Tom Kleinschmidt honored with Coach of the Year award


Illinois Prep Insider

Tom Kleinschmidt was recently named the Chicago Sun-Times Coach of the Year.

For head coach Tom Kleinschmidt and his DePaul Prep boys’ basketball team, winning games starts on the practice floor. 

It starts with players arriving 15 minutes early to practice. It starts with diving for loose balls. It starts with sprinting back on defense. It starts with closing out with your hand up. 

The work that is put in on the practice floor has led to success for the Rams this season. They went 14-2 in a shortened high school basketball season and won the season’s high-profile tournament beating Evanston in the championship game of the Chipotle Clash of Champions. 

But the awards are still piling in after the season ended. Kleinschmidt was named the Chicago Sun-Times city/suburban Coach of the Year on Wednesday, joining only a select group of coaches to win the award. 

“It’s great to be mentioned with the coaches that have won the award, but I think it’s important to note this isn’t an individual award,” Kleinschmidt said. “I’ve been taught well by the men I coach with and it’s a staff award. It’s just a great award, it’s very humbling.”

Kleinschmidt’s basketball career started as a player at Gordon Tech, now known as DePaul Prep, where he led his school to the 1990 championship game, scoring 27 points in a 65-55 loss to Chicago King. He then continued his playing career at DePaul University from 1991-95, becoming the first player in program history to win a conference player of the year award. 

He eventually returned to DePaul Prep in 2012 as a head coach, looking to get the Rams back on track after struggling to win games. It took a couple of years to turn the program around, but the Rams won the Chicago Cathloic League in 2019 and finished in third in the state tournament two years ago. 

The key to the Rams’ success? A strong culture. 

“We have all these things that are expected that our players do when you are in practice or you are in a game, and it’s a learned behavior and it’s come from the coaches but it’s really come from the players,” Kleinschmidt said. “Our culture has been developed with toughness and defense.” 

The Rams have now established a winning culture over the last six years, averaging 22 wins per season and securing six consecutive regional titles. Each senior class has passed on all the lessons they have learned to the next group of players, continuing the winning tradition that Kleinschmidt has now established. 

DePaul Prep only has one gym for 25 sports. The time that the boys basketball team has on the practice floor is limited, but they have an open gym at 5:45 a.m. where players are expected to attend and get as much practice time as they can. 

“So there’s a responsibility and an appreciation for the program, and [the players] don’t want to disrespect it,” Kleinschmidt said. “The kids hold each other accountable.” 

This past season was one of the most successful that the Rams have had under Kleinschmidt’s leadership, finishing No. 1 in the Chicago Sun-Times basketball rankings. But the season nearly collapsed after the Rams’ first opponent, St. Joseph’s, reported a positive Covid-19 case following the game.

DePaul Prep had to wait 11 days before playing its next game, but the team managed to play another 15 games in less than a month. With no state tournament this year because of the shortened season and Covid-19 concerns, the Rams and several other teams still participated in an end-of-the season tournament. 

“[The players] have been through the gauntlet as far as emotions, but [I’m] extremely proud, even if it was one game I coached and they got to run on the floor and I was able to coach the senior group again,” Kleinschmidt said. 

The next season will most likely return to its normal schedule, beginning in November and culminating with a state tournament in March. DePaul Prep will look to continue its success from this past season, but it will be based around the same core principles of the program: leadership, culture and strong practices. 

“It’s the leadership we have from young men, and it’s been taught from the older guys and it’s trickled down,” Kleinschmidt said. “And it really must have stuck because it continues and keeps getting better, so they know what’s expected of them.”