UPTOWN — Headed into Wednesday's sectional semifinal against Carmel High School, Uplift High School's boys varsity basketball team is missing the squad's loudest voice — Coach David "Tone" Taylor.
Taylor, a 43-year-old Uptown resident and Uplift's dean of students, was suspended for the rest of the season by the Illinois High School Association for signing up his team for too many tournaments — which he said was an honest mistake.
"No one was trying to seek an unfair advantage, no egregious mistake was made here," Taylor said Monday, sitting in his office while his squad practiced elsewhere on Uplift's campus at 900 W. Wilson Ave.
Several weeks after he signed a contract for a two-game October shootout in downstate Metamora, Taylor said he received a schedule that included a third game — and received word that the shootout was actually a tournament.
Wary of breaking his contract for the event, he allowed his Uplift Titans to participate. It was one tournament too many in the eyes of the IHSA, which only allows teams to participate in three tournaments per season.
IHSA booted Uplift from the Illinois Class 3A state tourney and suspended Taylor for the rest of the season, claiming Uplift broke the rules. After Taylor appealed, they let the team back in the tournament, but Taylor was still out.
Kids shouldn't suffer for a scheduling mistake made by adults, and Uplift hadn't truly played enough games to gain an unfair advantage anyway, IHSA spokesman Matt Troha said Monday explaining why Uplift was allowed back into the tournament.
But officials upheld Taylor's suspension. Now the Titans have to finish their season under assistant coach Quincy Jones. Taylor called the whole situation "frustrating," but said he's happy "knowing that my fellas are out there competing."
If the Titans win the Antioch semifinal against Carmel Wednesday, they have to win the sectional final Friday against North Chicago High School, and win their super sectional match on March 18 for a shot at the state semifinals in downstate Peoria on March 21. The championship game is scheduled the next day.
This year, the team posted a 24-4 regular season record, Uplift's best ever, and last Friday won the regional finals at the north suburban Antioch 3A Sectional site for its first back-to-back regional championship and fourth since 2009.
"This season ranks as the best that I've ever experienced as a coach at Uplift," Taylor said, adding that playing with cohesion and without selfishness explains the team's success.
Talented players doesn't hurt, either. The trio of 6-foot senior point guard Quintin Olagbegi, a crafty floor leader who is Uplift's second leading scorer (15.2) and leads the squad in assists (4.9) per game; 6-foot-2 junior wing Jeremy Roscoe, an explosive athlete and versatile scorer who leads the Titans with 17.2 points per contest; and 6-foot-6 junior center Jamaya Walker, the team's leading rebounder with 9.5 per game.
Head coach or no head coach, the Titans said they have their sights set on "going all the way" this March — and are using Taylor's suspension as motivation.
"He fought for us," Olagbegi said. "Now we got to fight for him and get this title."
Uplift first has to defeat the Carmel Corsairs from northwest suburban Mundelein, who come to Wednesday's match with a 23-7 regular season record, powered by senior 6-foot-10 center Jack George, a skilled scorer, capable rebounder and shot blocker. Acting Head Coach Jones said his squad has to minimize George's impact on the Corsairs' half-court offense to win.
"They run a lot of things through him, where he gets the ball in the middle and he's throwing it out to the shooters," Jones said. "So we have to get down on the shooters and make sure he doesn't touch the ball as much, and our man-to-man defense has to be impeccable."
Olagbegi, Roscoe and Walker said the Titans have to run a smooth offense, while leveraging their speed, defensive prowess and tough style of play to beat Carmel.
"All we need to do is play hard, play tough, play Uplift basketball," Walker said. "And we'll come out with the W."