MAYWOOD, Ill. --
Donnie Boyce is home again.
And what a nostalgic ride at Proviso East (Maywood, Ill.)
it has become this season for Pirates head coach Boyce, a former NBA player and the third-leading scorer of all time at the University of Colorado.
The Pirates, ranked No. 12 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25
, are 28-0 entering an Illinois Class 4A sectional semifinal tonight against Roselle Lake Park. They are five wins away from achieving the school's first state championship in boys basketball since back-to-back Class AA titles in 1991 and ‘92.
Boyce was a part of the Proviso East "Three Amigos" squad that delivered a 32-1 record and a 65-55 win over Peoria Manual in the 1991 championship game. And don't think for a second that the 1991 team doesn't come up in Boyce's conversations with his team at Proviso East basketball practices.
"Every day," said Keith Carter
, a senior guard who is a Loyola recruit.
Indeed, every day. Boyce, who has coached in the NBA Development League and college levels, has brought back the magic of those Proviso East years in the 1990s to his first year as head coach with the Pirates. He's a rookie coach, and he hasn't lost a game.
"The thing about our team is they remind me so much of our ‘91 team," Boyce said. "Everybody just wants to win. Nobody cares whose name is in the paper, who was the highest scorer. They understand what's going to get it done is setting up defensively and offensively play unselfish."
Every day is basketball class. Boyce the coach tries to teach his team what Boyce the player learned.
"I think what helped us out a little bit was me being a former player," Boyce said. "I understand the discipline that it takes, I understand the ins and outs of everyday life that you have to go through and balance.
"I just try to remind these guys, these are the things that make me successful. When I did mess up, I stood up and took responsibility for my mistakes. I just always tried to do everything the right way. That's all I'm trying to teach them. Anything in life, I don't care what you want to be, a lawyer, doctor, you've got to give it 100 percent. You've got to be passionate, love it. That's the one thing I try to share with the kids."
The Pirates have turned that passion into the school's first unbeaten team since 1992, when they won all 33 games and won a state title when Illinois still had a two-class system. The Pirates were unbeaten in four State Farm Tournament games in November. They defeated Winnetka New Trier in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament final. They won their league title. All of those, Boyce said, were team goals.
"The undefeated part is like the cherry on the top," Boyce said.
Carter has led the team with his playmaking and scoring much of the season. A four-year varsity player, Carter scored 23 points, added five assists and swiped five steals in a 63-48 win over Oak Park-River Forest in the West Suburban Conference title game. He was the MVP of the highly regarded Proviso West Holiday Tournament, which Proviso East won for the first time in 20 years.
Other Pirates have also surfaced into starring roles, which makes Proviso East such a strong title contender. Paris Lee
, a junior guard, led Proviso East with 16 points in a nail-biting 51-48 win over Glenbard North in a 4A regional final this past Friday. Paris Burns
, a senior guard, scored 17 in a 73-66 win over Gurnee Warren Township, the Illinois 4A runner-up in 2011, in the 2012 City-Suburban Showdown. Junior forward Sterling Brown
, a brother of NBA Phoenix Suns guard Shannon Brown, has risen to a starting role.
Brown is yet another link to Proviso East‘s strong basketball tradition. Assistant coaches Ken Davis, Willard Ford, Cedric McCullough and Everett Stubblefield all played at East. Davis played on the 1991 and ‘92 teams. Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers played at East, as did longtime NBA star Michael Finley, another member of the "Three Amigos."
"It's great. I'm loving it," Boyce said. "It brings back so many memories of when I was a player in high (school), the juices are flowing. Every big game, I wake up in the morning like I'm a player. It's more anxious, butterflies in my stomach, just can't wait for the game."
Those butterflies are about to kick up big time. A victory today would send Proviso East to a sectional title game on Friday at Schaumburg against host Schaumburg or Oak Park-River Forest. A win Friday sends the Pirates to the 4A Super-Sectionals next Monday at Hinsdale Central High School. A possible showdown against two-time state champion Chicago Simeon would await the Pirates in the state title game March 17 in Peoria.
Carter, who helped lead the Pirates to a 22-6 record in 2010-11, will play a key role in the stretch run toward a championship game. His quickness and leadership has fueled the team.
"Keith is the one that's out there that settles everybody down and gets everybody back in rhythm," Boyce said. "He's an extension of the coach out there. I can't say enough. Not only a great player, but the great kid that he is."Paul Bowker, an online and newspaper sports journalist for 30 years and the author of one NBA and two Major League Baseball books, covers the Chicago area for MaxPreps. He may be reached at email@example.com.