Sean Taylor's office inside Wharton Field House shows the signs of someone who's still in the process of moving into a new space.
There are boxes to unpack, not much on the walls, just a couple photos set up on shelves. The place doesn't have that lived in feel yet. It'll soon get there. The former Quincy coach, who a month ago was tabbed to help take Moline's boys basketball program to a higher level, is already starting to feel at home in the old brick house where he has coached many memorable games from the opposing bench.
“This is an historic place. It’s one of the greatest places to play, and to coach the home team here will be an honor,” Taylor said. “I realize all the great players and coaches and community members who have been part of this program and my goal is to work as hard as I can and to build on that tradition that has already been established.”
Announced as the Maroons' next head coach on May 23, about two months after Jeff Schimmel was released from the position after going 62-59 over four seasons, Taylor is in the third week of summer practice with his new players.
The outside doors to Wharton have been propped open for practices to allow for some air flow to try to prevent the building from turning into a sauna during the hot summer days. The young squad, which graduated the bulk of its scoring from a team that went 10-18, has been run through drills and sets as Taylor tries to get a feel for his players and his players get a feel for him.
“I’ve been around a lot of coaches, but I can definitely tell he’s a lot more intense than some of the ones I’ve had in the past. I think that’s going to be a big factor in how he runs the team,” said forward Ben Monroe, who played significant minutes last season as a sophomore.
An Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who won a Class A state title with Shelbyville in 1996, Taylor spent the past two seasons at Jacksonville where he turned a team that went 11-19 before he took over into a 20-9 squad this past season. Before that, Taylor led Quincy to four Western Big Six championships and five regional titles in 11 years. He has a career record of 494-231.
In the initial stages of trying to turn Moline back into a Big Six contender, Taylor has been working on setting a winning foundation for a team coming off its first losing season since 2006-07.
“I think the staple of our team needs to be that we need to play extremely hard and that we want to be collectively good, so we want to play for one another, share the ball on offense, help one another on defense, communicate both on and off the court,” Taylor said. “Those are sort of the core values that we want to implement in the early going and then you can work on offense, defense and skills, and these guys have had the work ethic to do that.”
Taylor will get to see his players in action against other prep squads from the region today and Saturday at Rock Island High School and Augustana's PepsiCo Rec Center during the Justin Sharp Memorial Shootout, which is named after a former Rock Island star player who lost his battle with leukemia in 2003 at the age of 18.
The Maroons will have a new look from recent years, when the squad revolved around 6-foot-7 post Andy McLaughlin. They hope their absence of size will be made up for with an abundance of skilled guards, including Brody Harding and Deonte Billups, who both saw action on the varsity squad last year as freshmen. Also in the mix will be Nathan Hurt, a senior-to-be who transferred from United Township.
“I think we’ll be able to handle pressure,” said Monroe, who will be joined in the front court by senior Jake Pittington, among others. “We’ll be quick, a lot quicker than we have been over the last couple years. I think Coach Taylor is going to look to push the ball, as well.”
Taylor likes the commitment he's seen from his players so far and feels they have the tools to reach their goals.
“I think we’re skilled. I think we have a lot of guys who can dribble, pass and shoot,” Taylor said. “I think wing guys, point guards, we’re pretty skilled in that area.
"On the other end, we’re not the biggest team, we’re not the most physical team and that’s something we’re going to have to battle and be ready to compete with.”