Schaumburg hoops star lands safely at Tennessee
Less than two months after leading Schaumburg to one of the biggest upsets in IHSA basketball history, Mark Pancratz became Bruce Pearl's first recruit at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
For the next 10 years -- save the 2005-06 season when Pearl left to coach Tennessee while Pancratz finished his playing career at UWM -- the pair stuck together.
Pancratz served for two years at Tennessee as a graduate assistant before moving up the chain of command as the Vols' video coordinator and administrative assistant.
Now only one of them remains at Tennessee -- and Pancratz is grateful for the opportunity to carry on without Pearl.
He didn't expect to draw another paycheck from the school after Tennessee fired Pearl and the rest of his staff on March 22.
"We got smacked by Michigan (in the NCAA Tournament) on a Friday and got fired on a Monday," Pancratz said.
Pearl had to leave after failing to follow the NCAA rules and getting caught in a lie about following said rules.
Pearl received a $948,728 settlement to leave the school. Pancratz, married with a 5-month-old daughter at the time, did not.
To say he worried about his family's future would be an understatement. After going to the Final Four in a longshot search for another job in college basketball, he entitled the blog post about his journey "At A Crossroads."
"All in all, it was the biggest humbling experience that I could go through," Pancratz said. "It was, 'What do I gotta do to help not only my career, but my family?' It's been a good self-check."
Pancratz considered getting out of the coaching business (he owns a degree in Marketing and Finance and a master's in Sports Management), but then he caught a break.
New Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin retained Houston Fancher as the program's director of basketball operations.
When Fancher needed to get the school's summer basketball camps rolling, but had a million other things on his plate as well, he asked if he could bring in Pancratz on a temporary basis to operate the camps.
"One of my responsibilities for the previous staff was handling all the summer camps," Pancratz said. "I treated the camps as an internship. I did everything I could to be active and help."
Pancratz' efforts paid off as Tennessee rehired him on June 10 to be its coordinator of video scouting.
"These guys I'm working for are unbelievable," said Pancratz, reeling off several superlatives for Martin. "And the thing is, the staff is all Illinois guys."
Assistant coach Tracy Webster, the former Illinois and DePaul assistant, starred at Thornton High School. Assistants Kent Williams and Jon Harris, who came with Martin from Missouri State, stood out at high schools in southern Illinois.
Martin, of course, began his career at East St. Louis Lincoln before playing at Purdue and enjoying a brief NBA career.
Among the things that Martin and Pancratz have in common? Both made the list of 100 Legends of the IHSA boys basketball tournament in 2007.
Pancratz scored a team-high 21 points when unranked Schaumburg shocked top-ranked Thornwood and Eddy Curry 66-54 for the Class AA state title.
As it's the 10th anniversary for that squad, Pancratz would love to visit with his former teammates. Alas, the class reunion conflicts with a Tennessee football weekend that doubles as a big recruiting weekend for the basketball team.
If there's a downside to Pancratz's job -- aside from the 14-hour days -- it's the inability to return home for important events.
"All the buddies' weddings I've missed," he said. "I didn't get to see my brother, Jake, play at University of Chicago. I haven't gotten to see my sister, Drewann, play at Carthage."
By the way, don't bet on Drewann being the last member of the family to play college ball.
When Mark's daughter, Charli, was born in October, she received an autographed basketball from Pat Summitt promising that she's a Future Lady Vol.
Charli, now 10 months of age, started walking a few weeks ago. That meant she could begin her basketball career.
"I've got her doing defensive slides in the driveway," Mark said with a laugh.
• Lindsey Willhite's column appears Tuesdays in the Daily Herald. If you know of a former suburban sports star or coach you'd like to see profiled, please contact Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@WillhiteHerald.