As Elgin coach Mike Sitter sees it, he is carrying a torch that he inherited from Bill Chesbrough and Jim Harrington and will pass it on to the next generation of coaches.
As Elgin star Kory Brown sees it, he is carrying a torch that he inherited from Don Sunderlage, Chuck Brandt, Flynn Robinson, Jeff Wilkins, Terry Drake, Mark Baugh, Sean Harrington and Armani Williams and will pass it on to the next generation of players.
At Elgin, it is all about tradition.
Kory Brown's father knows about tradition, too. He was a freshman at Hirsch High School when Rickey Green and John Robinson led the school from Chicago's South Side to a state championship in 1973. So he taught his son everything he could about the game he grew up to love.
"I grew up in Elgin and always looked up to Elgin basketball, knowing I was going to Elgin someday," Kory said. "I know about the tradition, the big wins, the supersectionals, the great players. But we haven't been to state in a while (since 1998). After getting to the supersectional in 2008, the excitement has died off in the past few years."
There is plenty of excitement this season. Elgin is 8-1 going into Tuesday's game against Senn in the opening round of the 37th annual Elgin Holiday Tournament. Sitter claims his 2011-12 Maroons, who boast seven of the top eight players from last year's 22-7 squad, are the best team he has produced in five years.
Brown, a 6-4 senior who has offers from Ferris State and Lewis University and is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, believes this team is even better.
"We aren't a good team but a great team," he said. "If we keep playing as we are now or pick it up a notch, maybe we could be one of the best teams Elgin has ever had. I see more faith that we can do it, that we can succeed. Our goal is to get to state."
Last week, Elgin swept Burlington 73-41 as Brown had 12 points and 10 rebounds, Cortez Scott added 14 points, Arie Williams 13 and Dennis Moore 12, and St. Charles East 55-39 as Brown had 14 points and 11 rebounds, Scott scored 13 and Williams 12.
"This is a senior dominated team," Sitter said. "A lot less coaching has to be done during games because they are so experienced that they can coach themselves. The pieces fit together. They complement each other very well."
Brown is the leader. He was a unanimous all-conference and MVP selection a year ago. He is Elgin's tallest starter and sometimes initiates the offense from the point guard position. Or he establishes himself on the block and rebounds. But he is best when he explodes to the rim.
"He doesn't have to score for us to win," Sitter said. "He can do it all. He is a great athlete, our hardest worker. But if he wants to succeed at the next level, he must have guard skills. He is developing them every day."
Brown's father taught him that he needed to learn all aspects of the game, that he had to do everything well to be successful. And if Elgin is to be successful as a team, it must overcome its lack of size by doing everything else well.
"We overcome our lack of size with speed. I believe we can out-smart and out-run anybody on the court," Brown said. "Our triple overtime loss to Geneva was a great wakeup call. We didn't play smart. I'm glad it happened early rather than late or in March when it could have ended our season."
Meanwhile, Brown takes his responsibility as the team leader very seriously. "I'm a go-to guy. But I'm also the one who has to make the correct decision with the ball in my hands. In the summer, everyone said they wanted the ball in my hands, either go to the rim or take an easy jump shot or kick the ball to an open teammate for an easy basket," he said.
"I'll be a guard in college, mostly a two-guard. I was brought up to be an all-around player. I learned to dribble with my left hand as soon as I learned to dribble with my right. I want to show colleges that I can do it all, that I can do what needs to be done to win a game."
Brown has plenty of help. Arie Williams, Armani's younger brother, is a 5-10 junior guard who averages 12 points per game. Dennis Moore, a 5-10 senior, also averages 12. Cortez Scott, a 6-0 senior, averages 10. Gerardo Mojico, a 6-4 senior (6 ppg, 6 rpb), defends the tallest opponent. Matt Andres and Devin Gilliam, a pair of 6-foot seniors, come off the bench.
"I'm looking for this team to take a step to be better than last year," Sitter said. "I'm looking for a killer instinct to bury teams, to put a dagger in their heart, to put them away early and not allow them to stick around."
Sitter, an Elgin graduate of 1988, knows about the school's tradition even though he didn't play varsity basketball. Harrington cut him as a senior. He was a ballboy on Chesbrough's 1983 team that lost in the state quarterfinals. He still talks about the 1972 team that lost to West Aurora in double overtime in the state quarterfinals.
He describes himself as "a sports hound, just not good enough to compete at the highest levels," But he always wanted to be a coach. So he majored in education at Eastern Illinois, was sophomore coach at Round Lake for four years, then came to Elgin 10 years ago. After serving as freshman A and B coach and sophomore coach, he was promoted to the varsity.
"I paid my dues and worked my way up. My job is to carry on the tradition," he said. At 41, he looks back on a storied history that saw Chesbrough win 573 games in 35 years and Harrington win 290 games in 15 years. But Elgin won its only state titles in 1924 and 1925.
Brown almost didn't get to Elgin. His family almost moved out of Elgin and into Hoffman Estates' school district.
"I had a big scare," he said. "I didn't want my mother to take me out of Elgin. Our house sits on the border between Elgin and Hoffman Estates."
Tuesday's opening-round pairings pit Francis Parker vs. Buffalo Grove, Rockford East vs. Batavia, Dundee-Crown vs. Hoffman Estates, La Laumiere of Indiana vs. Walther Lutheran, defending champion Neuqua Valley vs. Rockford Guilford, Elgin Larkin vs. Harlan, Romeoville vs. Glenbard North and Elgin vs. Senn.