Sean Connor is a man of different sides. He’s a father and husband. A math teacher. A sophomore basketball and ultimate frisbee coach. The man who runs fall basketball league.
It’s no surprise that Antioch’s new head varsity boys basketball coach knows what it takes to juggle tasks. He’s worn many hats coaching, scouting and organizing in the world of high school hoops. Still, Connor — who spent seven years at Chicago’s DePaul College prep teaching and coaching — bided his time before taking a head coaching job.
“I think I always knew I had a lot to learn,” Connor, now a Grayslake resident, said. “You look at all the different experiences I’ve had, and the more head coaches I was under the more I realized, ‘Like man, you’ve really got to make sure you understand this facet or this facet.’”
“It’s easy to say you want to be a varsity coach, but you’ve got to realize when you take on that duty, there’s more to it than just running the varsity team,” he continued.
Connor was hired Thursday, June 18, by Antioch. He was immediately thrust into the role: That same day at the Carmel Catholic Summer League he got to see his new Sequoit players in action.
Connor’s most recent coaching experience was at DePaul College Prep as the head sophomore coach, winning two Catholic League titles in six seasons. Before that he was with the sophomores at York and Geneva, and he has other experience building up youth feeder programs at programs like Marmion.
At DePaul, and when it was previously known as Gordon Tech, Connor was an assistant coach for a program in a school without much recent historical success before Tom Kleinschmidt’s arrival.
“It was hard to rebuild the program and try to help coach Kleinschmidt achieve the vision he had and what we wanted to be,” Connor said. “That was a long process. Obviously it’s very fulfilling to see everything come to a head this past year after going downstate and having the opportunity to see the guys compete in the Chipotle Classic. But I know some people didn’t understand the amount of work that really went in over the last 8-to-10 years in rebuilding that thing, and how many times people said no and, ‘DePaul’s not good enough.’
“It’s just been a really cool experience to be part of that rebuild and have all these visions and goals the school set and a lot of them come to fulfillment,” he added.
That type of experience informed the type of attributes he wants his program at Antioch to showcase. That doesn’t mean he will remove any agency from his Sequoits players.
Connor wants his players to take ownership of what’s to come in the process of program-building. He wants this especially for the upcoming seniors — a group who have seen three varsity coaches during their tenure after Tim Bowen’s departure after two seasons.
“I’ve always been very student-centered,” Connor said. “One of the things we’re going to do this week, and I’ve given the guys homework, is to think about what do you want Antioch basketball to be known for. Because I don’t think it’s appropriate that I come in and tell them what they should be in a community that I don’t have very strong roots in.”
A Woodstock graduate who still has family there, a more recent move to Grayslake put Connor’s family in a good position to look for new head coaching jobs. Growing up in Woodstock, Connor says he relates to what kids from Antioch experience growing up. He doesn’t doubt that will greatly influence the team they become. With an already organized feeder program — a selling point for Connor, who is already familiar with the region north of Chicago — he anticipates fitting in with the community’s existing identity.
“(Antioch) and Woodstock are both blue collar, out on the rim of the country versus suburban area, and I really relate to a lot of the kids in the community,” Connor said. “Because I grew up in a similar situation where you have just enough and have you have to work hard to get by.”
The newly anointed head coach was looking forward to taking his team to compete at Rockford and getting to know his new players. Kobe Kriese, a threat to fill the hoop up a season ago, is now gone.
Antioch has some seniors leaders and a large group of returning juniors. It also has talented underclassmen in sophomores like Coby Priller and Carter Webb back and the anticipated arrival of freshman Marshall Gehrke. Many moving pieces create a cloudy but enticing picture for the team’s future.
“The seniors have been fantastic in terms of leadership, being where they need to be and starting to give input as to where they want to be,” Connor said.
“There’s a very cool blend of experience: a lot of guys with varsity experience and then some young talent,” he continued. “We’ve got four players over 6-5, so it’ll be really cool to watch these guys grow over the summer and then really interesting to see what it looks like in November.”
While Antioch has had some recent success — the Sequoits won three consecutive regional titles between 2016 and 2018 despite three losing records — Connor things they can elevate past the traditional powers north of Chicago.
“I think they can disrupt the status quo in Illinois basketball because nobody is always looking at Antioch as the team to come out of the north suburbs,” Connor said. “Since you know it’s North Chicago, Waukegan, Zion-Benton, Round Lake and some of these other programs have been really strong. It’ll be really cool to track us over these next few years.