Bulldogs coach will step down from post at season’s end
Richards’ last regular-season game had more finality attached to it than usual.
When the Bulldogs bested District 218 sister school Eisenhower 108-87 at D-Wade Court Friday night to collect an outright South Suburban Conference Red championship, it could have easily been viewed as the latest example of basketball business as usual. After all, the league crown was Richards’ ninth in a row, giving it more consecutive league titles than any other Bulldogs athletic program has ever managed.
“When you’re going through it, you get so bogged down in the negative stuff [that] you tend to lose sight of the good a lot,” Richards coach John Chappetto said. “Nine [straight] conference championships is a really good thing.”
What made it particularly special to the veteran leader was that it was also the last one he’ll enjoy as Bulldogs boss. Early last week, the 43-year-old Chappetto notified Richards athletic director Ken Styler that he would be stepping down as varsity coach at the end of this, his 12th, season. The announcement was made public on Friday.
“There’s so many factors and a million reasons why, I guess,” Chappetto said. “You put it all together and it’s time.”
Chappetto said his family - wife Julie and young sons Charlie, 12, and Louie, 8 - didn’t talk him into his decision; the boys, in fact, were “devastated,” according to their dad. However, Chappetto said consideration for them was at the forefront of his choice, and he cited a mid-December moment as one that registered especially strong.
“I’m going to work at 7:30 [a.m.], getting in the car, and I almost cried,” Chappetto said. “You’re watching them grow up and you miss them and a lot of the things they’re doing. This is getting too hard [for me] to do.
“We all have mixed emotions about this - there’s definitely some scary parts for me, too. But I’ll be around [the family] more, and that can’t be anything but good.”
That same word pretty much described the Bulldogs’ showing on Friday as well. Pitted against the Cardinals and their fast-paced, Grinnell College-style of play, Richards responded with a big dose of Josh Meier.
The Chicago State University-bound center, who had missed the Bulldogs’ two previous contests for non-basketball reasons, delivered a momentous performance as he racked up 47 points, 27 rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Meier’s single-game scoring ranked second in Richards history, topped only by a Dwyane Wade outing 14 years ago, while his rebounds were the most ever.
Meier is the Bulldogs’ career leader in rebounds and blocks, and No. 3 in scoring.
“He’s had some major ups and downs this year, but from start to finish he was really good,” Chappetto said of his big man. “It looked like he had that moment where he thought, ‘Hey, this [prep career] is getting near the end.’”
Even with Meier in full attack mode, however, Richards (16-11, 9-4) couldn’t distance itself from Eisenhower until the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs led just 50-44 at intermission, although Chappetto didn’t think that was too bad considering three of his regular-rotation players were saddled with three first-half fouls and point guard Dedrick Shannon had two.
Reserves Ameer Hussein and Carl Williams picked up some of the slack, and Richards’ switch to a zone defense for part of the third stanza also aided its cause. A couple steals and scores from Spencer Tears helped out as well.
“Your coaching [in a game like this] totally becomes how you sub,” Chappetto said. “You’ve got to really get a bunch of people prepared because you never know who you’re going to have to use.”
Two driving layups by Thaer Othman and Deon Alexander’s pair of baskets gave the Bulldogs a jump start in the fourth frame, and Meier supplied the last 12 of his points. Meier included nearly a dozen dunks among his night’s production.
Alexander backed Meier with 16 points, 14 of them coming in the second half. Othman added nine, while both Shannon and Hussein totaled eight. Shannon also distributed a team-high nine assists.
Richards survived 21 turnovers, in part because it connected over 50 percent of the time (41-of-80) from the field. The ‘Dogs also sank five more free throws than Eisenhower despite attempting seven fewer shots at the stripe. The Cards made good on just 8-of-42 3-point tries.
“You’re a lot better off when they’re not scoring,” Chappetto said of Eisenhower, which lost for only the second time in its last 10 outings. “If you can get it past that first wave [of defenders], you’re probably going to get a lot of easy shots.
“The last game was a real nice gift. I’m glad we did it. I’m very fortunate.”
Chappetto wasn’t only talking about this particular contest. He was also referring to a number of other memorable moments during his head-coaching career, including the winning of a Class 4A title six years ago.
“There’s no way I would ever have dreamt of a state championship, but I felt a lot of pressure to keep it up,” Chappetto said. “There’s no way I can be like it didn’t matter, [so] every game is stressful. It takes its toll.”
Chappetto had mulled over the possibility of walking away at the conclusion of a trying 2012-13 campaign, but opted not to because he “didn’t want to leave on that note. This year wasn’t perfect, but that last year kind of left a bad taste in our mouths.”
“I didn’t know how I was going to do it,” Chappetto said of relinquishing his position. “I didn’t want to make it the ‘John Chappetto Going-Away Tour,’ but I [also] didn’t want to be one of those guys who says [he’s thinking about] it every year.”
Richards tried to extend Chappetto’s stay on Monday, when it tangled with Kennedy in a play-in game at the Shepard Regional. If successful there, the Bulldogs were to meet Stagg on Tuesday.
Eisenhower 24 20 20 19 - 87
Richards 24 26 26 32 - 108
Richards Scoring: Meier 47, Alexander 16, T. Othman 9, Hussein 8, Shannon 8, Catledge 6, Williams 6, Anagnostopolous 4, Tears 4. Rebounds: Meier 27. Assists: Shannon 9. Blocks: Meier 4.