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Baranek: For Jasper Williams, everything’s in Bloom

Bloom coach Jasper Williams instructs forward Jared Johnsduring Thursday's game. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

Bloom coach Jasper Williams instructs forward Jared Johnson during Thursday's game. | Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 9, 2013 11:34AM



Bloom coach Jasper Williams might be retiring, but he certainly isn’t tiring.

Williams was Leonard Bernstein at his best conducting the Blazing Trojans during their 52-41 victory over Stagg in Thursday’s Class 4A Thornton Sectional semifinal.

On his feet, always. Arms and hands always doing … something. He had the final word to Johnny Griffin during a last-minute first-quarter stall that ended with Griffin converting an alley-oop pass from Zerell Jackson into a slam dunk.

“Well, he was a little intense there,” Williams said of Griffin. “He was rushing everything. I just wanted him to slow down.”

He worked the officials, not nastily, but making a pretty major point with a ref as they walked off the court at halftime, then patting him on the back.

“React! React! React!” he implored one of his players after he didn’t on one play around the basket.

“Oh, yeah, we have a tendency to stand around,” he said. “I just wanted him to see what was going on.”

Talk about leaving it all on the floor.

“Well, I really, really want this group, these seniors so vital to Bloom basketball, to go out in style,” Williams said.

And the farewell tour continues Friday.

Williams has one more appearance Friday at Thornton with, he hopes, another stop at Illinois State University on Tuesday and one final gig next weekend at Carver Arena in Peoria.

What happens after …

“I don’t even think about that,” Williams said. “I’m just trying to get this last senior class back to Peoria. If we can win the next couple of games I’ll be satisfied with everything coming to an end, one way or another.”

Williams, the department representative for driver’s ed and health at Bloom, is retiring from that and the boys basketball head coaching position.

It’s been a very successful 10-year run for Williams, whose last two seasons have been his best.

Last season’s Bloom team finished 28-5 and captured the Class 4A fourth-place trophy. Thursday’s win improved the Blazing Trojans to 26-3.

Should Bloom defeat Marian Catholic in Friday’s sectional final, it would be Williams’ 200th victory at Bloom. Counting one 19-9 season as coach at Thornridge in 1993-94, his career record stands at 218-102.

His reputation, meanwhile, stands as tall as ever. Williams definitely has been feeling the love from his peers.

Homewood-Flossmoor and Kankakee high schools had pregame recognitions for him, and coaches at virtually every stop have been waiting with well wishes.

“A couple of them said that if I wanted to get back into the gym there would always be a spot available,” Williams said. “But it’s hard to be competing against someone for 10 years, and then take an opportunity to coach against Bloom. That’s something I would never do. But the coaches and the administrations at the other schools have been great.”

Williams was the honorary manager of the McDipper Tournament.

“Jasper just does everything the right way,” Rich South athletic director Mark Hopman said. “He’s a classy guy who teaches the game the right way, but more importantly teaches kids what life’s about.

“That’s the way he runs his team. He doesn’t accept anything but the best, and he’s also a great disciplinarian. He’s one of the great coaches in the Southland. We’ll miss him terribly.”

I got a pretty good idea what kind of a person he was in 1993, when he ran the team for an entire season while Thornridge coach Mike Flaherty took a leave of absence to be at the side of his wife, Shari, who had been diagnosed with cancer.

Shari Flaherty passed away in June 1994. When Flaherty returned to Thornridge for the 1994-95 season, Williams was happy to step aside and serve as assistant. He coached faithfully alongside Flaherty for the better part of 20 years before the Bloom job opened.

“When I first got into coaching my aspiration was to be a head high school coach,” said Williams, who was born in Louisiana but cut his basketball teeth as a player at Parker High School in Chicago and Northern Illinois University. “It just took longer than I anticipated. But I was in a situation where I was behind a Hall of Fame coach and I was content to be his assistant until he was ready to retire and move on.

“It just so happened that I got an opportunity to come here (to Bloom).”

Williams got the Bloom position when Gary Meyer retired after the 2002-03 season. Meyer had taken the Blazing Trojans to state in 2000, continuing a string of Bloom coaching successes that included Frank Nardi and Wes Mason.

Williams certainly belongs in that foursome.

“You know, you’re going to get what you work for, what you put into it,” he said. “Our coaching staff here at Bloom High School, especially the lower level coaches, make it so that by the time kids get to me, the ones who do not want to do it the right way have been weeded out.

“Once they get to the varsity, all we have to do it put the X’s and O’s together. They work hard, and they know if they work hard there will be some reward at the end of the rainbow.”

The pot of state gold awaits.



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