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Batavia coach Jim Roberts during a game against Simeon in 2008. l Patrick Gleason/for the S-T
The Batavia Night of Hoops wasn’t the brainchild of former coach Jim Roberts, but it has always been his baby.
That’s why it’s appropriate that at Saturday’s 20th edition, officials from the school will rename it the Jim and Sylvia Roberts Night of Hoops to honor the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and his wife, who both gave so much to Batavia basketball during his 27 years directing the program.
“It was a group decision, but actually the players came to me once he retired (last April) and said, ‘We want to do something for Coach Roberts,” Batavia athletic director Dave Andrews said.
“Once we had the new coach (former Wheaton North coach Jim Nazos) hired, we met with the players and decided on this. We couldn’t think of a better way to honor them. They’re both pillars of the community and this will be a longlasting legacy. (Roberts) created it and made that event and we’re going to continue it.”
Roberts was inspired by a conversation between his former star player Corey Williams and then Proviso East coach Bill Hitt — in which Williams wondered what it would be like to play Hitt’s powerhouse team from another league.
The Bulldogs coach, who always felt his team improved by playing better competition, soon had the reasonably priced tripleheader pitting Fox Valley area teams against teams they normally wouldn’t see in the regular season off and running.
Roberts has always strived to bring in the best programs from the city, distant suburbs or downstate, resulting in matchups for local teams with the likes of Simeon, King, St. Joseph and Quincy, among others.
“It’s nice to be honored and it’s nice they included Sylvia, too, considering all the hard work she put in. She would run the hospitality room and have to deal with those coaches,” Roberts said with a chuckle.
“We were very fortunate through the years to get great players and great coaches to come in and we got great support from our business community and our alumni.”
He also noted there has been just one price increase — to the current $5 — which gives the ticket-buyer entry into all the games.
Its success had spawned plenty of other copies, some with tweaks to the format or numbers of games. These “shootouts,” in fact, are now a dime a dozen. Batavia’s, however, remains a silver dollar.
“Ours is a little different from some in that we also have the sophomore teams play (in an adjoining gym),” Roberts said. “I think it’s important that the sophomores get an opportunity to play, also.”
One of the last things he did as coach was help set up this year’s matchups for the Night of Hoops. It opens at 4:30 p.m. with Nazos’s former program, Wheaton North, meeting St. Joseph and the state’s all-time winningest coach, Gene Pingatore.
It will be followed at about 6 p.m. by Benet Academy vs. West Aurora, two of the teams expected to challenge for a top-four seed in the 23-team Bolingbrook Sectional that includes most of the Class 4A teams in The Beacon-News coverage area.
Batavia, which will host one of the four regionals in that sectional, then meets De La Salle, following the ceremony to honor Roberts and his wife. It will be the first time he’s seen his former team play in person, though he’s watched them on computer broadcasts or local public access replays.
“Jim Nazos is doing a fine job and, basically, I’m just trying to stay out of the way,” Roberts said.
It was a nice gesture on his part, but one that probably wasn’t necessary. Batavia’s welcome mat will always be out for Jim Roberts.