Chicago DeLaSalle coach Tom White has a difficult task molding his basketball team into a consistent winner. Even though he still has star forward Mike Shaw for two more years, he lost three guards who helped his team fluorish last season. He is teaching two freshmen to replace the graduates, and it is taking time.
Freshmen Alex Foster and Jaylon Tate entered DeLaSalle with impressive credentials, and Illinois basketball coaches are following their progress with great interest. However, freshmen usually take awhile to acclimate to the upgrade in competition according to White.
"Some people say it's like a deer in the headlights. Their eyes are open and they look good, but they really don't know where they're going or what they'll do when they get there."
Foster is a 6'-8" forward with broad shoulders, long arms and good hops. He is considered one of the top three players in the class of 2013, alongside Jabari Parker of Chicago Simeon and Tommy Hamilton Jr. of Chicago Whitney Young. Tate is a 6'-2 guard.
"First of all, they have the talent," White explains. "They have the body. So with those two things, it's gonna be a process. They just have to hang in there and keep doing it."
The lefty Foster shows excellent overall skills for a high school freshman.
"Foster is good in transition. He has good character. He never bitches and moans, he just plays. He's a big sponge, and that's what you want. And he's a very good student, A-B student.
"He analyzes things and understands what he's doing. I think it's a good base when they know what they're supposed to do. Now getting there is another thing. It may take two slides to get there. But it makes it easier when they know what they're supposed to do."
White wants to use both Foster and Shaw near the bucket, but his team is just learning to spread out the offense to give the big men room to operate. As it is, teams pack their defenses in real tight.
"I think he's gonna add rebounding, toughness. We really don't play outside, everything's in the paint. I think once we get a little more rhythm, a little more spacing, I think it's gonna be a perfect high percentage."
Shaw is impressed with his young teammate.
"He's helping out a lot. He's a good player. He's just got to learn to play hard every time. He's cool. I just tell him he's young, and I've got to coach him out there."
Shaw answered a question about Foster's recruitment by colleges.
"He's not really focusing on that right now. He's young, and he's taking his time."
In early games this winter, Tate was more adversely affected by the fear factor than Foster. Playing in front of larger crowds against players three years older can be disconcerting. But White says Tate is much better when he is relaxed.
"I wish you could see us practice. He plays so much more effectively in practice. He goes 100%, he's good with both hands, he's an A student and he works at it. He loves basketball. So with those things, I think he's going to be a success. And he's a 6'-2" point guard."
Illini coaches have already camped out at DeLaSalle games for the past three years watching Shaw. They will continue to be a presence there for some time to come as Foster and Tate begin to blossom.