Preps Talk

How Mark Chambers turned dysfunctional East St. Louis into a state champ

How Mark Chambers turned dysfunctional East St. Louis into a state champ

East St. Louis had no reason to trust head coach Mark Chambers when he took over the program in the middle of last season.

The fifth head coach in a three-year span, the Flyers were burned too many times by coaches who didn't stick around long enough to make an impact. But Chambers quickly proved he was different. Guiding East St. Louis to a sectional finals appearance last season, the program gained positive momentum heading into the summer. And in the offseason, Chambers set out to fully rebuild a once-proud program that had fallen on tough times.

Overcoming adversity became the norm for the Flyers, and it helped them rally to take down Bogan in overtime, 68-63, on Saturday afternoon as East St. Louis claimed the IHSA Class 3A state championship.
Trailing 51-44 with 3:07 left in the fourth quarter, the Flyers furiously rallied to force overtime. From there, star senior Terrence Hargrove Jr. and his teammates rose to the occasion to pull off one of the more surprising state-title runs of the past decade. 

Hargrove finished with a team-high 32 points and 10 rebounds -- engaging in a memorable head-to-head, above-the-rim battle with Bogan star big man Rashuan Agee (24 points, 14 rebounds). Junior guard Jashawn Anderson (13 points) and senior forward Richard Robinson (11 points) also came up with huge plays for the Flyers -- including Robinson's tip dunk off an Anderson missed free throw to tie the game at the end of regulation with four seconds left. And East St. Louis benefitted from numerous Bogan mistakes down the stretch, including two Bengal missed free throws and the missed boxout at the end of regulation.

The first boys basketball state title in school history, nobody expected East St. Louis to reach Peoria, let alone win a title, after all the program had been through over the past few seasons. The rebuild accelerated quickly thanks to the bond formed by the Flyers and their new, permanent head coach.

"We reached a low point," Hargrove Jr. told NBC Sports Chicago. "We thought like, 'Man, we can't get a [steady] Coach...' But we stayed positive and thought that we couldn't use that as an excuse. Then he came in and changed our program clean around."

An assistant coach at Cahokia for 12 seasons before he took the helm at East St. Louis, Chambers needed to convince Hargrove to buy in first as the team's best player. Once Hargrove bought in, things started to fall into place. With Hargrove, a talented Saint Louis commit and Mr. Basketball nominee, telling his teammates that the new coach knew what he was doing, it grew easier for trust to naturally form. 

"This summer he started talking to us and we started believing in us as a team and it was all positivity," Hargrove said. "We believed in every word he said and he taught us how to do so many things. A father-figure and a coach at the same time. We just thought he was another coach coming through our school. But as we sat there and listened to him, sometimes we just came to practice and bonded and talked."

Seeing the talent East St. Louis had on the roster, Chambers believed the team could be a state title threat as early as this season. Chambers saw the Flyers develop quickly during the summer. Building a challenging schedule that included state champions from Missouri (Vashon) and Illinois (Belleville West and Orr), the Flyers set out to put the program in a positive direction during the 2018-19 season. 

"We thought after last summer we had a really good team. But it was about coming together and getting the right pieces to fit," Chambers said. "Those guys got in the gym and they worked, got in the weight room and worked. And that's why we're here today.

"When i took over a year ago, these kids were not believing. They had five coaches in three years and they just thought of me as the next coach. So to see us at this level, 12, 13 months later, man, I didn't see it coming this way, this soon. But the way my guys bought in, they made it happen quicker."

Replacing Hargrove is going to be a difficult task for the Flyers as they try to stay among the state's elite next season. Chambers is pleased by a deep group of juniors who should return next season. East St. Louis won't surprise anyone in Illinois anymore after its breakthrough season. At the very least, a positive foundation appears to be set. Stability is finally in place for the Flyers going forward.

"I wanted to change not only our culture but our identity," Chambers said. "A lot of times people talk about East St. Louis basketball and East St. Louis sports in a certain way. But I wanted to make sure our identity was tight and that we know who we are and we know where we want to go. So we set goals and we tried to attain those goals every day. And we understood that it's a process and how the culture was changed. It's been a daily process. And even today, there's still stuff we have to deal with. But I know we're on the right path." 

76 Days to Kickoff: Eisenhower

76 Days to Kickoff: Eisenhower

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Eisenhower

Head coach: Sheamus Murphy

Assistant coaches: Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera, ST Coordinator Billy Viero, assistant Darren Bryant, assistant Charles Edwards, assistant Jesse Gonzalez, assistant Ryan Gorney, assistant Will Johnson, assistant Marty McNamara, assistant Tim McNamara, assistant Anthony Munoz, assistant TJ Murphy,  assistant Jeremy Rodrigues, assistant Dan Russell, assistant Terrence Streater and assistant Ron Zychowski

How they fared in 2018: 4-5 (2-4 South Suburban Red Conference). Eisenhower failed to qualify for the IHSA football playoff field. 

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 @ Oak Forest

Sept. 6 vs St. Laurence

Sept. 13 vs Argo

Sept. 20 @ Reavis

Sept. 27 vs Shepard

Oct. 4 @ T.F. North

Oct. 11 @ Evergreen Park

Oct. 18 @ Oak Lawn

Oct. 25 vs Richards

Biggest storyline: It centers on new head coach Sheamus Murphy. Can he get the Cardinals back on the winning track?

Names to watch this season: QB Daniel McLaurin (Sr.), RB/LB Cristian Tellez (Sr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Cardinals will need to replace 15 graduated starter from last season. 

EDGY's Early Take: The Cardinals’ now-former head coach Travis Moore decided to head to the college level. He became the defensive line coach at NIU. New head coach Sheamus Murphy, who built the Back of the Yards program from scratch, takes over and brings a ton of energy and excitement to the Island starting in 2019.

77 Days to Kickoff: Elk Grove

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77 Days to Kickoff: Elk Grove

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Elk Grove

Head coach: Miles Osei

Assistant coaches: Michael Kamedula, Samir Chaudhari, Steve Lesniak, Kyle Pfister, Jon Pieper, Larry Shinhoster, Chris Rogers, Dan Vargas, Kevin O'Malley and Kevin Modelski

How they fared in 2018: 1-8 (1-4) Mid-Suburban East Conference). Elk Grove failed to qualify for the IHSA state football playoff field. 

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 @ Hoffman Estates
Sept. 6 @ Conant
Sept. 13 vs Vernon Hills
Sept. 20 @ Maine East
Sept. 27 vs Prospect
Oct. 4 vs Rolling Meadows
Oct. 11 @ Wheeling
Oct. 18 vs Hersey
Oct. 25 @ Rolling Meadows

Biggest storyline: The Grenadiers broke a 32-game losing streak last season. Can head coach Miles Osei lift the program to a new level this fall?

Names to watch this season: TE/DE Andrew Clausen (Sr.), DL Jake Izzo (Sr), RB Ian Ridge (Jr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Grens welcome back an impressive 16 returning starters (eight offense, eight defense) from a season ago; however, depth and overall numbers can always be better. 

EDGY's Early Take: Elk Grove took it on the chin last season, but several key starters saw significant playing time. The Grens are looking for that experience to pay off in 2019. The schedule is not easy, so getting off to a good start should be a big goal.