scholarship,’’ he said. ‘‘Part of my coming back was to make sure, if they had the talent, that the players would be able to qualify and go on to the Division I level and not junior college.’’

Maddox Sr.’s tremendous success was on full display Wednesday in Chicago Heights. Four seniors from Bloom signed with colleges on the first day of the early signing period: Dante Maddox Jr. signed with Cal State-Fullerton, Donovan Newby with Milwaukee, Keshawn Williams with Tulsa and Martice Mitchell with Minnesota.

Public League powerhouses and Catholic schools have raided the south-suburban public schools for talent in the last several years. That’s another thing Maddox Sr. changed.

‘‘These are four kids that all grew up in the district,’’ Maddox Jr. said. ‘‘That is something, especially in the south suburbs, we don’t see too often. It shows how great of a leader he is and has been to all four of us. I couldn’t ask for a better coach. I couldn’t ask for a better parent.’’

The four seniors weren’t middle-school phenoms. Newby was the first to receive a scholarship offer — from DePaul in his sophomore year.

‘‘We never imagined there was going to be a day like this,’’ Williams said. ‘‘We finally realized we could do something special like this sophomore year, when Donovan got that offer. It motivated us to do better and work harder and eventually get our own.’’

Maddox Jr. will major in communications in college. He’s a future sports reporter.

‘‘Signing gave me chills,’’ Maddox Jr. said. ‘‘This isn’t a dream anymore; it really just happened. I’m signed to play basketball at the Division I level.’’

Williams and Newby are quick to smile and enjoyed the limelight of the signing ceremony. Mitchell is quieter and doesn’t enjoy having his picture taken. But the day meant just as much to him.

‘‘Signing was real emotional,’’ Mitchell said. ‘‘I’ve been playing since I was 4, but [people say] I’ve never been as good as I should have been. Most people said we wouldn’t all be here today. Freshman and sophomore year, they didn’t think we were all Division I players. It’s a nice sense of accomplishment to do something people said you couldn’t.’’

The Blazing Trojans are the preseason favorites to win the Class 4A state title. They had major highs last season, including a convincing victory against Morgan Park, but fell flat in the title game at Pontiac and were upset by Homewood-Flossmoor in the sectional semifinals.

Regardless of how this season turns out, Maddox Sr. and this group of players have changed the culture at Bloom.

‘‘We are winners already, just for them being in this position from a low-economic area,’’ Maddox Sr. said. ‘‘This impacts the other kids in the program and the school to see all the college coaches in for the open gyms. Freshmen realize, ‘If I do what Coach says, there is a chance I can be in a position to get a scholarship.’ We tell them to do the academic part, be good people and good things will happen to you. So it’s important they see a day like today, when it actually does happen.’’

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