Greg Leib isn’t so much just the basketball coach at Althoff High this season as he is the tour manager for one of the most successful acts on a rock concert-like basketball tour.
Sold-out gyms, rabid fan attention and rock-star status for top players are in the forecast for an Althoff team returning all five starters and several others that would be starters elsewhere. All but two seniors are back from a team that finished 29-4 and finished second at the Class 3A state tournament.
Among the loaded returning cast is reigning Belleville News-Democrat 3A-4A Player of the Year Jordan Goodwin, Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit Brendon Gooch, Illinois-Chicago recruit Tarkus Ferguson and Jackson State basketball recruit Keenen Young.
Althoff’s motto for this season after losing 67-63 to Westchester St. Joseph in the 3A state title game?
“When you have those kind of guys back and the ability to go along with it ... as long as we put in the perspiration with all of that, we should have a good opportunity to have a lot of fun this year,” said Leib, just three wins away from 300 in his 18th season at Althoff (297-196). “It’s a different pressure this year.
“We’ve been the underdog before. Now we’re going to be hunted every night, but that’s OK. It means you’ll need to be on edge every night and have to bring your best effort.”
And just like Col. Tom Parker, who managed the iconic Elvis Presley, Leib has been besieged by fans wanting tickets to the highly anticipated Highland Optimist Shooout game at 8:15 p.m. Jan. 9 against nationally ranked Chaminade and 6-foot-9 Duke recruit Jayson Tatum.
We’ve been the underdog before. Now we’re going to be hunted every night, but that’s OK. It means you’ll need to be on edge every night and have to bring your best effort.
Althoff coach Greg Leib
Althoff also will play Chicago Kenwood Feb. 6 at the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout and will compete in the Collinsville/Schnuck’s Holiday Classic in December and the Belleville East Chick-fil-A Classic in January.
“They’ve been with each other forever and they’re a fun-loving group,” Leib said. “We could have a different starting lineup every week, we could have different leading scorer every game. It’s one of those situations.”
Althoff’s basketball season began this week without eight players who were playing for a state football championship Friday night in DeKalb. The fact that they could still feel a competitive lineup and went 1-1 in their first two games shows a lot about their wealth of talent and depth.
“I’m not a very creative guy and it’s forced me out of my comfort zone,” Leib said.
Wealth of talent
Goodwin is a 6-foot-4 junior with scholarship offers from Illinois, Missouri, Purdue, St. Louis University, Creighton, Iowa, Kansas State and Virginia Tech. One of seven Althoff players who have already signed with Division I teams or have legitimate D-1 interest in basketball, football or both, Goodwin averaged 20.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.4 steals as a sophomore.
Leib said Goodwin’s game is much better, but also has noticed a big difference in his leadership role.
“He’s shown a lot of promise with that already,” Leib said. “A lot of the guys have taken more of an assertive role and it’s their time to step up and help carry the torch for what others have done in the past.”
Leib said Goodwin’s relentless nature of attacking the basket, playing aggressive defense and setting up teammates hasn’t changed.
“He scores from a variety of areas,” Leib said. “His ability to face the basket and shoot and score from the perimeter has gotten a lot better.”
The 6-6 Gooch averaged 13.6 points and nine rebounds, contributing 41 3-pointers and 56 blocked shots. Ferguson (6-4) is another do-it-all type of player who averaged 14.2 points and 3.4 assists with 49 3-pointers, 81 steals and 53 blocked shots.
Like Goodwin, are they all guards or forwards? Can they play inside or outside? Leib’s answer to all of the above is a simple “yes.”
“Watching them work summer camp and seeing the love and the joy of the game they have, how they’re able to give that back to kids, it’s special,” Leib said. “They really enjoy it. They were little kids not too long ago and they do a great job of sharing that love of the game.”
Marvin Bateman, a 6-4 junior guard and one of the top outside shooting threats in the region, already has Division I recruiting interest from Western Illinois, SIU Edwardsville and Lehigh. He averaged 8.8 points coming off the bench last season with a team-leading 69 3-pointers.
Junior guard C.J. Coldon filled in well while Keenen Young was injured and asserted himself by averaging eight points and 2.6 assists. Young, now healthy, returned late in the season and averaged 4.9 points.
Leib thinks Edwyn Brown, a 6-5 junior guard also receiving Division I interest, might be a star on other teams but at Althoff he’s a key contributor. Seniors Ishaiah Williams and Malik Easley and juniors Dante Ray and Bryson Strong add depth.
Guarding against ego, complacency
Some wondered last year if ego or jealousy would creep into Althoff’s game with so much talent on the floor. Leib said that didn’t happen and he believes his team’s tight nature should help avoid that scenario once again.
“That’s a tough sell, but when you build a culture and a strong team bond, sometimes that overcomes the personal accolades of being a starter and the big scorer,” Leib said. “That’s what teams are all about. The team is about building something bigger than the individual and the guys have done a really good job of that.
“We can’t fall into the trap of complacency. That will be a big focus for us this year.”
With eight players that have missed all of preseason practice because of the long football playoff run, Leib is anxious to get his entire group back together on the floor.
“We’ll start knocking the rust off the basketball skills come Monday,” he said. “It’s great for the guys because they’re getting an opportunity of a lifetime and getting to build memories. That’s what high school is about.”