And there arguably isn’t a harder-working boys high school basketball coach in the Chicago area — perhaps in the state — than Maine South’s Tony Lavorato Jr.
He also may be the Chicago area’s high school coaching equivalent of Tom Thibodeau, the highly successful Chicago Bulls’ head coach, because Lavorato, like Thibodeau, leaves no stone unturned to help his team notch a victory, gets the most out of the players available to him, and is a stickler for playing within a particular system.
“That’s a great compliment,” said Lavorato, who completed his 10th year at Maine South High School in suburban Park Ridge last winter. “I’m not 1/100th as good as Tom, but we’re very comfortable with what we do. Defense, along with rebounding and getting the most out of our players. Team basketball is very important in our (Maine South) program.”
Asked if he considers Lavorato to be the area’s prep equivalent of Thibodeau, his father, Tony Sr. — a highly successful coach himself for many years at both Hinsdale South and downstate Princeton high schools — concurs.
“One of our dear friends calls him Thibodeau,” Tony Sr. said. “The demeanor is the same; they take great pride in the defensive system they teach. They’re demanding, and the kids play hard for them. Your kids have to buy in, and want to believe in it, and he’s convinced them that the system is the way they have to play in order to compete. That breeds belief in the system.
“He’s brought the program at Maine (South) back, and into a really nice place.”
Maine South has won a total of 96 games over the past four seasons, or an average of 24 per year. Last season, the Hawks went 28-4 and racked up 17 straight victories during the 2013 portion of the 2012-13 campaign before falling to New Trier in the sectional semifinals.
Also last season, the Hawks’ basketball program reached, and surpassed, 800 all-time victories, and won their first Central Suburban League South Division championship since the school was switched from the North to the South division for the 2000 season.
Lavorato is 172-122 in his 10 years, playing within the system, and working with the hand he’s dealt each year, as far as talent.
“We haven’t had one (NCAA) Division I guy that can get 20 (points) every night,” Lavorato said. “You can either complain about it or figure out a way to beat those teams (that do have D-I talent).
“We have to hit the reset button every year. We get a certain number of kids. We don’t recruit our kids; we take the kids that we have. And they’ve got to stay with the (basketball) program, and that’s been a huge challenge,” he said, referring to the wide array of sports student-athletes have to choose from nowadays.
Tony Jr. also was a good basketball player, eventually starting for his father at Hinsdale South after Tony Sr. took a teaching and head basketball coach’s position at South in the late 1980s. Tony Jr. went on to play four years at Augustana College, a Division III school in Rock Island, Ill., and was a member of the 1993 Augustana club that finished second in the nation.
But Lavorato said he knew he wanted to go into coaching. Growing up, he’d help his father with summer basketball camps and summer leagues. At the time, Illinois High School Association rules prevented head coaches from coaching their own teams in summer leagues, so when Lavorato came home from college, he would coach his father’s team.
“He would have former players coach the teams because they knew the system,” Lavorato said. “When my Dad took the job (at Hinsdale South), he created one of the first summer leagues (in the area).”
After graduating from Augustana, where he was a math major, Lavorato went Rochelle High School and served as the head sophomore and assistant varsity coach. He then went to Stagg High School, and was the assistant to head coach Al Biancalana, who’s now an assistant at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Two years later, Lavorato left his native Illinois for Indiana to take his first head-coaching position at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne. However, he ended up returning to Stagg in 1999 and became head coach, replacing Biancalana, who had left to join the coaching staff at Bradley University.
Lavorato spent four years at Stagg before accepting a teaching and head coaching position at Maine South.
Lavorato considers his father and Biancalana to be two of his biggest coaching influences.
“Their styles were different, but their foundation was the same, and that’s where my foundation is,” he said. “It’s understanding that you’re more than a basketball coach and teaching more than basketball. You’re teaching life. You’re trying to develop young men to become more confident and respectable not only in high school, but further in life.
“There’s a lot of reasons we run a disciplined program, but one day, sports will not be there (for them) and you have to be able to get a job and present yourself right.”
As for his own upbringing, that, he says, is all his Dad, his Mom, Anita, and growing up in an Italian-American family with his younger brother, Tim, who also was the head basketball coach at Willowbrook High School in suburban Villa Park.
“We’re a very tight-knit family,” said Lavorato, who is married (Mary) and has three children. “Dad originally lived on Taylor Street and lived in the Berwyn-Cicero area. We take great pride in our Italian heritage. The family unit is the core of it.”
Lavorato Sr. said he’s proud not only of both of his sons’ coaching success, but also that they’ve followed in his and Anita’s footsteps and became teachers.
“My wife was a fifth-grade teacher. We really enjoyed our profession,” Lavorato Sr. said. “My wife and I are excited about them going into teaching along with coaching.”