BOYS BASKETBALL | TIMES COACH OF THE YEAR | THORNWOOD'S PAUL SLAVICH

2011-12 Times Illinois Boys Basketball Coach of the Year: Thornwood's Paul Slavich

2012-03-29T20:00:00Z 2012-03-30T05:41:18Z 2011-12 Times Illinois Boys Basketball Coach of the Year: Thornwood's Paul SlavichBy Ken Karrson The Times nwitimes.com
March 29, 2012 8:00 pm  • 

Winning games is high on any coach's list of goals.

Before Paul Slavich could worry about that, though, he first had to help win back Thornwood's respect.

Slavich, who had been around for the school's golden hoops era of the early 2000s, was asked to return during the Thunderbirds' darkest hour. That occurred when former coach Marcus Alderson was suspended, then relieved, of his position following Thornwood's involvement in an illegal scrimmage -- which earned the program a year's probation from the IHSA.

Slavich prefers not to talk publicly about that messy period, but guard Darell Combs was a sophomore then and admitted "wondering if a few of us were going to leave."

Two years later, he's glad he didn't.

With Combs as his ringleader, Slavich -- who served as Thornwood's interim sophomore coach immediately after Alderson's ouster early in the 2009-10 season -- brought the T'birds back into prominence this winter.

A SouthWest Suburban Red championship, which ended Thornwood's decade-long conference-title drought, capped the revival. The T'birds won 19 times in all and were never outclassed in defeat, despite playing one of the area's more demanding schedules.

And along the way, Thornwood's reputation was restored. For his efforts, Slavich has been chosen as The Times Coach of the Year.

"It was great to get the 'Wood back on fire," Combs said.

Combs and senior Khapri Alston gave the T'birds a couple solid building blocks, but success couldn't be achieved merely through individual talent.

"He got (all) those guys to gel," Thornton coach Troy Jackson said of Slavich. "He did a good job of putting them together and developing that chemistry they had."

Slavich did so by selling a team-first philosophy. That meant approaching the Loyola-bound Combs and convincing him that scaling back his per-game scoring would be beneficial to Thornwood's overall well-being.

"I asked him, 'How would it be to do a little bit more for your teammates and make the team better?'" Slavich said. "He bought in right away. When (the others) see the best player's buying in, it's easier to get them to do it.

"I had these seniors as sophomores, and I was working on them then about doing a lot of unselfish things."

Slavich's approach differed greatly from what had been in place before he took over as varsity boss. Alderson had been the freshman coach at Simeon prior to his arrival at Thornwood, and the T'birds tried to rely more on talent than teamwork.

"He didn't realize Derrick Rose wasn't here," Slavich joked.

Slavich preferred to tap into the teachings of predecessors Kevin Hayhurst and Bob Curran, with whom he was associated for 12 years. Slavich credits Hayhurst for instilling in him a sense of organization, while he cites the imaginative Curran as a game-planning inspiration.

"A lot of his stuff rubbed off on me," Slavich said of Curran. "If (an opponent has) two areas of strength, he'll make them go to one of their weaknesses."

Combs called some of the T'birds' early season practices "the worst you could think of" because of their demanding nature, but said that they prepared the players well for what was to come later.

"I think I teach kids," Slavich said. "I learned an old motion offense from Bob. Darell didn't like it much at first, but I knew if we were patient enough, they had to chase us.

"That tires teams out, and eventually that defense isn't going to get through that one extra screen. That's how you get open shots."

Just as he once supported Hayhurst and Curran, Slavich praised assistant Sean Finnin for the role he played in Thornwood's turnaround. Combs, however, made sure the top man received proper kudos as well, and not just for the on-court happenings.

"It don't even matter about basketball," Combs said. "It's about becoming a better man. He was getting us ready for college and helping me to be better disciplined with everything.

"I'd like to thank him for that."

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