BOYS BASKETBALL | TIMES COACH OF THE YEAR

The Times Illinois Boys Basketball Coach of the Year: Thornwood's Paul Slavich

2014-03-29T18:00:00Z 2014-03-29T23:06:47Z The Times Illinois Boys Basketball Coach of the Year: Thornwood's Paul SlavichPhil Arvia Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
March 29, 2014 6:00 pm  • 

Long before he was named Thornwood's boys basketball coach, Paul Slavich was himself a player at the South Holland school.

If it's an oversimplification to say that his playing career foreshadowed the season he just enjoyed with the Thunderbirds, at the very least it is possible to see how the experiences of Paul Slavich, Class of 1986, helped Paul Slavich, Times 2014 Basketball Coach of the Year.

It's the second time in three seasons Slavich has earned that recognition, this time for leading the Thunderbirds to a 24-5 mark, a SouthWest Suburban Red championship and their first regional title since 2007 – all despite losing the services of leading scorer and rebounder Donte Thomas over the team's final 16 games.

"It's an honor to be named coach of the year," Slavich said.

And not something anyone would have predicted after he was cut during varsity tryouts as a Thornwood junior.

"My goal was to make the team senior year, and I made it," he said. "I knew I could play ball, I'm highly motivated and determined to prove people wrong."

Similar words tumbled from the mouths of Thornwood players during the 15-game win streak they launched without Thomas.

But, truth be told, while Thornwood's most recent squad routinely went deep into its bench, Slavich was mostly buried on the pine, circa 1986.

"My best game was senior night," Slavich said. "Coach (Al) Holverson started me, I made three quick buckets in the first quarter – this was against a Homewood-Flossmoor team that was coming off finishing third in state the year before. Coach took me out, said, 'Keep your arm warm,' and that was it, I never got back in."

But, while he didn't get a lot of playing time, Slavich said, "I did have a chance to look at the game a little differently. … I kind of liked making the calls in my head, thinking what I'd do differently."

He reminds his players frequently of the differences between how he views the game from the sidelines and they see it from the floor.

"I tell the guys all the time," Slavich said. "'You're in the fish bowl. I'm outside the fish bowl. It's different. I see everything develop. You've got to listen to us.'"

They listened.

After the Bradley-bound Thomas went down, Slavich installed two different offenses. He had, by his count, six leading scorers over the final 16 games: Brian Thomas, Chelby Frazier, Rashaad Alexander, Donzel Vinson, Kaliph Fagan and Kenny Bates.

"It was a talented team," he said. "It was a smart team. They had the ability to pick things up very easily."

Even if the coach didn't always go easy on them.

"The type of kid we have, if you go easy on them, they won't take you seriously," Slavich said. "There's a time to put your arm around them, and there's a time to chew on them a little bit."

While Slavich came by his game tactics bit by bit, borrowing along the way from the likes of Holverson and Bob Curran, under whom he served as a Thornwood assistant, the "chew on them" portion of his repertoire came from another Thunderbird legend.

"I played for Gary Lagesse, too," Slavich said of the man who won 694 games and three state titles as Thornwood's softball coach. "He was my freshman (basketball) coach.

"He was a just master motivator. I remember one time, we were in the locker room, we probably weren't very focused … he grabbed a 55-gallon steel drum and threw it at the wall. He had our attention after that."

Slavich probably could have used a garbage can flying over his head in the immediate aftermath of Thomas' injury.

"There was a time I was like, 'Oh my God, what are we going to do?'" Slavich said. "We had the offense designed around Donte. I don't know if anyone would argue – if you've got a Division I kid, give him the first look down the floor.

"I spent a lot of time tweaking the offense, making changes. My assistant (Jonathan Hill) and I spent a lot of time talking. We definitely had a good time.

"I'm very satisfied with how the season went after Donte went down. If you'd have said we'd win 15 straight, go unbeaten in the conference and win a regional without him, I'd have said, 'You're nuts.'"

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