NORWOOD PARK — Only a few years ago, Taft High School varsity basketball coach Brett Nishibayashi would require his players to stop by his office for their morning inspiration: motivational quotes on little pieces of paper he had scoured the Internet for and printed out for each player.
Kevin Siudut, the freshman basketball coach at Taft, has a scrapbook of about a hundred of them from when he was a player. But the new guys have it easy; now, Nishibayashi texts them their quote before school and they must respond with their understanding of the quote before class, Nishibayashi said.
One of the few quotes sure to pop up on a players iPhone in the next week describes one of the biggest factors for success in the 2014 season, confidence. The note includes a pawn from a chess board looking into the mirror and seeing a king.
"Nothing can stop a person with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help a person with the wrong mental attitude," the note says — a quote commonly attributed to Thomas Jefferson.
The team, which experienced a "rough year" with a 7-18 record last year, is in a rebuilding year even though its roster is chock-full of seniors, Nishibayashi said. That's because last year, the team's offense revolved around a star, John Joyce. Now, "we've been really focused on team ball," said Nishibayashi.
"This year is different — we have a lot of depth and new guys. Even our seniors don't really have much playing time," he said, adding the team also has three transfers.
Without a lot of varsity minutes on the roster, Nishibayashi, for leadership, looks to players such as Dominic Ferrigan, a 6-foot-4 senior who's played varsity since his sophomore. But that doesn't mean he's not depending on the young guys to be leaders also. That rings especially true for junior guard Almir Aliloski.
"He's the one I expect that on the court leadership from," said Nishibayashi, who's in his seventh season as head coach.
Depending on young players to produce varsity offense is a tough task but the key will be teamwork, Nishibayashi said.
"I'm just a believer in the harmony of basketball. We don't really have one guy who's going to put up big numbers. That's not the personnel that we have. We need to use each other to get the best [offensive] opportunities," he said.
The team began its season on a bad note with a few turnover-fueled big losses at the Battle of the Bridge, the first annual Lane Tech/DePaul Prep Thanksgiving Tournament. One loss came after their bus broke down, forcing them to arrive just minutes before their scheduled game time.
But the team took away some big lessons after playing three games in three days following only about two weeks of practice. "We needed to suffer some real life consequences and learn from them," he said.
Or, as Nishibayashi wrote in one morning message: "Our best teacher is our last mistake."
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