In his second tour of duty at his alma mater, Tim Ervin has turned Providence-St. Mel into an Elite Eight qualifier. The Knights will carry a 23-7 record into Tuesday night's game against Class 2A favorite Seton Academy in the supersectional at Joliet Central.
This has been an eye-opening, record-setting season for Providence-St. Mel. The Knights have won three regionals in a row but this marks their first trip to the Elite Eight since 2002. It has been a long time since Tom Shields coached St. Mel to three consecutive trips to the Elite Eight and the state championship in 1985.
"We were the No. 1 seed in our regional but I don't think people thought we were the best team," Ervin said.
"These kids don't relate to the 1980s but they know about it. They see the trophies in the trophy case. Those things have a short shelf life. But these kids know the importance of tradition. They want to restore the feeling of the 1980s in the school."
Ervin, a St. Mel graduate of 1991, is in his third year as head coach--for the second time. He walked on at Purdue, played for Gene Keady, then assisted coach Billy Garrett at St. Mel in the late 1990s. He was head coach for three years but was fired after going 0-25.
"I was out of coaching for six years," Ervin said. "But I remained involved with the school. When coach Todd Kelly left to become an assistant at North Central College in 2009, they asked me to come back. I had no bitterness over being fired. I understood. It all worked out."
Providence-St. Mel hasn't lost since Jan. 21. Last Friday, the Knights defeated Tilden 65-52 for the sectional title. Tevin King, a 6'1" sophomore, scored 21 points and 6'1" junior Khalil Small had 15.
They have been battle-tested against such strong opponents as Marshall, Hope Academy, Corliss, Dunbar, Foreman and Lake Forest Academy. In the regional semifinal, they trailed Raby by 20 in the second quarter and rallied to win by four in overtime.
"That taught us not to take any team lightly and if we trust and believe in system, it will work out," Ervin said. "It showed me that they had grown up and they had become mature. They fought through adversity. Small got 29 points and took charge."
Ervin welcomed only one returning senior from last year's 18-10 team that lost to Aurora Christian in the sectional. But he felt this team had a chance to reach this point because it played good man-to-man defense and played hard all the time.
"What I am surprised about is how well they are playing," he admitted. "They bought into our system early, playing hard and playing defense, being a family. They are excited about how much progress we have made."
The starters are King (13.5 ppg), Small (16 ppg), 5'11" junior guard Teadric Anderson (7 ppg), 6'1" junior Donald Morgan (8 ppg) and 6'2" senior Vesper Young. Anthony Mosley (8 ppg), a 5'11" freshman, and 6'2" sophomore Bernard Lilly (4 ppg) come off the bench.
"King is a winner. He has a great personality and the other kids like him and respect him," said Ervin of the youngster who was rated as one of the best eighth grade players in the city coming out of grammar school. "He and Anderson and Small bonded well together last year. They are our team leaders. We're successful because the kids play well for each other."