Bloom isn't used to losing in basketball. In fact, the Trojans were 13-16 two years ago, the first losing season in 15 years. Since the 1950s, coaches Bert Moore, Phil Hey, Wes Mason, Frank Nardi and Gary Meyer produced one winning team after another at the Chicago Heights school. Now it is Jasper Williams' turn.
Williams, a Parker (now Robeson) graduate of 1972, was teaching at Brooks junior high school in Harvey when then Thornridge coach Bob Sullivan hired him as an assistant in 1982. He worked for Mike Flaherty, was head coach for one year, then moved to Bloom in 2002. When Meyer retired, he became head coach of one of the state's most storied programs.
And jumped into a pressure-cooker.
"Bloom was in the SICA East (with Thornridge and Thornton) so I knew a lot about Bloom's history," Williams said. "I learned how tough it was to coach there, the high expectations, that the team was expected to win 20 games nearly every year. I knew what I was getting into, a lot of history and tradition and expectations."
Mason produced state runners up in 1974 and 1975. Nardi took teams to the Elite Eight in 1989 and 1990, Meyer in 2000. The long and distinguished list of All-State players includes Jerry Colangelo, Homer Thurman, Walt Tiberi, Bob Heuts, Gary Clark, Larry McCoy, Mark Barwig, Audie Matthews, Kelvin Small, Larry Lowe, Raymond McCoy and Brandon Cole.
"People expect Bloom to win 20 games every year," Williams said. "But we're not getting great athletes anymore. Now we get one every two or three years. In the old days, we sometimes had two All-Staters on the same team.
"The talent pool has dried up but I think we're on the rebound. We have a good sophomore team and a good freshman team. The feeder schools are producing more kids. We are putting more emphasis on basketball now."
It shows. Bloom is 6-0 going into Friday night's game with Rich Central. Next week, the Trojans meet Rich East on Tuesday and Leo on Dec. 17 before making their annual trip to the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament at Rich South.
"Last year, we lost to Hillcrest and Homewood-Flossmoor in our Thanksgiving tournament. But we beat both of them this year," Williams said. "Beating them told me that we can play with anyone in the state.'
He is counting on 6-foot senior guard L.J. Johnson (12 PPG), 6-0foot senior guard Donald Moore (14 PPG), 6-foot-5 junior center Johnny Griffin (10 PPG), 6-foot-5 junior Jataryan DeJareaux and 6-foot-2 senior Henry Hicks (7 PPG). JeJahown Freeman, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, is the first player off the bench.
"As long as we stay focused and the kids listen to the coach, we have the potential to go a long way," Williams said. "But we have to develop some inside kids. Once we do, we'll be hard to beat. We need to develop Griffin and DeJareaux so we have more balance and get more scoring from inside. This is their first year on the varsity. They have to get used to contact and be more physical."
Also, Williams is anxious to see if his team can compete against the highly rated teams at the Big Dipper -- Evanston, Seton and Crete-Monee. "We know they will pressure our guards. They will have to step up and our inside people will have to step up for us to do well," Williams said.
Johnson is looking forward to the challenge. Last year's team rebounded with a 17-12 record but it could have been even better. It lost to Crete-Monee three times, including a three-pointer in the regional final. Italso lost one-pointers to Hillcrest and Thornwood.
"I look back and see we could have been much better. We came into most games not mentally ready," Johnson said. "This year we have more guys who work harder than last year. We came into this season a lot more focused, mentally ready. Last year, our heads got big in the beginning.
"We started to get ready for this season last April, after last season ended. We decided we wouldn't lose games this year like we did last year. We come to practice and work hard every day. We give 100 percent. We come mentally prepared every time we play, no matter who we are playing."
If that means getting into a teammate's face, so be it. It is all part of the game plan for 2011-12. "Sometimes we have to get in each other's face to let them know it is game time. I like how we have come together. We like to be around each other," Johnson said.
Born in Chicago, Johnson moved to Lansing and attended Thornton Fractional South for a year, then transferred to Bloom.
"Before I came to Bloom, I didn't know anything about the school," he said. "As a sophomore, the coaches preached how big Bloom was, that they were trying to get back to where they were."
It didn't take Johnson very long to know that Bloom has a rich history in basketball, football, baseball, wrestling, cross-country and track and field. The Hall of Fame outside the gym is filed with Sweet Sixteen banners, All-State banners and two state runnersup trophies in basketball and 11 state championship trophies -- six in track and field, three in cross-country and two in wrestling.
"I'm impressed by how many All-State basketball players there were, 16 of them, but none since Aaron Nelson 2008," Johnson said. "There were so many in the 1970s. I hope I will get there. But you have to put in work to do it. Leadership is important, how far I can take my teammates, pass the ball to the open man and make a shot when my number is called."