DePaul Prep deserved better
Rams’ Kleinschmidt says forfeit flap cheated his players
PEORIA — Gordon Tech became DePaul Prep in the 2014-15 school year. Some people still are getting used to the new name, and plenty of Chicagoans have absolutely no idea what DePaul Prep is.
But Tom Kleinschmidt, a legendary player at Gordon Tech and the basketball coach at the school since 2012, has put the school on the map of the state basketball scene. The Rams are 140-71 in his seven seasons at the helm and played in the state finals Friday. Hundreds of schools have been waiting decades to reach those heights.
Perry Cowan, DePaul Prep’s AllCity, All-Area and All-State senior, has been the rock for the last four years. The Brown recruit is the kind of high-quality kid, student and athlete a good coach can build a successful program around, and Kleinschmidt did.
The Rams ran into a Bogan buzz saw in the Class 3A semifinals and lost 51-31. But win or lose, this should have been more of a feel-good experience for DePaul Prep than it turned out to be. The Rams advanced to state without playing a supersectional game. They were automatically put into the semis after Farragut and North Lawndale were disqualified.
The two Public League powers were unable to complete their sectional game at North Lawndale. There was a bench-clearing brawl involving the teams and their fans that resulted in a double-forfeit. So DePaul Prep became the first team in the 111-year history of the IHSA state basketball tournament to advance to the state semifinals via double-forfeit.
‘‘I feel for the kids in the [North Lawndale and Farragut] community,’’ Kleinschmidt said. ‘‘I’m a great friend of [Farragut coach William Nelson], and [former North Lawndale coach Lewis Thorpe, who died in October] was one of my mentors. [But] we wanted that supersectional appearance for our kids. It’s part of the process. As a player, I know it was. The experience would have been special for them.’’
Kleinschmidt is right. And the Rams were cheated out of more than just memories. The strange week with no game and heightened media attention must have affected their mindset heading to Peoria.
‘‘I had to talk about Farragut and North Lawndale all week,’’ Kleinschmidt said. ‘‘It kind of bothered us a little bit, to be quite honest. We wanted to play in that game. I’m real disappointed with all the talk about that.
‘‘I know it is part of the story; I get it. [But] these kids earned what they got to get down here. Somebody said it was given to us. Nothing was given to us. These kids have been working for four years. I’m very proud of them.’’
The high-profile Public League programs are so accustomed to dealing with and succeeding in the midst of controversy that it is taken for granted. This was the first time DePaul Prep had been near that storm, so it is understandable it was a struggle.
Kleinschmidt isn’t holding any grudges, though. After saying his piece, he closed his postgame news conference with Chicago solidarity.
‘‘We are very happy and proud to be down here,’’ Kleinschmidt said. ‘‘Good luck to Bogan. I hope they win it. City school.’’