I caught up with Tom Kleinschmidt, York High School’s new boys head basketball coach, not out on the court, but behind the concession stand across from the entrance of the Green and White Gym.
This particular afternoon, Kleinschmidt was busy taking orders for hot dogs, soda and candy during a three-day DI-Elite NCAA certified high school basketball event held at York which featured several Midwest AAU teams and a number of top college prospects. The event concluded early last week.
“I was just trying to help out in any capacity I could,” said Kleinschmidt, who became head coach early last month. “I’m trying to watch some games, (do) crowd control, concessions, a little bit of everything.”
A little while later, Kleinschmidt grabbed a burger and walked over to the field house, where four games were being played simultaneously—and being scouted by dozens of college coaches, including Northwestern’s Bill Carmody.
There, Kleinschmidt greeted a group of acquaintances who shook his hand and offered congratulatory wishes for being named the school’s new head coach.
“I’m honored and privileged, especially to be at a school like York,” he said. “I thought one day I’d want to be a coach, and it turned out that way. I didn’t know it would be here, and I didn’t know in what capacity, but I’m happy to be here.”
The road to Elmhurst has taken Kleinschmidt literally across the globe. Following an outstanding prep career at Gordon Tech High School and then at DePaul—he’s one of only two players in school history who’s compiled over 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists, 100 steals and 100 three-pointers—Kleinschmidt turned pro. He tried out with the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) in 1995 and was one of the final cuts.
Unable to land with an NBA team, Kleinschmidt took his game overseas. He had stints with teams in Venezuela and Europe, but most of his 11-year professional career was spent in the Land of the Rising Sun—Japan. Kleinschmidt played in the Japan Super League and led the league in scoring twice. He suited up for three different teams: Bosch, Mitsubishi and Toshiba.
Kleinschmidt, a DePaul Athletic Hall of Famer, returned to DePaul in the summer of 2009 to take over as director of men’s basketball operations. However, he ended up leaving that post when DePaul fired head coach Jerry Wainwright in January 2010.
Later that summer, York experienced some upheaval in its basketball program when head coach made a surprise announcement that he was leaving York to become the top assistant at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Dominic Cannon replaced Biancalana as interim head coach last season, and Kleinschmidt worked as Cannon’s assistant while also serving as a teacher’s aide in District 205.
Things fell into place rather quickly for Kleinschmidt this summer in regard to him becoming the Dukes’ new head coach. Kleinschmidt didn’t apply for the job when it initially opened up out of loyalty to Cannon, who did apply.
When Cannon ended up not being considered for the position, Kleinschmidt was asked to become a candidate. He was then selected over the other candidates about a week after he had applied.
“It kind of came up late,” Kleinschmidt said. “I’m very happy to be here. I like the kids, the school and its resources. It’s a very easy place to work at, and the kids are good. And they’ve got some talent here and a winning tradition.”
The Dukes finished 20-9 last winter and played for a regional championship. York lost Will Sullivan, the school’s all-time leading scorer, and eight other seniors to graduation, but Kleinschmidt is confident the Dukes will be competitive when the season tips off in November.
'We have a good future'
“I think we have a good future here at York,” he said. “I think in the next couple of years we’ll be solid. We’ll have a good team next year. We’ll have good players coming back.”
Among them: Junior guard David Cohn, who plays for the Illinois Wolves’ AAU team and has a scholarship offer from UIC (where Biancalana coaches); senior guards Jake Rzeszutko and Matt DiFrancesca; and 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Frank Toohey.
“We’ve got a solid nucleus,” Kleinschmidt said. “A lot of juniors didn’t play as many minutes, but that was the same situation where we were last year. They’re going to be thrown into the fire.”
Kleinschmidt and his players have been competing in summer league action and also took part in the Minuteman Classic at Riverside-Brookfield High School, held the same weekend as the D-I Elite event at York. The Dukes also have had a summer camp.
Between summer leagues and camps, Kleinschmidt said he’s “got a good handle” on York’s players.
“We have a lot of pieces and I’m just trying to constitute what we’re going to run,” he said. “We’ve got some bigs; we’ve got some guards. We can go big; we can go small. We don’t have a lot of time to mold them. When we get back in school, we don’t have a lot of time to practice. We’re going to be thrown into the fire once again.”
What can York High School and the West Suburban Conference Silver Division expect from a Tom Kleinschmidt-coached team? Physical and mental toughness on the floor, respect for the game and hard-nosed, man-to-man defense.
“It’s a privilege to play ball; it’s not a right,” he said. “We’re going to appreciate playing the game. We’re going to play it hard. Those are some of the qualities I’m going to try to instill in my kids. I was taught by Coach Wainwright. It’s about Xs and Os, but it’s really about relationships, and that’s what I’m trying to take into this job.
“We’ll try to get up and pressure people as much as we can, but that all depends on the team. It depends on who we’re playing. We’ll be smart enough that if we can’t pressure, we’ll back it up a bit, and if we see an advantage, we’ll try to take it.”
Offensively, look for the Dukes to push the ball up the floor and convert transition baskets.
“We’re going to try and score off turnovers, if possible,” Kleinschmidt said. “We’re going to be smart. If we don’t have it (the shot), we’re going to pull it out and we’re going to try and run some sets.”
Two varsity hopefuls who played for the Dukes at the Minuteman Classic, sophomores Chris Klos and Isaac McKinley, are excited to have Kleinschmidt as York’s coach. They’re well aware of Kleinschmidt’s accomplishments as a pro, at DePaul and particularly as a high school player.
Kleinschmidt remains Gordon Tech’s all-time leading scorer. He was a McDonald’s High School all-American and led the Rams to the 1990 Class AA state championship game his junior year. The following year, Kleinschmidt finished runner-up for the Illinois Mr. Basketball award, given to the state’s best prep player.
“It’s been great. It’s been like having a legend coach you,” Klos said. “He went to Gordon Tech. He was a phenomenal player there and at DePaul. He knows what he’s talking about. It’s like having a pro coach you.”
“I like Coach Kleinschmidt a lot,” McKinley added. “He’s got a lot of experience. His philosophies are really smart. He focuses a lot on defense, which is what a lot of teams need to focus on.”
When told that his players have plenty of good things to say about him, Kleinschmidt smiled and said, “That makes me feel great, but they haven’t played a minute for me yet. It’s early in the game on that, so we’ll see what happens.”