In a program that is rich in basketball history as any other program in the state, Bloom Township head boys basketball coach Jasper Williams and assistant coach Pete McGuire are as much a part of the tradition as the packed gyms and the legend of Wes Mason.
Both will retire at season's end, but hope their retirement is dragged out with the Blazing Trojans having a deep run in the Illinois High School Association's Class 4A tournament.
They are part of M'Cann Gym lore as the walls and echoes of the great teams of the past. Williams in a suit and tie, and McGuire in a sport coat and open shirt. "Tie is at the cleaners," McGuire would joke. "Where's your tie?"
Bloom Township athletic director Joe Reda said there is more to both than the two-plus hours people see them on Friday nights.
"While Peter and Jasper are hall of fame quality basketball coaches – they are also hall of fame quality people. I’m fortunate to work with these guys," Reda said.
"Sure we talk about basketball around the office but we can hold conversations about Pete’s golf game, my son Jackson’s hockey trips, or politics and religion. These guys truly care about the people they work with and the students they’ve coached."
Williams is known as one who will leave no stone unturned in preparing for an opponent.
He got an early start on turning and picking up stones as a farmer. Williams is the fifth-oldest of 11 children and his parents had a farm in Gilbert, La., before moving to Chicago in 1970.
"We were one of three black families who owned their own land in our parish (county), so we were pretty lucky," Williams said. "It was a lot of hard work, but it really drilled into you about hard work and working together."
His family's "money crops" were cotton and soy beans, but said there was other work around the farm.
"We would get up before school and work in the field, and slop the hogs," Williams said. "We all worked on that farm and we also raised other crops."
Williams said baseball was his main sport. When his family moved to Chicago, on 70th and Wallace street, he developed a passion for the game and played at now-defunct Parker High School.
"My good friend Randolph Hamilton was on the team and said I should go out," Williams said. "I made the team and were about the second- or third-best team in the city my senior year (1972)."
On that team was future Marquette star Bo Ellis. From there, Williams earned a basketball scholarship to Northern Illinois. He graduated in 1977.
It's been a very successful career which started as an eighth-grade boys basketball coach at Rosa Parks Middle School in Harvey, then as a longtime assistant at Thornridge, where he also coached baseball and soccer.
In 1993-94, he was the head coach while coach Mike Flaherty took a year off to care for his dying wife.
"I learned a lot from Mike just being his assistant," Williams said. "It was tough for Mike and my job was to coach the team and keep up the Thornridge tradition. Like everywhere I've been, we had a great group of coaches and support staff at Thornridge."
Reda said Williams has been more than a coach to Blazing Trojan players.
"Jasper has tremendous perspective about everything that basketball and life have to offer, Reda said. "He doesn’t get too low on the bad days or too excited about the good ones. As a basketball coach he understands how to prepare for the future by analyzing the past. He uses that same perspective in life –- not too quick to judge -– trusts his staff."
Williams knows losing is not at an option at Bloom.
He is 176-94 at Bloom. He succeeded Gary Meyer, who won 166 games in eight years, including five regional titles and a trip to the 2000 Class AA Elite Eight. Meyer, who is in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, also won 153 games at Bloom Trail, according to the Illinois High School Association records.
He won three regionals and his 1989 team made it to the Class AA Elite Eight.
With the coaching legends and in the same program that has three hall of fame coaches in Mason, Meyer and McGuire, Williams put his stamp on the program.
"There is never a lack of talent at Bloom or Bloom Trail high schools," Williams said. "You have to develop it and it goes back to all of our coaches are on the same page. I have great assistants who do what is going to help the program in the long term."
He also credits his wife of 30 years, Atonia and son Jasper Jr. and daughter Jasmine for supporting him.
"Couldn't do it without my family," Williams said. "I've been lucky."