The best player on Joliet Central’s boys basketball team is the one coach Jeff Corcoran rides the hardest from the time the bell rings to start the school day until the whistle sounds to end practice, the timespan occasionally running from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Corcoran sees the potential for 6-foot junior guard Jonah Coble to rise up on a bigger stage than the one provided for him by Joliet Central. Corcoran sees Coble using basketball as a tool to pay for his college education and to set him up on a career path that will lead him to success in whatever field he picks when he hangs up his jersey.
And Corcoran sees it as his job to push Coble to reach his potential. Corcoran barks at Coble with a brand of tough love that Coble has come to embrace during the early part of what is shaping up as a promising season for the Steelmen.
Coble twice has scored 20 or more points and consistently reached double figures as Joliet Central (4-3, 1-0) has opened eyebrows almost every step of the way. The Steelmen look to remain undefeated in Southwest Suburban Conference Blue action when they face Lincoln-Way Central on Friday night in New Lenox.
Look for Coble to have his hands on the ball early and often against the Knights. He has turned into something of a jack-of-all-trades for Joliet Central, a player capable of doing his thing on the inside or the outside, depending on the situation or the mood of his coach and mentor, Corcoran.
Coble plays much bigger than he is listed on the Joliet Central roster. And he plays wherever Corcoran deems fit—including in the paint where he is pitted against the big boys and routinely gives away 6-8 inches to opponents.
“Jonah is a fantastic athlete,” Corcoran said. “He probably could have played (up on the varsity) as a freshman in our first year when we spilt programs. But we didn’t necessarily want to throw him to the wolves right off the bat being brand new as a program. He went to the sophomores—started every game at that level.
“Then, he came up and started about 90 percent of our games as a sophomore on the varsity last year, got his feet wet with that, had some really big games. This year, the big thing we’re looking for, obviously, is for him to be the leader. He’s been consistent. He’s a great rebounder. He’s learning how to be a better defender.”
He’s also learning to make better decisions—on and off the floor—and to accept responsibility for his own actions, even if it means running wind sprints when Corcoran is unhappy with a choice Coble has made or the amount of effort he has put into a given exercise.
“I’m probably a little harder on him because of his ability,” Corcoran said. “But, as an extension of me on the floor, I get on his case a lot more and I hold him more accountable than anybody else. But that’s just because he has the ability to go to the next level.”
Corcoran wears all the hats that are required of coaches today—the list running the gamut from father figure to team shrink. He has surrounded himself with a Who’s Who-like Coaching Staff, men who know what it takes to play on the next level and have deep roots in the community or on the surrounding playgrounds.
Brian Koehne and Austin Crimm serve as his assistants on the varsity level. Crimm once played at Morgan Park. Britt Charley and Mike Lutz coach Joliet Central’s sophomores. Both played high school ball at Joliet Catholic. Lutz later coached varsity basketball at Morris and in the JT program, too.
On the freshman level, Greg Smith and Mike Mines are coaching the Steelmen. Both bring even more experience to the fray. Smith played and coached at Providence Catholic. Mines was a standout 3-point shooter on the JT state-tournament teams in the 1990s.
“I’m trying to build them character-wise as much as I am as basketball players,” Corcoran said. “I am a bit of everything—and I credit my assistants, Brian Koehne, who is by my side all the time, and Britt Charley at the sophomore level. They do the same thing I do—Mike Mines, who is a former player here, and Greg Smith, who was a Providence guy, a local guy and a St. Francis guy. They have good resources to pull from.
“But as far as the different hats, it’s constantly chasing them down as a father-figure, as a disciplinarian, as their coach, as just a friend for them at times when they need something they don’t have that you and I take for granted. It’s one of those things where I never stop teaching.
“It may not be basketball that I’m teaching. But I never stop teaching.”
Coble wouldn’t have it any other way. He first had to make the adjustment to the speed of varsity basketball when he was promoted from the sophomore ranks. Then, he had to adjust to Corcoran’s get-in-your-face style of coaching.
“I kind of like it when he gets on me,” Coble said. “It makes me feel like I can actually go somewhere. I like it when he yells at me because it makes me try harder. I understand where he’s coming from.”
What is they say? To be the best, you have to play the best. And, for Coble, that means sacrificing personal glory for the good of the team. He is up for any assignment.
“I prefer the 1, 2 or 3, but if I have to get put somewhere else, I’m going to do whatever I have to do at that position,” he said. “It can be difficult going inside because we’re facing guys that are 6-7 and 6-8. You’ve just got to know how to position yourself and finish around the basket.”
At Joliet Central, Coble is learning to do just that. He also is learning to play the game of life—one day at a time. He is lucky to have Corcoran as his teacher.