Relatively speaking, just the fact that the boys basketball team was in the mix for a possible South Suburban Conference Red Championship for the first time in several years is a huge accomplishment. So, when the Spartans finished in second place and head coach Jason Rhodes was voted as the conference’s Coach of the Year, one might think it was the icing on the cake for a fine season. But don’t try to tell that to Rhodes.
“I would trade the award for a conference championship in a second,” he said.
Although the Spartans did not win the conference crown, it certainly was the best season for the Spartans in nearly four decades.
Rhodes began his Oak Lawn coaching career in the 2011-12 season and saw his Spartans go 16-11 after starting the year 0-5. However, the team went a combined 49-87 over the next five years. Through those difficult times, Oak Lawn stuck with Rhodes, and those lean years proved to be vital in shaping the coach that earned such a prestigious honor like SSC Coach of the Year and shaping the team that produced 19 wins for the first time in 38 years.
“The losing honestly helped me better sharpen my philosophy and improve our program at the edges,” he said. “I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about and researching the most efficient ways for our kids to acquire the tools to compete. And this season taught me just as many lessons, though different kinds, that I’ll be able to apply in future years.”
Oak Lawn shined in conference play, beating the likes of Richards, Shepard, TF South, Oak Forest, Sandburg and Reavis as well as taking Hillcrest to the final horn in a heart-breaking one-point loss.
“None of the success that we had this year happens without the hard work of our players,” he said. “From our seniors to our sophomores, many of the players on our team this year logged a significant amount of time in our gym over the years honing their skills in order to perform well when it counted on Tuesday and Friday nights. It wasn’t our size, our athleticism, our shooting ability or the way we passed the ball. The reason we were successful was the level of commitment of our best players and the emphasis they placed on doing only what was best for the team as well as what was most needed to win. It’s really a team award.”