Preps Talk

Former coach at LaSalle-Peru, Joliet West takes head coaching job at UIC

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USA Today

Former coach at LaSalle-Peru, Joliet West takes head coaching job at UIC

UIC hired its next head coach this week as Luke Yaklich returns home to Illinois to take over the Flames.

There's a lot to like about the 43-year-old Yaklich when it comes to this hire for UIC. A native of Illinois who spent time here as a high school coach at LaSalle-Peru and Joliet West, Yaklich's basketball journey makes him the perfect candidate for UIC at this particular point in time.

Being familiar with the area as a former high school coach and assistant coach at Illinois State will certainly help with recruiting and other facets of the job. But it's Yaklich's ability to take UIC to the next level defensively that makes him the perfect hire.

Yaklich turned into a star assistant coach over the past four seasons. He was often utilized as a defensive coordinator at his various stops. Going from Illinois State, to Michigan, to Texas over the past four seasons, Yaklich was responsible for four consecutive top-25 defenses, according to KenPom.

Although Steve McClain won at least 16 games in each of the past four seasons, the Flames could never reach their ultimate goal of the NCAA tournament. UIC hasn't reached March Madness since 2004. The past four seasons, UIC's best defensive team was only No. 107 in the country. 

McClain's teams had plenty of scoring pop and talent. Getting crucial stops could be difficult for the Flames.

While it may take some time for UIC to jump into the nation's top 50 in defensive efficiency, Yaklich has a successful defensive track record at the mid- and high-major levels.

Illinois State's dominant defense in 2016-17 was No. 19 in the country as the Redbirds just missed the NCAA tournament. Yaklich was then hired away to Michigan. In Ann Arbor, Yaklich helped an offensive-minded program under John Beilein become elite defensively.

The Wolverines advanced to the national title game and Sweet 16 in Yaklich's two seasons. Michigan had the No. 3 defense and No. 2 defense, respectively. 

At Texas, the Longhorns maintained the No. 24 defense in the country this season despite a talent drain that saw freshman center Jaxson Hayes leave for the NBA Draft to be picked in the top ten by the New Orleans Pelicans. 

UIC will need to figure out some other areas if they are to make it back to the NCAA tournament. Yaklich will need to hire a staff familiar with the local recruiting landscape. A sound offensive mind or two wouldn't hurt either.

But the defensive pedigree and player development track record has been there for Yaklich at multiple stops over the past four seasons. Now with a chance to run his own program, Yaklich is an exciting hire for UIC during an offseason in which college basketball's coach carousel isn't seeing a lot of movement. 

Jerry Sloan, Bulls player and Jazz coaching legend, stayed true to Illinois roots

Jerry Sloan, Bulls player and Jazz coaching legend, stayed true to Illinois roots

There’s country strong. And then there’s Jerry Sloan.

The NBA Hall of Fame player and coach, a tenacious defender and steady offensive threat, became a household name with the Chicago Bulls in the 1970s. Four-time NBA All-Defensive First Team. Two-time NBA-All-Star.

Sloan died Friday after a courageous battle against Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. He was 78.

But it was Sloan’s perseverance as a child and his dedication to the game of basketball —and his home town— 300 miles south of the Windy City that made him a real star.

[MORE: Remember ‘Original Bull’ Jerry Sloan as he lived: tough, humble and honest]

The former Bull, who went on to lead the Utah Jazz to the playoffs in 15 of his 23 seasons there as a head coach, grew up on a farm near McLeansboro, Illinois. The youngest of 10 children, Sloan would routinely wake up in the wee hours to do family chores. He’d then walk two miles to the town’s high school for basketball practice.

The foundation of a hard work ethic and a ferocious competitive nature paved the way for Sloan’s rise to stardom.

Sloan played on several great McLeansboro teams in the late-50s. In his junior season, he helped guide his squad to a 19-6 record for coach Gene Haile. He followed that up with a senior season most kids would dream of: 26 wins, 3 losses. He was named to the All-State team.

He would later guide the Evansville Purple Aces to two Division II national championships. He became known as “the Original Bull” shortly after the startup Bulls franchise drafted him in the 1966 expansion draft. The rest was history—a brilliant 10-year career in Chicago as a player and nearly three more as a head coach on West Madison before becoming a legend in Salt Lake City.

But it was his small-town roots that made Jerry Sloan all the more genuine.

He would return to McLeansboro several times in 1984 —the year he became an assistant with the Utah Jazz— to watch his high school team play. His son, Brian, led the Foxes to the Class A state championship that year, going 35-0 in the process. Brian went on to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana.

Sloan would return frequently to this Southern Illinois town many times during his run with the Jazz— a run where he only finished below .500 once and racked up an astonishing career 1,221 wins. Hamilton County High School, formerly known as McLeansboro, dedicated its gym in Sloan’s honor in Dec. 2012. A road in McLeansboro is now called Jerry Sloan Avenue.

In a statement, a representative from McLeansboro High School said the following:

“Today is a sad day for Hamilton County and the Foxes. Coach Jerry Sloan has passed away. Coach Sloan graduated from McLeansboro High School in 1960 and was always a hometown boy. Whenever he returned he was just one of us. He will be greatly missed. RIP Coach Sloan.”

McLeansboro will always be Sloan Country.

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Michigan recruit J.J. McCarthy to transfer from Nazareth to Florida's IMG Academy

Michigan recruit J.J. McCarthy to transfer from Nazareth to Florida's IMG Academy

J.J. McCarthy, the state’s top-ranked high school quarterback and overall player according to Rivals, is transferring from Nazareth Academy to IMG Academy in Florida.

McCarthy made the announcement on his Twitter page Monday afternoon.

The news sent shock waves throughout the national prep football landscape. McCarthy, committed to play at Michigan, led the Roadrunners to an IHSA 7A second place finish back in November. As a sophomore in 2018, he threw for over 3,200 yards and 36 touchdowns. It culminated in a state title win and a 13-1 season.

The move makes sense for McCarthy, as he will team up with offensive lineman Greg Crippen, a fellow Michigan commit. According to Rivals, McCarthy (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) is ranked as the No. 5 pro-style quarterback and No. 33 overall recruit in the country.

The loss is a huge one for head coach Tim Racki and company at the La Grange Park school. That said, the Roadrunners are one of the dominant programs in IHSA football, compiling a 38-4 record the past three seasons with three state titles in the previous six campaigns.

The big questions: Will other high-caliber Illinois high school athletes follow McCarthy? When will the IHSA commit to a fall sports schedule? What will Illinois high school football look like in the fall? What guidelines will be in place? There are many uncertainties.

What is known: The IHSA chose to cancel the state basketball tournament and all 2020 spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Illinois is currently in a phased reopening of businesses and other institutions. Florida is ahead of Illinois in respect to some of those aforementioned facilities.

The risk, or perhaps the unknown, was worth it for McCarthy and his family. Will Florida —or other states, including Illinois— even be cleared to play football come August? Will his move be a productive one in retrospect?

Time will tell.