CHICAGO HEIGHTS | The Marian Catholic boys basketball team got a good reminder last Friday of what happens when the Spartans do not hustle and get lackadaisical.
In a game against Marmion, the Spartans got off to a slow start and coach Mike Taylor let them know as much.
"He pulled the starters," guard Josh Cohn said. "We realized we were not playing Marian basketball. Tyler (Ulis) got us together and we realized we needed to hustle and play better."
Marian came back and won 65-42 for its 12th straight win. The Spartans beat Providence on Tuesday for their program-record 13th straight win and are 15-1, which represents the program's best start. Marian is ranked No. 4 in Class 4A in the Associated Press poll and plays at No. 8 Quincy on Saturday.
"I just told them our success is due to us playing hard and playing smart," Taylor said. "I know we were off since the McDipper and there weren't many fans because it was Christmas break, but they needed to play hard."
Marian beat crosstown rival and tradition-laden Bloom Township 61-58 on Dec. 29 for the McDipper title.
The Spartans have turned heads, and both the girls and boys programs are ranked No. 1 in the Times poll. Both teams have just one loss.
"It is good we are getting some recognition, but we have a long ways to go," Cohn said. "I think it is great for the school that both teams are doing well."
Said Marian senior girls player Megan Walsh: "I think it is great. We have a little friendly competition as to who gets the most wins. I hope we both get a lot of them."
Junior John Oliver said the Spartans go into each game expecting to win.
"We are confident, but not cocky," Oliver said. "We are like brothers off the court and I think that helps with our on-court chemistry."
The Spartans success starts with Ulis, a junior who missed Monday's practice because he was on a recruiting trip to Oregon State University. Taylor said he has about a dozen offers. The 5-foot-7 guard has the respect of his teammates, who are mostly underclassmen.
"He gets us all involved," junior T.J. Parham said. "He is a leader and he can score, but he is not afraid to pass the ball and he is a team player."
Ulis is averaging 24.2 points, 4.9 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game.
"Tyler is unselfish," Oliver said. "You've got to be ready because if he sees you are open, he'll get it into you. He plays good defense and gets everyone involved."
Ulis said that is the job of a point guard.
"I can score, but I can't do it all by myself," Ulis said. "We have a great team, great guys. Anyone can score. Josh (Cohn) can score and the big guys are really finishing nice underneath.
"We just have a confidence about each other."
Parham has been an asset since he was declared eligible by the Illinois High School Association in December. He transferred from St. Francis de Sales, but there were paperwork problems from his transfer to St. Francis from Rich Central in March 2011. The IHSA ruled him ineligible last year.
"T.J. is a 6-foot-6 guy who can score, he really helped us a lot," Cohn said. "He came in against Lemont and scored 19 in his first game. That just gives us another dimension."
Parham said one thing that makes this team successful is the camaraderie.
"Through all that (the eligibility case), these guys stuck with me and supported me," Parham said. "We just want to go out and play together and keep winning.
"We are like family."
After the McDipper, Bloom coach Jasper Williams, who is retiring this year, said Taylor has put the work in and it is paying off.
"I wish we would have won, but Marian played hard and they have a good team," Williams said. "Mike Taylor is a great coach and maybe he will get some recognition that he deserves."
Taylor is in 10th season and is 136-137. His best team was 22-7 in 2005-06 when it lost to Hillcrest at the Class AA Bloom Township Sectional. His 2008-09 team was 16-14, but lost to Thornton in the Lincoln-Way North Sectional final.
"One thing our kids have done is hustled and played hard," Taylor said. "We are not that tall, but we play good defense and our kids love the game."