Downers Grove South graduate Mullins already seeing success
Call it the Mullins touch.
Before the season began the Southern Illinois University men's basketball team was picked to finish dead last -- 10th out of 10 -- in the Missouri Valley Conference standings.
Last? Not on the watch of Bryan Mullins, the former Downers Grove South and SIU star who in March was plucked from Porter Moser's staff at Loyola and signed to a five-year deal as Salukis head coach.
"It's an unbelievable opportunity," Mullins said over the phone on Tuesday. "It's an exciting move, something I'm very appreciative that our administration trusted me with."
He's rewarded that trust. Entering Thursday's game against Evansville at Banterra Center in Carbondale, the Salukis were tied with Bradley in third place at 9-5, two games behind Northern Iowa and one behind Loyola. Mullins said only one team in league history, Drake in 2017, finished among the MVC top-three after being picked last in the preseason.
Bradley nipped SIU Saturday in Carbondale to achieve that third-place tie, each with four games left. Afterward, Bradley coach Brian Wardle, the former Hinsdale Central star, was quoted as saying Banterra Center was "as loud as I've heard this place in five years."
Mullins has got it cooking even though he had to bring in 10 new players, including Hinsdale South graduate Barret Benson, a graduate-student transfer from Northwestern.
Also, after six games Mullins' third-year starting point guard, Aaron Cook Jr., broke a hand and was lost for the season.
"We had some adversity early on and the guys have responded," said Mullins, whose team is 15-12 overall.
"I knew it'd be a process and that we'd get better throughout the season, and that's what we've done," he said.
As a player, along with fellow guard Tony Young of Schaumburg, now head coach at Marmion, Mullins was part of SIU's defensive-based "Floorburn U" team that reached the NCAA Division I 2007 Sweet Sixteen.
A two-time MVC defensive player of the year, Mullins set program records for assists and steals and in 2018 was inducted into the Saluki Hall of Fame. His experiences alone make it easy for Mullins to expound on the program in his recruiting pitch.
Coming to Southern Illinois University after serving as associate head coach to Porter Moser at Loyola, Mullins still keeps in close contact with his former boss, a Benet graduate.
"Me and Coach talk weekly still," Mullins said. "I owe so much to him. I still bounce things off him all the time and he still gives me advice all the time."
In assembling his own staff, Mullins' first hire was his brother, Brendan, three years older and also a former Downers Grove South star guard. Brendan Mullins came out of the Illinois State program with prior stints at Illinois-Chicago, Wright State, Green Bay and Mercyhurst.
Having two of their sons in one locale makes it easier on parents Mike and Gayle Mullins.
"Everyone in the family is finally rooting for one team," Bryan Mullins said. "My parents no longer have to wear neutral colors. I think my parents are a little more excited about this situation, which is good."
Ready to strike
The competition would appear to be Machesney Park Harlem's, Lockport's or Mascoutah's to lose, but on Thursday several buses of DuPage County athletes will head north to the girls state bowling finals. It's Friday and Saturday at the usual place, The Cherry Bowl in Rockford.
Each of the four local teams that advanced to the finals qualified out of the Hinsdale South sectional -- champion York, Downers Grove South, Metea Valley and the host Hornets. All are seeking their first state bowling trophy.
York, with a starting lineup of seniors Caroline Collins, Rose Klinger and Lauren Rickenbrode, junior Holly Santucci and freshman Jermyah Bolden, won both the Metea Valley regional and the Hinsdale South sectional.
Individually, Willowbrook senior Makaylah Jones rolled a 1256 to capture the Metea regional crown, and finished seventh at Hinsdale South to qualify for the state finals. Downers South junior Gillian Czubernat took high honors at both the Hinsdale Central regional and Hinsdale South sectional.
Glenbard East seniors Kirsten Kadow and Molly Galvin -- the top returning DuPage bowler, 54th last season -- each qualified as individuals out of the Hinsdale South sectional.
May the oil be your friend.