OPRF's basketball head coach steps down

Former players react, reminisce


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By James Kay

Sports Editor

This article, first published May 6, has been updated and expanded.


After 25 years of coaching at Oak Park and River Forest High School and 12 years as the varsity basketball head coach at the school, Matt Maloney has stepped down, effective immediately, from his position. OPRF sent an email announcing the decision on May 6.

Maloney finishes his time at OPRF with a 224-108 record and coached his teams to two West Suburban Silver conference championships in the last three years -- his teams won four conference championships overall. To add to his resume, Maloney also has three regional titles under his belt. He helped over 40 high school players move on to the next level to play college basketball.

According to the school's press release, Maloney sent an email to his colleagues saying he wants to focus on his family, pursue a second master's degree and continue to teach a full load of history at the school.

"Since the birth of my daughter three years ago, I have considered stepping down from the head coaching position," Maloney said in a statement to his colleagues.

"However, after spending more time with her during this shelter in place, I have realized how much time I have missed spending with her and my family. This is the right time to focus on priorities at home."

The school did not say who would take over the position or if someone would take over on an interim basis. However, the press release said Maloney will help current juniors and seniors on OPRF's roster with recruiting as they pursue playing college basketball.

OPRF's athletic director, John Stelzer, said in the release: "Matt Maloney is one of the most dedicated and knowledgeable coaches that I have worked with at OPRFHS.

"He has a true vocation and passion for teaching basketball and mentoring young men.  Coach Maloney has served our community, our school and our athletic department with integrity for 25 years. He is a wonderful example of a teacher-coach, and his dedication to our student-athletes will be missed."

Maloney's announcement comes 13 days after Isaiah Barnes, who is a highly touted college prospect, told Wednesday Journal he plans to transfer from OPRF, citing racism in the community as his reason to leave. Barnes did not say that he experienced racism within OPRF's basketball program.

Maloney, in an interview with the Journal on May 9, emphatically denied there was any connection with two events.

"First off, I'm very sorry that Isaiah or any student at that school or community would have those experiences," said Maloney. "Secondly, I was never aware of any of those experiences there. That had nothing to do with my decision.

"My decision was made and based on my daughter, my family and time it is, as you read in my statement. I have thought about stepping down since my daughter was born three years ago, in the shelter in place gave me an opportunity to realize just how many milestones I've missed and how many I do not want to looking forward."

Former players reflect on time with Maloney

Over his 12 years as OPRF's basketball head coach, Maloney has made an impression on a lot of his former players.  

Erick Locke, class of 2014, played college basketball for four years at multiple programs (most notably at Central Methodist University). In his two years on OPRF's varsity team, Locke became close with Maloney and the two still keep in touch today. He was in disbelief when he heard the news that Maloney was stepping down.

"I thought he was going to coach there for another 10 years," said Locke. "I saw people talking about it on Facebook but I didn't believe it until I read the article. I understand, with being a father and a coach, you've got to live outside of your coaching career."

Locke went to two of OPRF's games this past season and Maloney brought him in to speak to the team after its loss to Hinsdale Central on Jan. 31. They had a quick turnaround the next day against a tough Evanston team.

"He knows how to pick his spots," said Locke. "It's hard as a coach because sometimes in those situations you can't get [on the team] since they had a game the next day. I was that outside voice to come in and talk with them. Those moments can be hard. I hope that whoever comes in can serve the community and program well like he did."

Ryland Watts, class of 2014, recalls a time in 2014 when the team was preparing for the Comcast Game of the Week against conference rival York. Maloney was trying to fire the team up when the group met before the game in the Monogram Room.

"What people don't know about Maloney is he is a big theatrics guy," said Watts. "[Before the York game], we were preparing and going over our plays and you could tell that Maloney was fired up. He said, 'I want you guys to be fired up, to dive after every loose ball and get after it.' I swear to god, our assistant coach throws a ball in the middle of the room and we were about to grab it when Maloney, in dress shoes and a tie, dove across the room on top of it. He said, 'I want this badly if you all want it.'"

Maloney's reasoning for this method of coaching is simple.

"I always thought that I wasn't going to ask anything of them that I wouldn't ask of myself. So, I wanted to show them that everything I'm asking you I'm willing to do," said Maloney.

OPRF ended up winning the game 54-50.

Jared Scott, class of 2017, went on to play football at the University of Wyoming before transferring to Prairie View A&M University to play both football and basketball.

He credits Maloney for helping him at the next level and developing good habits as a student of the game.

"I think the transition [to college] was smoother because of the knowledge I took with me from him in high school," said Scott. "I learned things such as watching film on myself and opponents in scouting and a lot of the basketball terminology I learned from Maloney. He's always very prepared."

Maloney, who attended OPRF and played on its basketball team before moving on to play college basketball, took the lessons from his high school coach, Al Allen.

"I always felt that I had the pleasure of going through that program, and my head coach, Al Allen, ran it in a very similar fashion," said Maloney.

"And when I was a player, I didn't quite understand it when I was there. I understood it quickly though, when I started to play college basketball, and I realized just how much was given to me from Alan. And I wanted to make sure that my players realized that we always talked about the five-year plan. It wasn't about where they were at as juniors or seniors but where they were at five years down the road."


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Reader Comments

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Melvin Tate from Oak Park  

Posted: May 18th, 2020 10:01 AM

I covered Matt for the last three seasons, and my dealings with him were always cordial and professional. I sensed he took a lot of pride in the program and that he cared about seeing his players have success not only on the high school level, but beyond. The fact that many of his players played, are currently playing, and will play in college speaks volumes. He will be missed.

Zenobia Puckett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 12th, 2020 2:00 AM

Wondering who will take his place?

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: May 9th, 2020 4:08 PM

Race, Race, Race.....Only in OP does a basketball coach retire and it becomes a race issue.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: May 8th, 2020 1:40 PM

Christopher Bell you are right with your sentence, "We seem afraid or unwilling to address them" If people actually opened up and said what they thought, that would never be accepted in any supposedly diverse group. Besides, there would never be agreement on how to move forward. I would prefer for people of all color's and races who have overcome obstacles and still face them, how they have achieved success in whatever they consider success to be

Christopher Bell  

Posted: May 8th, 2020 12:52 PM

Coach Maloney was an advocate for students of color and mentored many. If anything, he was likely deeply hurt by students comments and impact it had on family. This issues around race are far deeper than OPRF (OPRF issues are symptom of deeper infection). Oak Park needs to stop riding on the coat tails of my parents generation (the group that MADE oak park excellent) and do som serious soul searching. As I have said many times on this board, there are deep issues that will undermine the long term health/success of Oak PArk. We seem afraid or unwilling to address them

Sonya Blade from Chicago  

Posted: May 8th, 2020 3:13 AM

I mean before we complain about him siting it's due to Racism, how about we find out if it's true racism is happening at that school. Seems to be the same narrative coming from African American students. Good for him to not waste his time or talents if it is!

Mark Gordon  

Posted: May 7th, 2020 4:21 PM

The last paragraph is terrible. If something is 'not clear', as you state, shouldn't you find out before writing it? Did you reach out to the coach to ask and get facts? Your insinuation is an attack on the coach. That paragraph should be taken out.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: May 7th, 2020 1:12 PM

The 4th and 5th grafs give a clear explanation of the coach's reasoning. The last Graf seems like mere speculation.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 7th, 2020 12:29 PM

Your last paragraph was not necessary. Its a cheap shot.

Donnell Davis  

Posted: May 6th, 2020 11:31 PM

He will be missed trust me

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