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Joliet Central Players sit on the bench during Friday night's game between Lincoln-Way Central and Joliet Central High Schools. | Paul Bergstrom ~ For Sun-Times Media
The disappointment in Jeff Corcoran’s voice was undeniable.
Joliet Central’s boys basketball coach had to explain that he needed to figure out what to do with four of his starters. Apparently, the four players broke a team rule and Corcoran needed to sit them out of the Steelmen’s game at Lincoln-Way Central on Friday night. Corcoran did not want to divulge the rule or what the players did to break it.
“The kids who deserve to play will and they can take care of business,” Corcoran said Thursday.
Markel Ellis sat for the entire game. Eddie McElrath, Jalen Heath and Jonah Coble all sat for the entire first half. Heath and Coble came in midway through the third quarter and McElrath entered in the fourth.
Corcoran said the disciplinary action was a no-brainer and that he and his staff discussed the repercussions. All agreed the kids who did the right thing should be rewarded.
So Corcoran and his staff decided to bring up five sophomores: Jerry Gillespie, Ternell Jordan, Othello French, Kewon Ware and Kenyon Woodfork. Gillespie, Ware, French and Jordan started.
“I was nervous and the (coaches) told me to just play and I got in and I played and I was better than ever,” Gillespie said.
The sophomores did their best to keep Joliet Central in the game and the Steelmen trailed by only three points at halftime.
But it wasn’t until Coble and Heath came in that things really got rolling.
After Lincoln-Way Central went on a 9-0 run to start the third quarter and was up by 11, Heath checked in at the 3:32 mark and Coble came in right after at 2:26.
Coble, a 6-foot guard, took over.
Having learned his lesson the hard way while champing at the bit in the first half waiting to get into the game, Coble scored seven consecutive points and brought the Steelmen to within three. Jason McNear then hit a three-pointer to tie it at 35, and Coble’s two free throws put Joliet Central ahead.
The Knights started coming back, but Coble came to the rescue. Maybe it was his way of proving to Corcoran and his teammates that he will do the right thing and that Corcoran’s message got through to him.
With about 10 seconds to play in the game, Coble stole the ball at mid-court and drove down the lane where he was fouled going to the basket. Coble calmly sank two free throws with 8.4 seconds left and Joliet Central went on to win 42-40. Coble led the Steelmen with 13 points.
“I learned to be smart and make good decisions because I don’t want to put my team in jeopardy again like this,” Coble said. “(Corcoran) told us we had to learn from our mistakes and we were going to learn from it in the long run.
“I just couldn’t watch the game and I was so antsy on the bench. I didn’t even know if I was going to get to play.”
After the game, Corcoran praised sophomore point guard Gillespie. Referring to Gillespie and his young teammates as “deer in headlights” when the game started, Corcoran was proud of how they calmed down and rose to the occasion.
Having to sit on the bench and miss most of a game can irk any player at any level. Corcoran is hoping this is the end of the off-the-court shenanigans.
“I think they’ve gotten the point now,” Corcoran said. “They’re going to pay the price for their actions. (Lincoln-Way Central coach) Bob Curran is a tremendous coach and we knew we were going to have to scramble.”
Corcoran said the violation occurred Wednesday and he and his staff were made aware of it during the school day. He and his staff discussed their options after school with Joliet Central athletic director Steve Locke.
“Then we slept on it,” Corcoran said.
By Thursday morning Corcoran and his staff decided to sit the four players for at least the first half of Friday’s game and bring up the sophomores.
“We discussed this with the entire program — all the levels from freshman to varsity — and we discussed our expectations,” Corcoran said. “Things are different with the freshmen because they are still immature and we are still teaching them. But we did use this as a teaching part of our program.”
Corcoran’s philosophy may mean more in the end and in the future. His final words on the matter were telling: “I’d sacrifice any win for our integrity.”
Coble seemed to learn a lesson about following team rules.
“That’s the last time I do something like that,” he said.