Last December, when Evanston coach Mike Ellis was talking about the players who had helped to fashion an early 7-0 record, he didn't mention Terrell Farmby. Now Ellis has plenty to say about the 6-foot-1 senior.
Farmby quit the program at Christmas time during his junior year. He was frustrated over lack of playing time. And he didn't buy into the philosophy of his new coach, who had come from Peoria Richwoods with a reputation for being a disciplinarian. "He had lessons to learn about discipline," Ellis said about the youngster.
But Farmby apparently regretted his decision. He came back for team tryouts last fall and made the 15-man roster. He started the season on the bench but got some playing time in each game and finally broke into the starting lineup against New Trier in February. He has been a fixture ever since, averaging five points per game.
"We brought him back and gave him a fresh start," Ellis said. "He is on his second strike. We never promised anything. He knew he had to walk a tight line and he has done it. He has done all we asked. He has been a solid influence on defense, one of our more vocal leaders. We needed to reward him for pushing his teammates in practice."
Farmby scored 16 points, Josh Irving had 17 and Jordan Perrin contributed 12 as fifth-seeded Evanston upset top-seeded New Trier 65-49 in a sectional semifinal on Tuesday night at Glenbrook South in Glenview. The Wildkits (20-10) will meet Niles North in Friday night's championship game.
After starting 7-0, Evanston experienced some bumpy experiences during a rugged conference schedule. Back-to-back losses to Waukegan and Maine South in late January provided a much-needed wakeup call. The starting lineup was overhauled with two new additions. The Wildkits have won five of their last six games, including two victories over arch-rival New Trier.
Irving, a 5-foot-11 senior, has been the team's leading scorer from the outset. He was averaging 19 points per game in the early going but now is averaging 14 as other players have stepped up. Evanston's only all-conference performer, he scored 16 points in Evanston's 51-48 victory over Niles Notre Dame in the regional final.
Other starters are Farmby, 6-foot-3 senior Leonard Garron (8 ppg, 6 rpg), 5-foot-7 senior point guard Jordan Perrin (7 ppg, 3 assists) and 6-foot-6 senior Matt Munro (5 ppg, 7 rpg). Munro has come off the bench to replace 6-foot-9 senior Randy Ollie, who was injured.
"At this time of year, it doesn't matter who you beat, it's just if you get another practice the next day," Ellis said. "We don't have anyone who was nominated for All-Area or All-Anything. But beating New Trier, a team with three all-conference players while we have only one, speaks volumes for our team."
Ellis still is trying to build a program at a school that knows something about tradition. Evanston won a state title under Jack Burmaster in 1968, was second in 1984 under Herb Williams, was fourth in 2004 under Paul Pryma and third in 2008 under Bobby Locke. Last year's team, Ellis' first, started 12-2 but finished 18-10.
"At times, I felt we were turning the corner," Ellis said. "It didn't seem like we were completely focused. I was reassured that it takes time to build relationships and trust and culture. It can't be done overnight, especially when I came in and first met the players on Oct. 5."
But now Ellis has had more time to put his program in place and the players are responding. "It's like raising kids. As a parent, you're trying to mold kids and teach them and form good habits. This team is cohesive and unselfish. There is more team play than last year. This is a great opportunity for these kids to model this year for future teams," he said.
"When we were playing .500 ball in January, they still believed in each other and weren't going to settle for anything else. They have a desire to get better at practice. To me, they have all stepped up and played to their strengths, not doing what they aren't capable of doing, playing smart basketball, listening to the coaches, buying into what we say."
Who are the keys to Evanston's success? Who are the difference-makers? Who has been the leader in the Wildkits' recent surge? Who does Ellis count on in the fourth quarter?
"It depends on what day of the week you call me," Ellis said. "No one dominates. It could be a different guy every day. They key is these kids are willing to get better each and every day in the gym.
"What has made a difference is the work ethic of the kids. They haven't settled for being complacent. They don't hang their hats on one or two games. We wanted to emphasize three points in the foundation of our program--playing hard, playing smart and playing together--and that's what they are doing."