Spend a few minutes talking with Joliet Central boys basketball coach Jeff Corcoran on the sideline. Listen to Joliet West boys basketball coach Luke Yaklich bark out commands during warm-up drills at a Joliet Pride practice session on the Tigers’ gym floor.
“You have to have good feet to be a good basketball player,” Yaklich shouts.
Chances are you will reach this conclusion: Every day is Father’s Day in their small corner of the world. The two men are living large, lucky enough to play ball with all of their sons.
During the fall and winter months, Corcoran and Yaklich reach out to make personal connections with the teenage boys in their JT programs through team building exercises and cookouts at their own homes. The boys fast become part of their extended families.
During the spring and summer months, Corcoran and Yaklich wear their collective pride in Joliet basketball on their shirt sleeves. The two coach their own sons—as well everybody else’s sons—in the Joliet Pride Basketball organization.
Don’t be surprised if these fathers and sons soon are rewarded for their efforts in leading a renaissance in Joliet basketball.
The Pride youth program serves third- through seventh-graders and is made possible through a unique inter-governmental partnership between the JT school district and the Joliet Park District, one that keeps the cost of playing ball down and keeps the boys working under one roof and two dads. They’ll play 50-60 games in two sessions spanning a time period from late-February to the end of July.
“Part of what we do as coaches has to transcend the doors of the school and the walls of the school,” Yaklich said. “As coaches, our message that we hope to get across can carry over further from outside the lines of the court on to post-secondary success.
“And, when you’re dealing with third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders at this level, you’re hoping that message of accountability and discipline, proper practice, being a good teammate and playing unselfishly reverberates.
“Then, you hope to continue to build on that foundation over the coming years so that when these kids get in high school they’ve been exposed to things we’re teaching our high school kids right now at the freshman level. These kids will have been hearing it since the third grade.”
Know this: They will be ahead of the game.
At some point, look for Justin Corcoran and Griffin Yaklich to head the JT charge. Justin soon will be a sixth-grader at Hufford Junior High. Griffin will be a fifth-grader at Eisenhower Academy. The two are linked at the basketball hip—just like their fathers.
All of the parties involved here play to win, never more so than when they go head-to-head in competition, Steelmen vs. Tigers, Corcoran vs. Yaklich. But they measure their victories in a number of ways. Put friendship and camaraderie on the scoreboard and all of them will light it up on a regular basis.
“Our children hang out together and play together,” Corcoran said. “And, whether it’s a given Tuesday night or Friday night, yeah, both of us want to win. But (Luke Yaklich) is truly a committed basketball guy. His knowledge of the game is amazing. He does a great job with the high school or the Pride—it doesn’t matter. And he’s a big family man, too.”
Don’t just take Corcoran’s word. Check out what Jaquan McGee has to say on the subject. McGee played for Yaklich in the old Joliet Township program and was thrilled to be invited back to help coach the freshman team at JT West.
“We’ve always been a family-oriented program,” McGee said. “Every time we break out of the huddle, we always say, ‘Together.’ And it kind of creates a bond between the players. If guys are playing together, they’re more of a family and will play together in game situations.”
Griffin Yaklich and Justin Corcoran have been exposed to game situations, high-level high school ball and have traveled to a number of youth camps together, most recently returning from a trip to Champaign to play at the University of Illinois. Already, they bring more game to the floor than their dads.
“I told my wife (Amy), my role was defense in high school,” Yaklich said. “I think I made three 3-point baskets in my senior year of high school basketball. Griffin’s made more 3-point shots at this point in his career than I ever thought about making.
“But more important than just the 3-point shots is the experience factor. You can’t teach experience. The more you play, the more you’re going to figure things out along the way. It’s nice to see not only with Griffin and Justin but all of the Pride kids. There is a level of improvement that you see on a daily basis.
“When you look at it over a six-month process, these kids make great strides in our program. We try to preach the idea of one-percent better. If you get one-percent better each day, after 100 days you’re a brand new basketball player. You’re 100 percent better. We work in increments.”
The Pride—they are fathers and sons, marching forward to the beat of one calling, the three C’s of JT basketball. They have come to be recognized as hallmarks in the coach-speak world of Corcoran and Yaklich. The two men tell anyone who will listen citizenship and classroom work come before on-court displays of basketball power and finesse.
“In the big picture, our goal is that we’re going to try prepare these kids to be good students, good citizens and, then hopefully, really good basketball players,” Yaklich said.
You take much Pride in that, no?