Maloney steps down, legacy carries on


Holden Green

Maloney at the Chicago Elite Classic, 2019

After his 12 years as Varsity Boys Basketball head coach, Matt Maloney is leaving behind a record of 224 wins and 108 losses. He was awarded four Illinois Basketball Coaches’ Association District 7 Coach of the Year awards, as well as his team earning three IHSA regional titles.
Maloney always made it clear he cared about his team. He donned his suit and tie, pacing back and forth, up and down the sideline, yelling at the players, screaming at the refs, never missing a moment of the action. This was the scene every single time Maloney’s team took the floor.
“If there is one person who truly bleeds orange and blue, it is him (Maloney),” said former OPRF forward Justin Cross.
Cross, a four-year Varsity team member, eventually became what Maloney referred to as the “vocal leader” of the team.
After tearing his meniscus during January of his junior year, Cross was benched for the rest of the season. “When I first learned I was hurt, I was devastated,” said Cross.
However, Maloney helped Cross stay engaged by teaching him while he was still on the bench and treating him as an assistant coach. Cross led by Maloney’s example: loud on the court, taking the lead during workout sessions, and giving his team undivided attention. “I really learned more about what goes on on the court and how to step into that leadership role” Cross said.
Maloney shows his dedication by sacrificing his own time for the team, even beyond practice: he would spend lunch breaks watching old games and taking diligent notes.
Cross said, “he put a lot of time into game preparation, whether it was watching film, talking to coaches, getting tips from other coaches. The amount of time he took to improve the team was incredible.” Cross remembers a practice during his senior season when Maloney showed them the record of a two-hour phone call he had with another coach one afternoon.
Cross recalls a game he played as a freshman: he had never seen such a massive crowd when OPRF played former state champions, Curie, at Proviso East in the 2017 state playoffs. “The gym was just so loud,” Cross said, “with the amount of people there, we couldn’t hear anybody.” Cross came to appreciate Maloney’s idea to create play calling signs for that specific occasion.
Perhaps the most important factor that strengthened the bond between Maloney and Cross: their mutual love for the game. “Over four years we built a strong relationship…it just kept getting stronger as time passed” Cross said. “Maloney loves talking about the game, and I love the game too. Talking to him about baseketball, and also just talking about what’s going on in life, was key to building our bond.”
Cross is one of many students who Maloney had an impact on beyond making him a better player. Maloney stepped down this summer to spend more time with his family, as well as pursue a second Master’s degree.
After stepping down, Maloney said he received a “flood” of phone calls and texts messages from former players. “I was overwhelmed emotionally,” Maloney said, “as a head coach especially, you can sometimes feel like you are on an island and that it can be a thankless job, and you don’t know the impact that you have. I think that if you do it right, you won’t know the impact until people leave. If you do it right and you do it well, people will see it as they’re being challenged and they’re being pushed outside of their comfort zone, but it is in those times of discomfort that you grow the most. Oftentimes when some of my players get to college, whether they are playing or not, they then start to realize the true impact…. I have players that will text me and say, ‘I didn’t get in then, but I get it now. Thank you.’”
As for Cross, he believes Maloney’s impact on him will extend beyond the court. “I was able to grow and develop leadership skills that I will carry with me into adulthood,” Cross said. “I will always be grateful for that.” Cross will continue his basketball career at Woodstock Academy, a prep school in Woodstock, Connecticut. He is hoping to spend a year at Woodstock Academy and then go on to play college basketball.