One week into his head boys basketball coaching job at Fenwick High School, Rick Malnati says he likes what he sees.
Malnati, who left an assistant coach position under Porter Moser at Loyola University to replace John Quinn as the Friars' skipper, said his new team is already making progress in its summer play.
"The guys have been working hard, competing and learning," he said. "The first week is usually exhausting, but we're moving in the right direction."
Before testing out the college coaching hoops scene for two years at Loyola, Malnati spent 12 seasons as head coach at New Trier High School. He said he's pleased to be back coaching high school students again.
"I think my personality is more suited for the high school level," he explained. "High school is more relational, where college basketball is a business."
Though switching back to the prep level was intriguing, Malnati said that at first he wasn't so keen on taking the job at Fenwick due to its distance from his home in Northfield.
"It wasn't until I visited the school, met with some of the kids, and got an idea of the vision and the tradition of sports and education that really led to my decision," he said. "The other positive about it is the fact that it's a well-established program. I hope to improve on what the program already had going for it."
While a story in the Sun-Times published June 13 stated that Malnati had hired former Farragut star Ronnie Fields as an assistant, Malnati declined to discuss the topic in detail. "I'm not sure why that became a big deal in that story, but it would be better to not talk about it right now," he said.
Malnati did acknowledge that Fields had been hired, saying, "It's official, but we have a great staff altogether. There are some holdover coaches from the previous program, so it's really a terrific staff all-around."
Fields, a high-profile NBA prospect at the time, played at Farragut in the mid-1990s before a car accident and some legal troubles derailed a promising career.
Following in the footsteps of Quinn, who in March was unceremoniously fired after 28 years at the helm, Malnati said is bitter-sweet.
"I have the upmost respect for John Quinn and the program he built here at Fenwick. I followed a coaching legend at New Trier, so I think I can handle following another," he said, referring to Hall of Famer Mel Sheets.
As for what fans can expect to see on the court next season, Malnati said the focus will be on defense. "We're going to try to dictate the tempo with the way we play defense. That will be our style. We're capable of having athletes that can really guard."
Malnati added that the rivalry between Oak Park and River Forest High School will continue, while he plans to also bring aboard Proviso East as a consistent opponent during the regular season. "The schools are close in proximity and the programs are solid. It would make for a great rivalry," he said.