Curtis Price remembers a handful of text messages he received in October.
Basketball practice was a few weeks away, but Marian Central’s players were jacked up.
“They were ready to go,” the Hurricanes head coach said. “They sent me messages like, ‘Let’s go!,’ ‘We’re going to be good this year’ and ‘We can’t wait until the season starts.’ That never happened to me as a coach in the past.”
Turns out the players were correct. Marian bounced back from a dismal 4-27 season with several key returning players and the infusion of sophomore point guard Adam Pischke to finish 18-14 and win a Class 3A regional.
Price consistently deflected the praise for the turnaround to his players. Still, the 14-win swing from last season could not be denied, and Price is the Northwest Herald Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, selected by the staff with input from local coaches.
Marengo’s Will Benson also received strong consideration after taking the Indians (20-11) to their first winning season since 2000. It is the second time Price has been chosen, along with 2010 after the Hurricanes won their first regional title in 33 years.
“My job is to keep them humble, keep them hungry and try to find the right system that is going to fit their playing style,” Price said. “My staff and I came up with a plan that showcased the talent we have. I let them play freely compared to putting them in a box and making them run plays. That helped them out tremendously.”
Price wanted guards, Pischke, Derreck Caldez and Wyatt Lindell, to be less encumbered, which better allowed them to use their quickness to drive or shoot 3-pointers.
“It let us play fast and hit shots,” Pischke said. “He just had us play loose and free and always fast. It got our confidence going.”
Marian had some rough patches during the season, but the Hurricanes found their stride at the most opportune time, winning five of their last seven regular-season games.
“In the middle of February we were three games below .500 with five games left,” Caldez said. “We looked at going .500 for the season, so we focused and wanted to reach that goal. We got it done.”
Then, the Hurricanes added their third regional title in five seasons, knocking off a hot Marengo team, 72-53, in the Class 3A Woodstock Regional championship.
“Our home game against St. Edward [a 60-44 victory] we saw everything clicking,” Price said. “It seemed like everything we did that particular night worked for us. The kids started believing in themselves more and the coaches started thinking we could go out there and do something.”
After seven total wins in the previous two seasons, Price and his staff worked some psychology on their players in the offseason. He felt the pieces were there, with Pischke coming in, to become a solid team.
“[Price] played a huge role,” Caldez said. “He didn’t want to go through another losing season. We changed what we did in the offseason. We changed stuff up in practice. He gave us the freedom and let us play and do our offenses.”