STEVE HANLON: Whiting is losing an juke box hero

2013-06-28T19:15:00Z 2013-09-16T18:46:19Z STEVE HANLON: Whiting is losing an juke box heroSteve Hanlon Prep Beat
June 28, 2013 7:15 pm  • 

If you looked at the resume of Derrick Milenkoff and heard he was leaving the Whiting boys basketball program as it was announced on Friday you might shrug your shoulders and say, "So what?"

A 35-92 record after six years on the job doesn't make you shake in your boots. Not at first glance.

But this 30-year-old school coach was exactly what the Oilers needed. He put Whiting boys basketball back on the map.

He dressed like an extra from Saturday Night Fever on game night, he barked at officials like one of my favorite region coaches of all time, Carl Traicoff, and gave a pulse to a program that was all but dead beforehand.

"That's me, man," Milenkoff said. "I can't separate me, how I was taught by my family, my mom and dad. Regardless of anything you have to give it all you've got.

"Whether it's sports, reading a book, going to school or college, I get passionate with that stuff."

The Oilers had two winning seasons under Milenkoff. Big deal, you might say? Whiting boys hoops hadn't done that in 30-plus years. In 2011 Whiting started the season 4-0 and it was the first time that mark had happened since the 1923-24 season.

The Oilers would eventually win their first seven. In the 2010-11 season the 2001 Morton grad led his team to a 7-1 start and the Oilers ranked in the state poll for the first time since 1980-81.

Here's the thing. Last year Whiting went 2-19 and that was with three freshmen starting. Nothing changed from the salad years. Last year's team worked just as hard as the winning teams.

"The kids took on the personality of their coach," Whiting athletic director Paul Laub said.

"The kids of Whiting worked their asses off," Milenkoff said. "That's why I loved them so much. That's why this decision was so hard."

Milenkoff's girlfriend lives out west. He is moving to be near her and will keep his options open. He is nearing the end of his master's program and hopes to finish it and get into school administration.

If he is the same there as he was on a Friday night with the bright lights on, he will do just fine.

Laub will be taking applications for the coaching job and the social studies teaching position. He calls Milenkoff a dear friend who will be missed. Laub said the attendance went up because of the fun, circus-like atmosphere that Milenkoff and his players brought to the show.

Laub remembers the green jacket Milenkoff wore because he was in charge of the "Go Green" save the planet push at the school.

"We knew it wasn't going to stay on long," Laub said with a chuckle. "It was coming off and flying somewhere if he disagreed with the call of an official. Basketball was pretty neat around here the last five-six years."

Whiting's JV went 10-9 last year, which is good. The eighth grade team only lost one game. The seeds that Milenkoff planted will continue to blossom long after his colorful nature has left the area.

"Me being a people person, I showed those kids I cared about them," he said. "I gave them high fives in the hallway, in the classroom, I let them know I wanted them on my team.

"I showed them I respected them and cared about them. Those were my kids, dude. I'd do anything for them."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at

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