Backstage pass: How New Trier hung with Simeon
New Trier boys basketball coach Scott Fricke talks to his players about Tuesday's supersectional game against Simeon during practice Monday in Winnetka. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 15, 2013 10:55AM
Editor’s note: New Trier boys basketball coach Scott Fricke granted Pioneer Press sports reporter Matt Harness full access to practice on the eve of the Trevians’ Class 4A supersectional game against Simeon. In exchange, Pioneer Press agreed not to publish the story until after Tuesday’s game, which Simeon won 63-54. The resulting article provides a behind-the-scenes look at how New Trier prepared to play a basketball dynasty.
WINNETKA — Today, Matt McCaffrey is Simeon senior point guard Jaylon Tate.
Right after New Trier’s 65-42 win over Niles North in the boys basketball sectional final Friday, the 6-foot junior guard declared his desire to be Duke-bound Jabari Parker, Simeon’s most famous player who once graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.
But McCaffrey lost out on assuming Parker’s identity to Mark Snyder, a junior forward who is more appropriately sized at 6-4.
McCaffrey and Snyder are two of the five members on New Trier’s scout team, and at this Monday practice — the one before the Trevians’ Class 4A supersectional game at Chicago State against Simeon — they are running the Wolverines’ offense inside a sauna-like Gates Gym.
New Trier coach Scott Fricke and his staff have many ideas in mind on how to counter Simeon’s talents.
The Trevians spend most of their energy on their traditional man-to-man and 1-3-1 zone defenses.
They also run through a triangle-and-two, a defense they’ve worked on all season but have rarely used.
Bottom line: Fricke wants to be prepared for everything. He needs a game plan that will slow down the three-time defending state champion Wolverines, especially Parker, a 6-8 forward who scored 29 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the team’s 69-51 win over Young in the sectional final.
Hours of film study have revealed one of Parker’s tells.
“When his feet come together and the ball is in his left hand, he’s going to shoot the jumper,” says Terry Coughlin, a sixth-year assistant who was a senior on the Trevians when they upset Proviso East in 2002 to earn a trip to the Class AA tournament.
What the New Trier coaches want is to find a way to consistently funnel the ball to Simeon senior Russell Woods, a 6-9 starting forward.
“If he gets the ball, tell him to shoot it,” Fricke says.
At the top of the key, McCaffrey can’t help but laugh out loud at the prospect of provoking a player to take an open shot.
As long as Woods isn’t dunking or going for a layup, Fricke is serious about the offer.
Coughlin even chimes in, “Dare him to take his moment.”
In some ways, Monday was Fricke’s moment.
A longtime assistant under Rick Malnati, who led the Trevians to two state tournaments, Fricke won his first sectional championship in seven seasons and the team’s first since 2005. Along the way, Fricke’s team established a program record for wins in a single season with 28.
Fricke’s reward is a Tuesday date on the South Side with USA Today’s No. 6-ranked team, a club blessed with multiple high-major Division I players. In addition to Parker, Kendrick Nunn and Tate have both committed to play at Illinois.
Following Friday’s victory over the Vikings, New Trier took Saturday off and practiced Sunday. Fricke’s message over the weekend was clear.
“Let’s trust what we’ve done all year,” he said.
Monday’s practice illustrates Fricke’s point.
The Trevians look loose and are having fun, even though it’s a little more than 24 hours before arguably the biggest game of their basketball lives.
But they aren’t about to treat Tuesday’s game any differently, not this late in the season.
“It’s not like we are going to be intimidated or tentative,” New Trier senior forward Steven Cook says. “We are approaching this one like all the others. Yeah, we do like to have fun and sometimes goof around a bit.
“That doesn’t mean we aren’t working hard.”
As he often does, McCaffrey sets the tone Monday. This time, McCaffrey swishes a three-quarter court shot before the Trevians start practice. McCaffrey barely saw the court during the season, but his teammates see him as one of the most important pieces to the puzzle.
So does McCaffrey, who was a backup varsity quarterback in the fall.
“Just cause I don’t play doesn’t mean I can’t have an affect on this team,” he says.
During warmups for the St. Patrick Regional final against the host Shamrocks on March 1, McCaffrey says he intentionally shot an airball to deflect the home crowd’s attention away from New Trier’s star players.
In the run-up to the sectional final, McCaffrey acted as Niles North senior guard Malachi Nix, one of the best players in the area.
“Those guys have been responsible for running something like 300 sets all year,” Fricke says of junior guard Danny Hurley, junior guard Adam King, junior center Whitt Ryan, McCaffrey and Snyder. “They give us great looks to go up against. They are a big part of this team.”
Cook, who will play at Princeton, agrees.
“They are the soul of this team,” he says while taking extra shots with senior forward Aaron Rosen after practice ends. “They are crucial to our success.”
Before New Trier runs through the first practice drill, Fricke gathers the players in a circle at midcourt and reads off the keys to Tuesday’s game from a single sheet of paper.
Fricke is not delusional; he understands the uphill climb the Trevians are facing at Chicago State.
Nevertheless, Fricke expresses confidence that if New Trier sticks to the game plan and executes it to near perfection, the Trevians can get back to Peoria for the first time in more than a decade.
Ultimately, Fricke says he doesn’t want the Wolverines to “do what they are comfortable doing.”
“Transition defense is huge,” Fricke tells the team. “We think they are much better in transition than in halfcourt. Rebounding is big, too. They often don’t make their first shot, but they often do make their second, third and fourth tries. We want to make them work for their shots. They live around the rim, and we have to make it tough on them in the paint.”
Fricke encourages the Trevians to remember one more point: Play their own game. But be smart about it.
“We’ve been a running team all year,” Fricke says. “We are not going to come in here in two days and change who we are. That would be wrong to do for our kids and our team. If we have a great opportunity to run, we want to run.”
Fricke emphasizes the importance of getting a good shot. It doesn’t matter to him whether it takes one pass or 30 to get it.
“We want to make them play defense,” Fricke says.