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Joe Henricksen’s 3-pointer: Loyola’s defense, coach of the year candidates and Don Davidson’s final playoff run

It was a big week for Loyola basketball.

Loyola’s Billy Palmer (25) shoots the ball against St. Viator.
Loyola’s Billy Palmer (25) shoots the ball against St. Viator.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

It was a big week for Loyola basketball.

In a little over 24 hours the Ramblers secured the No. 1 seed in a top-heavy Elk Grove Sectional and clinched a Catholic League Blue title with a Friday road win over Bryce Hopkins and Fenwick.

The Catholic League championship was the first for the Ramblers, who are now 24-4 on the year, since winning back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014.

You won’t find flash or sizzle with the Ramblers. But this substance-filled team still remains an under-appreciated one considering it’s beaten four teams that have been ranked all or most of the season in Evanston, Notre Dame, Fenwick and DePaul Prep while currently being ranked No. 16.

The résumé includes knocking off a dozen teams with 17-plus wins and boasting victories over eight 20-plus win teams. Three of the losses have come to No. 7 ranked Homewood-Flossmoor (23-3), Santa Fe Catholic (26-2 and ranked No. 3 in Florida) and No. 13 ranked Stevenson (24-4).

The missing flash and sizzle, though, is replaced with grit and toughness, especially at the defensive end of the floor where the Ramblers thrive.

Though their length is difference-making, coach Tom Livatino’s team won’t physically overwhelm you with quickness and athleticism. They make everything difficult and prevent clean looks at the basket. Their defense puts them in position to compete against anyone on a game-by-game basis.

I also don’t buy the argument that Loyola’s defenses are a creation of slow pace. The numbers tell the story.

Remarkably, Loyola has limited 22 of its 30 opponents to fewer than 40 points. Only Homewood-Flossmoor and St. Laurence have managed to score more than 50 points against them. Opponents are shooting a measly 33 percent from the field against Loyola and a paltry 26 percent from the three-point line. Those are staggering numbers over the course of a 30-game season.

Notre Dame coach Kevin Clancy is blessed with an offensive juggernaut, yet the Dons managed just 31 points in a loss to Loyola before going on to score 58 in a win over Bogan two days later.

“Across the board they have tremendous length that gives you problems and make it difficult,” says Clancy of Loyola’s defense. “They also have a game plan and follow it. They do a great job of identifying a weakness in a team and exposing it, and they create matchups that work in their favor.”

Don Davidson’s final playoff run

When Parkview Christian in Yorkville takes the floor as the No. 10 seed in the Class 1A regional Tuesday night, it will be the 43rd time coach Don Davidson will have led a team into the postseason. But it will also be his last.

The highly-successful Davidson, who is best known for his 31 years as head coach at Aurora Christian, will be calling it a career after 53 years in coaching, including 43 years as a head coach.

Davidson has an endless list of coaching accomplishments. He has piled up 721 career wins, which is 17th all-time in state history, and is an IBCA Hall of Famer. His 1989-90 team finished fourth in the state in Class A while his 1994-95 team was a state runner-up. And he was able to coach both of his sons, Matt Davidson and Marc Davidson, the latter of which is the state’s all-time leading rebounder and former all-stater.

The accolades are all there from a coaching career that included time at Yorkville, Aurora Christian and Parkview Christian. How Davidson measures success, however, is a little different.

“The most important thing for me, by far, has been to disciple boys to become Christian men,” says Davidson. “Teaching the word of God is extremely important to me, and I really believe that’s what the Lord appointed me to do in my time as a coach and educator.”

Davidson looks back at the relationships he’s developed over the decades and is proud of what those relationships have evolved into.

“The relationships have been an unbelievable part of this,” says Davidson. “To see years later that they are following the Lord, there is no greater joy than to see your own children and the players I coached walking with the Lord. To see them being strong men of God is what it was really about for me.”

When it comes to the basketball accomplishments, there is one that clearly stands out to Davidson above all the rest.

“Basketball wise, I think the greatest accomplishment was our 80-game home win streak that lasted nine years,” says Davidson. “That to me is the most amazing accomplishment. We were an independent then, willing to play anyone, big schools like Lincoln-Way and basketball powers like Hales.”

The streak began with a Feb. 9 win over Romeoville in 1988 and continued until Feb. 11, 1997 with a loss to Lisle. It’s the second longest home win streak in state history behind Benet’s 102-game home win streak.

Coach of the Year candidates

There is never a shortage of terrific coaching jobs turned in every season. Whether it be fueling a team to be better than anyone expected or maximizing the talent and meeting high expectations, credentials for coach of the year honors are wide-ranging.

But if you want a short list of Coach of the Year candidates, here it is: Glenbrook South’s Phil Ralston, Notre Dame’s Kevin Clancy, Loyola’s Tom Livatino, Simeon’s Robert Smith, Thornton’s Tai Streets, York’s Vince Doran and Waubonsie Valley’s Jason Mead.