Marian Catholic boys basketball coach Mike Taylor knows his team cherishes opportunities to play in a premier event.
The Times No. 1 Spartans face Etiwanda, Calif., at 1 p.m. Saturday at the UIC Pavilion in Elite Classic.
"This is great for us to play other teams we have never seen before," Marian coach Mike Taylor said. "It is going to prepare us for a long, tough schedule.
"We welcome the opportunity."
Taylor's program, led by Kentucky recruit Tyler Ulis, has elevated to a higher level.
If you were singing the praises of Marian basketball a few years ago it would have been over the girls program, which won the Class 4A title last year. Taylor's program was good, just not at the level it achieved last year when it was one win away from going to the Class 4A finals in Peoria. The Spartans know that they can't rest on last season's laurels.
"We've played in some big games," Taylor said. "We played at ISU (Illinois State) in the super (-sectional). We talked to our kids and they are excited about playing at UIC."
He also made sure after winning the program's first Chicago Heights Classic title, they didn't think they were too good.
"We talked to them about that today (Monday)," Taylor said. "It was good to win it and win it on our court, but the season is just beginning. We have a lot of things to work on."
Taylor and his staff will make sure of that. Maybe when you have a program that has not been a power in the past, you are used to putting in that extra work to put your team in a better position for success.
Taylor is not to taken with the early-season success. Four wins means nothing in a 30-plus game season.
Saturday is a big step for the program, but it still a game. Win or lose it is important to play well and play Marian basketball. Marian has played on big stages before. One thing this team has going for it is that the players work together and play hard.
Ulis gets everyone involved and the cliche that he makes everyone around him better is true. Remember, this team is not that tall, with most of the players 5-foot-10 or shorter. Terrone Parham at 6-7 and John Oliver at 6-3 are the Spartans inside game. Parham is a tall kid who can play inside, but drill a 3 to keep the defense honest.
For Marian, it could be an eye-opener for those who think last year's success was a one-year thing. For the Marian players, they do not need to worry about what others think. They know what they have to do and part of it is to go out and play their game and have fun. These guys are friends off the court.
They are a good group and their goal is not to be flashy or impress anyone, but to go out and get the job done.