Michael O’Brien’s notebook: May 4, 2017

Phil Ralston

Geneva became an unlikely powerhouse during Phil Ralston’s nine-year tenure as head coach. The Vikings have posted five consecutive 20-win seasons and finished fourth in Class 4A in 2015.

The wins don’t tell the entire story. Ralston, along with his fellow Upstate Eight River coaches, helped turn the tri-cities into a basketball hotbed thanks to a fan-friendly, up-tempo style of play.

This past week Ralston left Geneva to take over Glenbrook South’s program. The Titans finished 9-18 last season and haven’t been a notable team since Jack Cooley graduated in 2009.

Ralston coached at Grant for 11 years before arriving at Geneva in 2008. He isn’t the typical high school basketball coach. There was a quote from Victorian poet Alfred Tennyson in the press release announcing his departure. Ralston also posted a letter on Twitter thanking the Geneva community and saying goodbye.

Geneva’s feeder program is strong, but it will be difficult for Ralston’s successor to match his achievements. He was 193-77 in nine seasons and won the conference three times.

“I had always thought I would finish my teaching and coaching career at
Geneva, but sometimes an opportunity comes along that you simply can’t refuse,” Ralston, a Glenbrook North grad, said. “Glenbrook South is one of the few places that could have enticed me to leave Geneva. Glenview is a fantastic community, and GBS has a reputation as a great place to teach. The school’s athletic facilities are top-notch and I’ve been very impressed with the school leadership. The team plays in the Titandome, which is one of the most unique and top venues in the state.”


The spring transfer market was much slower than usual. The two biggest moves both benefitted Curie. The Condors picked up sophomore guard Marquise Walker from St. Joseph and 6-5 junior Jayden Gasby from Urban Prep-Englewood.

Walker had an up and down sophomore season, but led the Chargers to Peoria as a freshman. Gasby’s transfer is a significant blow to UP-Englewood. The Lions were expected to take a major step forward next season behind Gasby and guard Fred Cleveland. They finished 16-10 last season.

Devonire Glass, a 6-6 junior, is back at Simeon. Glass transferred to Simeon from Gary at the start of last season. He sat out the entire regular season and then played with the sophomore team in the city playoffs. He spent this season at Wasatch Academy in Utah.

Simeon coach Robert Smith had high hopes for Glass two years ago, he could provide the Wolverines with a nice boost of size next season. Simeon was already the runaway choice for preseason No. 1 honors, this just stacks the deck a little more in the Wolverines favor.


New Illinois coach Brad Underwood was busy during the April evaluation period. The Illini offered several local players, including Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu and Simeon’s Talen Horton-Tucker. He also moved early to offer two freshmen, DJ Steward of Fenwick and Nimari Burnett of Morgan Park.

Underwood also offered a slew of out of state players last week. It’s a significant departure from John Groce’s strategy of offering only select talents.

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  • Shogun29ppg

    Let Ralston go, he couldn’t even fill up that little Geneva gym every game, with his supposed powerhouse team, (really). This guy couldn’t carry Ernie Kivisto’s or John McDougal’s jock. When it’s all said and done what did he really do for Geneva Basketball, besides play the Navigato’s. Now what, he got out while the going was good, smart move, if he has aspirations of coaching past the high school level.

  • Shogun29ppg

    When is the next Ryan Boatright coming along, the rest of these kids aren’t worth going out in the cold to watch.

  • Shogun29ppg

    The bball being played in this state is horrible, I can barely stomach watching an entire high school basketball game in this state anymore, the teams, players are so overrated now. Thank god I moved to GA, don’t have to be subjected to these overblown player assessments and such. This paper needs to get a real basketball guy writing about bball, whatever happened to talents like bob Sakamoto or Taylor Bell. I guess this paper doesn’t pay very much, that’s why they have guys reporting on high school bball, that really don’t have a clue, you get what you pay for I guess.

  • Shogun29ppg

    Ralston and Geneva, only profited from the miserable ball being played out in the burbs, I watched his 3rd or 4th place team, with Navigato, and they were not anything special. It’s just that the competition is so weak now, it’s pathetic. Geneva never has and never will be a basketball power. By them placing at state with that sorry team they had, it says more about the state of IL basketball than it does about the progress of their program.

  • CPS Fan

    Glenbrook South hasn’t been relevant because they don’t have the players. That side of the conference was nuts with Evanston, New Trier, Maine South, and Waukegan before. Not easy to win on that side unless you have players.

  • Blue Crue

    What a joke. How can a school lose a coach who reached downstate for the first time in 50 years after a 28-3 season? Something is awfully out of whack if Hennig (not “Henning!!”) doesn’t replace the coach you shouldn’t have lost in the first place. Good luck to the next Geneva coach with that kind of support.

  • Spartan Nation

    Whewww yes! John Groce recruiting Jayson Tate was such a “select” talent! Lmao I’m glad Underwood is doing all he can to get “superior” talent. I know you may not care too much for AAU, but I think the little off season news with all the “relevant” AAU news people don’t know about on these circuits would be nice to hear in a podcast.

  • Rance

    Mike…..”Geneva became an unlikely powerhouse during Phil Ralston’s 11-year tenure as head coach.” Then you stated….”He was 193-77 in nine seasons and won the conference three times.” Which one is it? 9 or 11?

  • Tom Anstett

    For all basketball coaches (especially high school), check out my new book Stop Whining; Start Winning (for teachers and coaches). It contains many tips and suggestions for building and sustaining a program and also many concepts for parents, classroom teachers, and leaders. I had over four decades in the classroom and in coaching. Available on Amazon in paperback.

  • Robert Wooden

    Glenbrook South hasn’t been “notable” since 2009 due to unqualified, incompetent coaching for the last 8 years ruining competitive freshman & sophomore teams. Widner (fired coach) or “Captain Smith” should never have been hired. Turned the Titans into the Titanics. Good luck Coach Ralston.

  • Andre' Simmons

    Easy path for Young!!!!!!!

  • Fred

    Ralston brought slow down basketball to Geneva, they really didn’t pick up pace until Henning was his assistant. They wont lose a beat with him as the new head coach.

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