Standing outside the North Side locker room following an overtime defeat to Wayne in early-January, you could tell that Shabaz Khaliq was unhappy.
The Redskins head coach challenged his team to play harder, called them out for being lazy and not playing to their potential. North Side had dropped to 5-5 overall and 1-2 in the SAC with the defeat, a team that has one of the most talented rosters in the area was playing mediocre basketball.
A half hour passed with no end to Khaliq's speech. Then assistant coach Mitch Sturm took over. Then former North Side star Vernard Hollins.
All of them had the same message: You are better than this.
Fast-forward to Friday night, where North Side clinched its first SAC championship since the 2005-2006 season with a 72-65 defeat of host Bishop Dwenger.
The title coincided with Northrop's one-point loss to Concordia Lutheran just over a mile away. All three teams finished with 5-2 league records, but North Side's wins over both the Bruins and the Cadets earns the Redskins the championship.
The turnaround began that first Friday of 2013.
“We have changed our mental approach to how we do things,” Khaliq said when asked what has clicked for his team. “It does not matter how good you are, if you don't do the little things, you are going to lose.”
The Redskins (10-5), winners of five straight games, have gotten contributions from a mix of young and old alike. Senior C.J. Jackson, the prolific quarterback for the Redskins, does not put up big offensive numbers but brings toughness and leadership to a team that has just a pair of upperclassmen.
Khaliq also decided to dress some younger junior varsity players in order to get some energy on the bench.
“We brought up some guys that are just happy to be in a varsity uniform and are cheerleaders,” Khaliq said. “Our timeouts are now full of chest bumping and talking up our guys. The whole mentality for us has shifted in the right direction.”
Many people counted the Redskins out of the SAC race after losing two of their first three league games, but a victory at Concordia gave them life. Three more conference victories has given North Side a championship.
“We were dead and buried (in the SAC race), but we came back to life because we refused to be dead and buried,” Khaliq said. “Our kids have bought in.”
Immediately following Friday's win, North Side coaches and players waited nervously for someone to find out a final from Northrop. As word began to trickle down, the mood changed to one of elation.
“In the locker room our guys kept talking about how now the team picture will be on the wall (outside By Hey Arena) for winning a title,” Khaliq said. “We have talked about the history and tradition of this program and how it is a blessed opportunity to wear a North Side jersey.
“Now, our guys are leaving a legacy. They can come back with their families and point to the picture and talk about it. This was big for them.”
Khaliq also hopes his team is not content.
“Our team picture is on the wall, but the writing underneath the picture isn't there yet,” Khaliq said. “We need to stay focused because we are in a very difficult sectional.
“But we are going to enjoy this for a little bit.”