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St. Rita's Dominique Matthews is one of several four-year varsity players returning for the Mustangs this season. | Garry Middendorf/For Sun-Times Media
Gary DeCesare didn’t flinch Monday when I asked what his team’s goals were for the upcoming boys basketball season, which officially started Monday.
“Win a state championship,” the St. Rita coach said.
Make that the Class 4A state championship, right, coach?
Not any state championship, mind you, but one of the Class 4A variety, right, coach?
Though St. Rita, based on its enrollment, is slotted in 3A, DeCesare petitioned the IHSA to compete in 4A come playoff time.
He did the same thing last season.
And the IHSA, like it did last season, granted DeCesare’s wish.
“If you petitioned all the members of my team, they’d want to play 4A,” he said. “I believe most of the teams we play are in 4A. Even when we travel, we play nationally ranked teams. We want to play the best.”
DeCesare and I have discussed his approach to play 4A. It’s worth noting St. Rita was the only hoops team in the state to make this request. I can’t say I’m totally on board with his reasoning, but the native New Yorker won’t have it any other way.
Hey, it’s his program and he’s free to do with it as he sees fit.
Besides, with the talent St. Rita has, the 4A state championship trophy could very well take residence at 77th and Western Avenue on March 15, 2014.
The Mustangs, in a word, are loaded.
Nine players return from the 19-8 squad that won the Catholic League South in 2012-13.
Not just any nine, mind you. Studs. Division I-caliber talent.
Size, speed, skill, experience, depth — you name it, St. Rita has it.
However, there’s only one basketball to go around.
Translation: Egos must be checked at the door. DeCesare, who had a remarkable high school coaching career at St. Raymond’s in New York and was an assistant at DePaul under Jerry Wainwright, knows this all too well.
He reminds his players of the importance of playing together every day.
“We keep talking about distractions and making sure we make sacrifices and are on the same page,” he said. “I keep talking to them about being a ‘fist.’ All your fingers and thumb are together when you make a fist. When the fist opens up, somebody is not on the same page. We have to be on the same page.”
The past two seasons have ended without even a regional title. Disappointing? Absolutely.
Many of this season’s players were on those teams. Victor Law, Treston Forbes and Dominque Matthews all are beginning their fourth year on varsity. Charles Matthews, one of the most heralded juniors in the country, and Myles Carter are three-year varsity guys.
While the Matthews brothers, Law and Carter get much of the notoriety, DeCesare calls Forbes the “key to our team.”
Forbes, who finished fifth in state in May in the 200-meter dash, insists the Mustangs are ready to live up to the high expectations.
“We’re all on the same page,” he said. “We’re focused on coming out strong and having a good attitude. We have a lot of returning players that know what it takes to win.”
One of those players is Law, a 6-7 Northwestern recruit who has the ability to produce points inside the paint and beyond the three-point stripe. Law realizes this is the seniors’ final chance at achieving greatness. But if he’s feeling any pressure, it wasn’t evident during our discussion Monday.
“The excitement filling this building [school] and around the area here is immense,” Law said. “It’s never been greater. We’re all willing to do the little things it takes to win and overcome any distractions. We all love each other. Our goal is to get better every day. I believe we have what it takes to experience our ultimate goal, which is to win a state championship.”