Rock Island basketball success has deep roots
With only six games left in the regular 2015-16 basketball season, the Rock Island High School Rocks basketball team is ranked No. 8 in Illinois.
Now as the Rocks (15-4) push their way toward the postseason, they are shooting for a sixth straight conference championship.
“We’ve got everybody gunning for us and the pressure is on each group to keep it rolling, but we are kind of behind the eight ball now,” Thom Sigel, head varsity basketball coach, recently told Rock Island Today.
Rock Island High School has a lineage of producing good basketball teams, something Sigel has continued over his 15 seasons at the program’s helm. But for Sigel, his program’s success comes down to a few factors.
“One is trying to stress not only winning, but being winners,” Sigel said. “Acting the right way, playing together, representing our city and our school, having pride in what we do — all of that lumped together is one thing we’ve tried to instill.”
Perhaps more pervasive element in the success of Rock Island basketball is the school district’s Future Rocks program.
“It is a program we run that goes down into the third and fourth grade,” Sigel said. “It is made up of volunteer board members and volunteer coaches. It really lays the foundation for what we want to do at the high school.”
Sigel, who is also the school's counselor, started the Future Rocks program to raise awareness and get kids more involved in basketball from an early age to keep them engaged in a positive, structured activity.
“We’ve really tried to work with our youth coaches,” Sigel said. “We have a coach’s meeting, and they get a playbook and a DVD, and things to try and help them out; and really, success has kind of helped keep kids involved rather than going off and do their own thing. I think that is big.”
Sigel said the Future Rocks program really took off in 2004, which paid off in 2011 when the Rocks won a state championship.
“The 2011 team that won the state championship, some of those kids started in the sixth grade when we got [the Future Rocks program] going,” Sigel said. “It coincided with a good group of players as well. We saw it pay off and that was the ultimate goal.”
Despite his deep-rooted efforts to instill character in his players and get them off to an early start through the Future Rocks program, Sigel is quick to point out the basketball program’s success has benefited from some excellent players.
“We’ve had some good talent,” Sigel said. “I think any coach will admit to that when things are going well you have some good players.”
Included in that list is Chasson Randle, the all-time leading scorer for Stanford University and a member of the 2011 state championship team who recently launched a professional basketball career in the Czech Republic.
Other standouts from recent years include players who have gone on to play at Division I schools such as Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s C.J. Karr and Montana State’s Tyler Hall.
In addition to the standouts, The Rocks have had a bevy of players who have gone on to the college ranks in the Division III and junior college ranks; however, Sigel also contributes his history of success to the influence the Rock Island community has on the basketball program.
“We’ve pretty much had the same staff for 10 or 11 years,” Sigel said. “We’ve had good consistency in our staff, and I think that helps each of us and our kids. I think it helps us know what our expectations are. We’ve had great administrative and booster club support, and that is huge. And our fan base has been outstanding too. There have been a lot of people involved.”
As the Rocks march toward regionals in early March, Sigel is hoping for another run at state.
“We just started the second round of the conference,” Sigel said. “We have five games each home and away. It is going to go quick now that we’ve hit February. We got off to a great start with a lot of new faces and an inexperienced team. I am not sure we kept our focus after some of our early success, and then we lost three out of four and lost our confidence a little bit. Last week we rebounded with a couple of wins, and the goal is always to play our best at the end of the year. We are working to try and pay attention to detail here, and get better and see what happens.”
Whatever happens one thing is for sure, Sigel and the Rocks can count on the nurturing community they have created over the years that prepares players not only for winning seasons but carries over into -- and positively influences -- other areas of their lives and gives the Rock Island community something to be proud of.