As North Chicago High School begins practice for the 2012-2013 boys basketball season, all eyes are on the prize.
The big prize — the state championship trophy that some school will carry out of the big arena in Peoria in mid-March.
The last two years, North Chicago had been in contention to win that big trophy, only to be denied — finishing fourth two years ago and second last season.
We are about to find out if the third time will be the charm.
Two factoids of interest:
■ No Lake County team has ever won a state title in boys basketball.
■ No Lake County team has ever qualified for the Final Four state tournament three seasons in a row.
On both those counts, the ball is literally in North Chicago’s court.
Though the team’s best player from last year — Aaron Simpson — is now playing junior-college hoops, the reality is that there are three juniors on the team, all of whom are a lock to play college basketball in two years.
Big Kurt Hall now stands 6-foot-6, JayQuan McCloud is the 3-point bomber to replace Simpson, and JaVairius Amos-Mays has the skills to play every position on the court except center.
The ringmaster is King Coleman, and he’ll be helped this winter by, among others, his wife — Cheryl — and also by the school’s athletic director, Brian Colbert, a master at teaching defensive principals and instilling the needed work ethic that takes good teams to the elite level.
Here’s what King Coleman had to say on a variety of subjects:
■ On playing as a team, with three superstars:
“As coaches, the challenge is going to be getting all of these guys to understand that it has to be a North Chicago team, not just a one-man show or a three-man show. Amos-Mays, McCloud, and Hall have to understand that they’re going to need their teammates too.”
■ On the supporting cast:
“I’m expecting a lot from Timothy Dixon, our transfer from Marshall (Chicago Public League). Arnold Shead can do a lot for us. He’s not in basketball shape right now, but he plays hard-nosed basketball. (Jamero) Shelton and Jarrod (Coleman) are two more guys who can step up. Jarrod is going to be a great defender in the paint. He understands what we need him to do and he’s really worked hard on it.”
■ On the challenge ahead:
“We need them to bond together as a team. They’re trying very hard off the court. A lot of people will compare them to last year’s team, but last year those guys had been playing together since the fifth and sixth grade. They knew each other. They lived and died for each other. This group is working toward that, and once they hit that milestone they can be something really special.”
■ On life without Simpson:
“With Aaron, I knew that was 25 points before we stepped on the court. With this team, we have the potential to have somebody scoring those 25 points every night. I don’t know who it will be, but we have the guys who can do it.”
And then there’s this from Cheryl Coleman, the coaching the family with the X’s and O’s experience:
“Our mission stays the same, and that’s to positively impact players’ lives. That’s reflected in giving players the opportunity to on to college.
“We had six of our 10 seniors receive scholarships last year.”