Members of the East St. Louis District 189 board of education considered more quality candidates for its vacant boys basketball coach position than it anticipated, said superintendent Arthur Carver.
They made their choice at their Tuesday night meeting, tabbing East Side alumni Phillip Gilbert to be the 10th head coach in Flyers’ history.
What separated Gilbert from the eight others that were interviewed, Carver said, was his “fit” with the program.
“It was a very, very difficult decision, especially when we got down to the final four candidates,” Carver said. “Any of them could have done the job, but what made the difference is fit. We were looking for someone who, first and foremost, cares about academics and being a role model. We want somebody who can relate to and understand these kids and who cares about them as individuals.
“Bu we also wanted someone who knows the game. You know the Southwestern Conference is very competitive. You’re not going to make it if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Gilbert is intimately familiar with East St. Louis Senior High School and the Southwestern Conference. The East Side native teamed with Darius Miles to lead the Flyers to a pair of state 4A state tournaments and a third-place finish in 2000.
He moved on to Bradley University where he was voted team captain of the basketball Braves his senior year and still ranks No. 9 on the school’s all-time scoring list. He earned his degree in criminal justice and was an undrafted free agent for the Miami Heat before moving on to a seven year professional career in Europe.
He’s worked as an assistant under former East St. Louis coach Tony Young the last three seasons.
“I’m really, super excited right now,” said Gilbert, who was not present at the meeting. “I feel like we have a bunch of great coaches and I’m just grateful for this opportunity. I’m the kind of guy who will always give the coaches who came before me the praise and credit.
“I played at Bradley under two great coaches — Jim Molinari and Jim Les. Those were the best four years of my life. I learned the game under them and still keep in contact trying to learn more.”
Gilbert’s contract officially begins April 28. His hiring fills a vacancy left by Young, who the board suspended in January after audio of a profanity-laden half-time rant surfaced on the video-sharing web site YouTube.
Young later submitted a letter of resignation, which the board accepted.
“That situation with Tony was very hard on me personally,” Carver said. “But in this business, you have to be fair, firm and consistent. It was hard because I truly view Tony as being like a son to me. He’s young and has a future ahead of him. And I see a lot of Tony Young in Phillip Gilbert.”
Gilbert inherits a team that won 20 games and reached the state’s Top 10 before being upset by Collinsville in the Belleville West Regional final. Some of the cornerstones of that team return, including sophomore Jeremiah Tillmon, Karon Randolph, Patrick Baxter and Treyvione Crogier.
“You’re going to see a lot of defense, full-court man, pressure up and down the court — organized chaos I like to call it,” Gilbert said. “I believe in pressuring the whole way. We’re going to get after it and we’ll have the athletes to do it.”
Carver said the coach will be introduced to the board at its next meeting and that an informal reception will be held for the coach, the players and their parents.
Gilbert says the new season starts today.
“It’s going to take some time for us all to come together,” he said. “That starts right now as far as I’m concerned.”
Among the other candidates for the job was Hank Harris, who served as interim head coach during Young’s suspension. The Flyers were 17-4 under Harris, but concerns were raised about his candidacy due to his 1993 arrest for possession of cocaine with intent to sell.