I tossed out a tried-and-true question: Is there someone he models his coaching after?
“I look at it almost like a Frankenstein,” Khaliq said. “You become a Frankensteinian coach, you implement parts of everybody you had in the past. I don’t think you try to emulate anybody you don’t know. If I haven’t met or talked to a coach, I don’t emulate them. I don’t emulate someone I see. But someone I’ve played for, worked with, even assistant coaches I’ve had have been able to provide wisdom, you implement things to bring to your own philosophy.”
I’m hesitant to use the cheesy transition of labeling North Side as Frankenstein’s monster, but Khaliq’s talented coaching touch has built a complete and formidable Legends team now in a position North Side hasn’t seen since 1965.
North Side (27-2) will play Indianapolis Ben Davis (22-5) for the Class 4A state title at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The last time North went to state, the legendary By Hey was at the helm, and the then-Redskins lost to Indianapolis Washington. Even for those old enough to have been there, the memories remain in sepia tone at best. It was another era, a different time, but one constant remains. As that ’65 team reflected Hey, so does this year’s North Side team reflect Khaliq.
Khaliq is a fast talker, words flowing in fresh, insightful bursts. His team, likewise, plays with unrestrained energy and a positive vibe. They’re quick thinkers, quick movers, with confidence built through practice and preparation.
“All coaches mold themselves on what they’ve gained and what they’ve gone through,” Khaliq said. “You keep what you like and get rid of what you don’t like.
“I tell my players, I’ve been blessed being a kid that played and being a kid that sat,” Khaliq continued. “I can relate to kids who are 12th (on the roster) and those who aren’t. I can help them understand they’re a valuable part of our success and that contributes to our culture and guys staying positive and supporting each other.”
Khaliq, 38, played basketball and graduated from North Side in 1996, then went on to study and play at Earlham College. His Earlham College coach, Tony Gary, went on to coach at Bishop Luers, where he offered Khaliq a spot on his staff. Those two years convinced Khaliq that teaching and coaching was his calling.
Khaliq also coached a year at Luers under James Blackmon, then spent two years as an assistant under Keith Edmonds at Elmhurst. Khaliq took over as head coach at Elmhurst for two years. After the school was closed, he was hired to coach at North Side. He teaches history.
Coaching at your old high school can be exhilarating and daunting. You already know the good and the bad, and what it feels like to have high expectations.
Khaliq has led North to a 124-43 record in seven seasons. He was 30-13 in two years at Elmhurst.
“If Elmhurst would have stayed open, I would have been content,” Khaliq said. “You ask me, where would you want to go? Obviously, you’d want to go home. I was blessed with the opportunity and we took the vision we were trying to establish at Elmhurst and implemented it at North Side. It’s been a process. We had ups and downs early. After the first two or three years, we established the identity and culture we wanted and we have had success because of it.”
Khaliq was part of the 1995 North Side team that was the last to win a regional before this year’s squad. He grew up hearing the exploits of the By Hey years, and seeing and being a part of some solid teams under Glenn Heaton.
Khaliq knows what it would mean to a North Side alum to see the team win a boys basketball state championship. No Fort Wayne Community Schools team has won a state title since Northrop in 1974. Snider was the last to compete in Class 4A in 2009.
The added dimension of having played at North Side made winning the semistate last Saturday burst with extra emotion for Khaliq.
“I was excited for our guys and elated for our school,” Khaliq said. “You look at the rich tradition we have, and the amount of alumni support we’ve had through this run has been great. We’re proud to represent North Side and Fort Wayne Community Schools and have a chance to bring a state title to Fort Wayne.”
Khaliq has a roster full of tremendous players. Senior Jaylen Butz is headed to DePaul University next year. Sophomore Keion Brooks is being heavily recruited. The talent runs deep with Juan Quarles, Brandan Johnson, and Devontae Kinnie, among others.
That talented group built a 19-point lead heading into the fourth quarter of its semistate win against Merrillville, but squandered a good chunk of it as the lead slipped to six points late.
“That was the most intense moment that I’ve had (as a coach),” Khaliq said.
Yet the coach’s relative calm ultimately carried over, and the Legends got the job done.
“If you prepare yourself for this moment and this opportunity, it shouldn’t be too big,” Khaliq said. “It should be what you expect. We played with a sold-out crowd at Huntington, we played in a hostile environment at South Bend Riley, a sold-out crowd in the (SAC) holiday tournament. We call it our environment."
Khaliq said he imagined his team was fully capable of playing for a state title, and winning it, and that’s the message he’s tried to ingrain.
“The opportunity you have,” Khaliq said, “is the opportunity you wanted.”
Khaliq created the culture and molded a winner. It’s time for his latest creation to put on one last show.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Class 4A state championship
Tipoff: North Side vs. Ben Davis, 8:15 p.m. Saturday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
TV: Fox Sports Indiana