(The City/Suburban Hoops Report Team of the Year Award has annually been given to the team that has shown the most character, overachieved, surprised, beat the odds in some way or overcome obstacles in putting together a terrific season.)
Marian Catholic basketball is truly a rags to riches story.
During this record-breaking season for coach Mike Taylor’s Spartans, a lot has been made of the depths and struggles this program faced for decades.
In a nutshell, here’s the 42-year history of Marian Catholic basketball prior to Taylor’s arrival in 2003: eight different head coaches, one 20-win season, one regional championship and 17 single-digit winning seasons.
But in the last 12 seasons Marian Catholic has averaged 20 wins a year, won six regional championships and three sectional titles.
And now the Spartans have their first-ever state trophy, finishing third in the state in Class 3A.
“Things have to work just just right to get to Peoria,” says Taylor, “and they did for us.”
Marian Catholic couldn’t be found in the Sun-Times Super 25 preseason rankings. The Spartans were coming off a 16-12 season and were led by a sophomore and a pair of juniors. There was also the fact this program had never reached the state finals.
The Spartans were oh-so-close to reaching Peoria with superstar Tyler Ulis. Behind Ulis, Marian went a combined 57-7 in 2013 and 2014, losing in a Class 4A super-sectional both seasons.
“What Tyler did for me and for this program was to show people that’s how the game of basketball is supposed to be played,” Taylor says of the current Phoenix Suns player. “That’s how you envisioned basketball to be played — the courage and toughness, the skill development over time, the character and unselfishness.”
As this past season played out, Taylor started seeing some similarities to those Ulis-led teams.
“This team had a lot of those same qualities as those Ulis teams,” Taylor points out. “This team really grew together, worked together toward a common goal.”
Past City/Suburban Hoops Report Teams of the Year
2018: Marian Catholic
2016: Lincoln-Way West
2013: Morgan Park
2005: Brother Rice
2004: Hoffman Estates
2003: Downers Grove South
2002: Highland Park
2000: Brother Rice
1997: Niles Notre Dame
1996: New Trier