Thornwood’s Paul Slavich the SouthtownStar 2013-14 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year
By Pat Disabato email@example.com March 28, 2014 10:28PM
Thornwood coach Paul Slavich | Gary Middendorf/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 1, 2014 6:34AM
With one of the area’s most skilled forwards and an abundance of quality guards, big things were expected from Thornwood this season.
However, when that skilled forward — Donte Thomas — suffered a season-ending knee injury while the Thunderbirds were competing in a Christmas tournament, Thornwood appeared in serious trouble.
The 6-foot-6 Thomas, a Bradley recruit, was a proven scorer and menacing presence in the paint.
What would Thornwood do?
“It took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” Thornwood coach Paul Slavich said. “We challenged all the kids to step up. We told them we have to move forward.”
Slavich knew he had to alter the Thunderbirds’ game plan. Without Thomas, Thornwood lacked a go-to presence inside.
“We had tailored everything toward Donte when the season started,” Slavich said. “We had to change the offense and tailor it to our guards. I told the guards, ‘If you’re open, shoot the ball — don’t hesitate.’ ”
Slavich’s willingness and ability to improvise allowed Thornwood to flourish. Thornwood went 15-1 without Thomas, including a perfect 14-0 mark in the SouthWest Suburban Red, and also claimed a regional title.
For those efforts, Slavich is the SouthtownStar 2013-14 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
“Oh, wow! What an honor,” Slavich said when informed of the news. “If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that we would lose Donte and we would have the season we had and I’d win this honor, I’d have said you were nuts.”
Slavich had some doubts the Thunderbirds would be able to overcome the loss of Thomas. What he did know, though, was that relying on guards Rashaad Alexander, Donzel Vinson, Kaliph Fagan and Chelby Frazier was his best option.
Those young men could shoot the ball.
Thornwood barely survived its first game without Thomas, edging Andrew 49-47. From there, the Thunderbirds couldn’t be stopped, rattling off an additional 14 consecutive wins.
Thornwood’s first loss without Thomas came in a sectional semifinal against Homewood-Flossmoor, 71-62. The long-range shots that consistently had been falling during its 15-game winning streak didn’t fall against H-F. The Thunderbirds shot 22-of-58, including 10-of-35 from three-point range.
Still, it was a remarkable run during a wonderful season.
“We were living by the three without Donte,” Slavich said. “On that night, we died by the three. The shots weren’t falling. But I was so proud of the guys. They worked so hard and did a great job.”
Slavich has an even greater appreciation for the marvelous season: He’s a 1986 graduate of Thornwood.
He paid his dues before landing the top job four years ago, coaching Thornwood’s freshman squad for eight seasons and the sophomores for five. During that time, he was able to pick the brains of Thornwood varsity coaches Kevin Hayhurst and Bob Curran.
“Both of those guys were great influences,” Slavich said. “It’s very rewarding to know I walked the halls here as a student. Now I’m running the program. It’s like I’ve come full circle.”