The Days of Our De La Salle

By Joe Henricksen

“Like sands through the hour glass, so are the Days of Our Lives.”

As a little kid growing up in a house with two older sisters, the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” was a constant at noon on NBC back in the day. In current day prep hoops in Chicago — at least recently — De La Salle has brought a little of that same soap opera drama. But why?

There hasn’t been a day in the past few weeks, it seems, where a De La Salle basketball rumor hasn’t surfaced.

Jaylon Tate is transferring? (True) Alex Foster may follow? (Not true) Tommy Hamilton to De La Salle? (Not true) A big German is transferring to De La Salle? (True) Jaylon Tate wants back? (Huh?) … And there are more of these types of rumors where they came from.

This isn’t “Days of Our Lives.” It’s De La Salle. It’s high school basketball! I feel for you, Tom White. Is this what the veteran coach signed up for years ago when he got into high school coaching?

“I love my profession,” says White, whose team went 22-3 a year ago. “Are there tough days? Sure. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

When the season ended with a sectional loss in March, there was scuttlebutt being tossed around that high-profile players may be moving on — and not just seniors Mike Shaw (Illinois) and Dre Henley (Northern Illinois). There was talk of talented, young players leaving the De La Salle program as well.

There were discussions, a sit-down or two with players, coaches, families. It was decided everything was status quo, the nucleus would remain intact and the Meteors would be in everyone’s preseason top five next season.

Then the Jaylon Tate bombshell hit in late May.

The talented Class of 2013 point guard was out, done with De La Salle, transferring to another school. It hit the basketball program hard, from the coaching staff all the way down to the players themselves. Publicly, White has said all the right things. Privately, the witty and affable White has to feel a bit blindsided and probably even a little hurt.

This is a coach that truly looks out for his players, looks out for kids and has their best interest — both in basketball and beyond. He works hard for the De La Salle players, doesn’t meddle with their college choices, only offering answers to the questions they may have in helping them in the recruiting process. This is a program, a team, a school and an educational environment that is pretty close-knit.

With the arrival of Shaw and Henley four years ago, along with continued efforts within the program to elevate De La Salle basketball and its presence, White has helped make the school and basketball program attractive. De La Salle, located a stone’s throw east of U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago’s South Side at 35th and Wabash, offers structure, discipline, solid academics and now a high-profile schedule and opportunities in basketball.

The program presents itself in a particular way, with players wearing sport coats and ties, qualifying grades and scores for college scholarships and a show of respect. The Meteors have won two sportsmanship awards at tournaments the past two years.

“It’s hard for me to believe that there are many places that have their students better prepared for college than De La Salle,” says White, who has three college-aged kids of his own. “Our students are college ready when they leave here. Plus, we have some pretty good basketball being played.”

The Meteors have won five of the last six conference championships in the Chicago Catholic League and four straight regional titles. They’ve traveled to play in various high-profile events and tournaments around the country, gaining both cultural and basketball experiences along the way. De La Salle has become a viable option for families searching for a combination of academics, discipline and hoops in the city.

Yet there still remains discussion about the present and future of De La Salle. As far as the other rumors, as of today Foster is staying put. Rumors circulated again last week that the 6-7 junior would be heading to Seton Academy next year, but those were put to rest earlier this week. And yes, De La Salle has added a talented big man in 6-8, 220-pound Gavin Schilling, a transfer student from Germany.

White believes there are a number of factors and reasons kids and their families discuss transfer options and, sometimes, end up moving to a different school. At De La Salle, which is a private school founded in 1889, it sometimes can be about the expenses. Typically, though, there is a whole lot more to the transfer equation.

There is what White calls the “sensationalism” of high school basketball today.

“Kids say they are transferring, it’s news,” says White. “And they love to be in the media.”

There is the AAU culture.

“Kids become friends during the AAU season and end up wanting to play together during the high school season,” White points out. “That happens. Plus, there are adults and AAU coaches, I think, that sometimes push kids to form these all-star type of teams.”

And there is a different mentality among some players and their parents today. When tough times hit, many are more willing to pick up and move than to deal with it and learn lessons along the way.

“When something goes wrong or they don’t want to be coached or disciplined a certain way, or they are playing a different position than they think they should be playing, or things just aren’t quite right, it seems to me that more and more they are just moving on,” White says.

The loss of a standout like Tate, one of the top prospects in the Class of 2013, will certainly be a big hit to the fortunes of De La Salle next season. However, the addition of Schilling, combined with Foster on the interior, will give the Meteors size not many high school programs possess.

Schilling spent the past year playing with the German Basketball Academy from Urspring, which has produced several Division I players and participated in the City of Palms Classic in Florida last December. Prior to his stint in Germany, Schilling spent his freshman year playing at Loyola Academy and on the young Chi-Town Diablos club team.

At one point, the Hoops Report had Schilling among the top 20 prospects in what is an impressive group of players in the Class of 2013. Schilling is a very good athlete who absolutely looks the part with his solid build and frame.

Adding Schilling to an already solid nucleus will only improve a De La Salle team that will surely be one of the more talented in the Chicago area next season and the Catholic League’s top team. Schilling joins fellow highly-regarded juniors, Foster and 6-4 Alvin Ellis, to form a terrific trio over the next couple of years. Plus, junior guards Marcus White and Demarcus Richardson will take on expanded roles after the departure of Tate.

Now the Meteors just hope to focus on basketball and player development this summer and out of the soap opera that is high school basketball in the city of Chicago.

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