Phil Ralston knows each time Glenbrook South steps on to the basketball court, his team has a target on its back.
As the Glenbrook South varsity boys’ basketball coach, Ralston’s Titans have a 45-7 record the past two seasons. They finished 16-2 earlier this year in a condensed season that didn’t feature a state basketball tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No one’s not going to know about us,” Ralston said. “Those days have ended.”
A big reason for that is seniors Nick Martinelli and Cooper Noard.
The duo scored 700 combined points in 18 games as juniors last season, and both have committed to playing Division-I basketball at the next level: Martinelli at Elon University and Noard at Cornell University.
“There aren’t too many teams in the state that can claim that they have two All-State basketball players coming back and playing for them,” Ralston said. “That is something I’ve never had as a coach. So to have two high-level players coming back this year it makes a huge difference.”
As a sophomore, Martinelli played on a Glenbrook South team that won 29 games, so he knows what it is like to be a part of a good unit. But the 6-foot-8 shooting guard believes this year’s Titans can be special.
“I think we will be the best team the school has had ever,” Martinelli said. “We definitely have the most talent that I’ve ever seen at a public high school gym. We have so many guys that can come in and score, and we have guys that just want to get down and play defense and work hard.”
As for Noard, whenever someone asks him what the expectations are for this year, he always responds with the same answer.
“It’s to win a state championship,” Noard said. “It doesn’t really matter how we get there, how hard it is, what we do to get there. That’s my one goal.”
In order for the 2021-22 Titans to become the best team in school history or to win a championship, they are going to need more than just Martinelli and Noard to accomplish those goals.
Last season, Glenbrook South had seniors Matthew Rosenberger and Justin Leszynski they could count on. The two finished as the team’s third and fourth leading scorers, respectively. Rosenberger scored 115 points and Leszynski added 100 points. And as seniors, they also provided leadership for the team.
Junior Rodell Davis Jr. — also known as RJ to his coaches and teammates — is someone that Ralston, Martinelli and Noard view as bringing those same qualities for this season.
“I really think that RJ has become such a good leader this year,” Martinelli said. “It’s crazy just to see how much he has grown from sophomore to junior year.”
For Davis, he wasn’t surprised to hear his coach and teammates express their confidence in him.
“Over this past offseason, I’ve been in the gym everyday lifting, getting better. I feel like I’m bigger, stronger,” Davis said. “So I was kind of expecting it and I’m prepared to take on the role.”
Ralston, Martinelli and Noard also expressed confidence in senior Spencer Brown and junior Gavin Marr. The talent is there for Glenbrook South, and that’s why Ralson and the rest of the Titans’ coaching staff have constructed a schedule that will test the players.
This season, Glenbrook South is slated to play teams like Glenbard West, Simeon, and, of course, conference rival New Trier. Chicago Sun-Times editor Michael O’Brien ranked all three of those teams — including Glenbrook South — in his Super 25, with Glenbard West at No. 1, Simeon No. 5, Glenbrook south No. 6 and New Trier No. 9.
The Titans began their 2021 season competing in the Ed Molitor Thanksgiving Classic Varsity Boys’ Basketball Tournament. Glenbrook South defeated Elk Grove, 91-49, on Monday for its first game of the year. And followed that performance with a 79-32 victory over Jacobs the next day.
Next up, Glenbrook South will face York on Friday and finish the tournament on Saturday. This week’s worth of games is just the beginning of what the Titans expect to be a highly productive season.
“I think we have a group that is mentally tough. They’re hungry,” Ralston said. “They want to try and accomplish something that our program has never done, which is to win a sectional. Great aspiration. We certainly have the talent and capability to do it. Now it’s a matter of being able to put it all together, with no guarantees that it is ever going to happen.”