New coaches take over at Warren, Schaumburg, Hyde Park and several other prominent schools
Robert Smith’s announcement that he’s leaving Simeon after the season hasn’t been the only move and shake-up in area coaching.
Simeon coach Robert Smith will lead a super-charged Wolverines team for one more season this winter before calling it an iconic career sometime next March. Then Tim Flowers, a current assistant and former Simeon player, will take over.
Flowers will become just the third coach at Simeon in 44 years, following 19 years of Smith and 24 seasons of Bob Hambric.
Smith has said he fully intends to take a big step back throughout the month of June, which is always the busiest offseason month for high school basketball coaches and programs. He will do so with a plan.
Being mindfully absent, Smith says that will allow Flowers to have plenty of control, gain experience and have his voice heard in preparation for taking over a year from now.
While the coaching news at Simeon earlier this month was the biggest of the offseason and reverberated throughout the Illinois high school basketball world, Smith’s announcement hasn’t been the only move and shake-up in area coaching.
Hyde Park hires Jerrel Oliver
A familiar and respected name in high school basketball circles over the past decade, Jerrel Oliver is taking over for Jamere Dismukes at Hyde Park.
Oliver was a longtime assistant coach at Curie and was also instrumental in running and coaching Team Rose in grassroots basketball play from 2013-2021.
Now he gets his shot at running his own program on the South Side where neighborhood rival Kenwood has rekindled its program.
“There is a rich tradition at the school and it’s a school that has so much to offer,” Oliver said. “It’s in one of the best conferences in the state, academics are still taken seriously and the area has really been built up.”
While Hyde Park is considered one of the plum jobs in the Public League, the head coaching position has been a bit of a revolving door over the past decade. Oliver hopes to build continuity there, just as his uncle, Mike Oliver, did at Curie.
Oliver, who says he started getting the itch to run his own program over the past three or four years, likens Hyde Park to where Curie was in its early years of its development as a program.
“Like we had at Curie, the opportunity is there to take the program to another level, to take it to the top,” Oliver said. “It’s exciting to be at a place where, hopefully, you can be the first to accomplish some things there.”
Glenbard East turns to familiar face
There was a massive turnaround in the Glenbard East basketball program upon the arrival of coach Scott Miller in 1999. He took a downtrodden program that had two regional titles and one 20-win season in 25 years and had an eye-opening run.
Over a nine-year stretch from 2005 through 2013, the Rams averaged 21 wins a season with six regional championships and first sectional title in 47 years. That included a school record 28-win season and third-place finish in Class 4A in 2011.
As an assistant coach, Austin Nelson was around for all of it. He was Miller’s right-hand man for 19 seasons. Now it’s his turn as he takes over as head coach at Glenbard East following Al Biancalana’s two seasons leading the program.
Nelson’s last season with the program in 2019-20 ended with a regional championship. When Miller retired, Nelson stepped away for a couple of years.
“The opportunity at Glenbard East was too good,” Nelson said. “It’s a blessing to head up a program at a place I’m so familiar with.”
The Rams finished 7-25 this past year, so there’s a definite rebuild in Lombard, and it’s one Nelson is excited for as he begins his first head coaching stint.
A motivator of kids, Nelson is adamant about the first step in the rebuilding process.
“Bringing fun back to the program and pride in wearing that Glenbard East jersey is the first priority,” Nelson said. “We want kids to want to be back in the gym. We want them to have energy and to want to be part of something special.”
Maine South basketball comes full circle
Following two decades of Tony Lavorato running the Maine South program, where the veteran coach turned the Hawks into a perennial winner, Colin Wehman takes over.
Wehman is certainly familiar with Maine South basketball and has family ties with the Park Ridge school and program. He played under Lavorato at Maine South, and his grandfather, Bernard “Bernie” Brady, was the first head basketball coach in Maine South history.
“Any time you have a chance to come back and lead a program you played in and with how far back my roots go, I am thrilled about this opportunity,” Wehman said. “It’s a great place with a lot of athletic tradition.”
Although Wehman spent this past season as an assistant coach in Scott Hennig’s Geneva program, he has a ton of experience coaching in the Central Suburban League.
Wehman began his career as an assistant coach at Maine South in 2010-11. He spent four years on Glenn Olson’s staff at Niles North and recently spent six years as an assistant coach at New Trier under Scott Fricke.
“I have been a part of some great programs,” Wehman said. “A cool thing for me is that I’ve been with a lot of different great coaches with distinct and different styles. I hope to bring that versatility and the different philosophies that I’ve seen over the years. Over time I will inject my own style and philosophy.”
Under Lavorato, Maine South captured five regional championships and won a sectional title in 2010. The Hawks have averaged 21 wins a year over the past 14 seasons.
Now Wehman gets a shot at running a program and continue building a basketball program at what is considered a football school.
“My No. 1 priority is building relationships with these kids and to get them feeling excited about playing basketball here,” Wehman said.
Can Warren get it going again under Zack Ryan?
During Chuck Ramsey’s nearly two decades as head coach at Warren, the Blue Devils averaged 21 wins a season. That included two state runner-up finishes to go with seven sectional titles and 14 regional championships.
Ramsey retired following the 2012 season in which he won both regional and sectional titles.
Warren hasn’t won a regional or put together a 20-win season since.
Now it’s Zack Ryan’s turn to try and end that drought.
Ryan spent a couple of years at Mundelein as an assistant coach early in his coaching career. While there he played against and saw the success of those Warren teams in North Suburban Conference play. From afar he was intrigued with the success and history of the program as it dominated under Ramsey.
“For me, I love my time at Carmel and felt like we were going in the good direction, but Warren was always one of those jobs you have an eye on,” Ryan said. “It’s just a great basketball job, not just in Lake County but in the state of Illinois.”
During the interview process he became even more enamored with the job.
“They have a want to be really good at Warren, and they are ready for it,” Ryan said. “How important basketball was to them was obvious to me when interviewing. That was attractive to me.
The former Carmel head coach will be the third head coach at Warren since Ramsey built a powerhouse in the north suburbs. He heads to the Gurnee school as Carmel’s all-time winningest coach with 127 wins in eight seasons. Ryan also led the Corsairs to three regional championships.
Other coaching changes in the area
Staying in the Mid-Suburban League, Buffalo Grove has hired Rolling Meadows assistant coach Kevin Geldon to replace Keith Peterson. Geldon has spent the past eight seasons on Kevin Katovich’s staff, including the past three seasons where the Mustangs have gone a combined 53-15.
The Maine West basketball job has proven to be one of the tougher ones in the Chicago area over the past 25 years.
Yes, the 1997-98 team, led by Lucas Johnson and Kevin Frey, who transferred in from Mount Carmel for his senior year, led the program to a historic season. The Warriors won a school record 28 games and finished fourth in the state in Class AA.
But since then there have been few winning seasons and not a single 20-win season or even a regional championship.
Tom Prokopij did a solid job in his six seasons. But Prokopij, who won 16 games in his first year as head coach and went 19-8 in his second season, stepped down.
Dan Paxson takes over after leading the Niles North girls’ basketball program from 2007-2022.
Schaumburg landed a new head coach with head coaching experience.
Jason Tucker, who spent seven seasons as head coach at Luther North (2010-2017) and four as head coach at Taft in the Chicago Public League, takes over the Saxons program.
Tucker also recently worked under coaching great Pat Ambrose at Stevenson as an assistant coach.
Tucker replaces Wade Heisler, who stepped down in March following seven seasons as head coach.