DEPUE — Charlie Klinefelter dresses for success when he comes to the office to coach the DePue Little Giants, whether it be in his orange-tipped shoes or a colorful sport coat or tie.
The Little Giants followed their coach’s outlook on life in the way they play the game. They had one of their best years in decades this past season, winning their first 19 games of the year on the way to a 26-5 finish, including a regional championship.
Attire aside, more for his leadership and taking his team to the next step, Klinefelter is the BCR Boys Basketball Coach of the Year for the 2016-17 season.
The DePue coach, best known as Chef Charlie as culinary director at Pleasant View Lutheran Life Community in Ottawa, jokes his players do take notice what he is wearing game days, and they like it.
“They always tell me, ‘Coach, nobody can dress like you, man,’” Klinefelter said with a laugh.
He believes being a well-dressed man goes a long way, in that you’re only as good as you look.
“I always make them wear a tie when they go to school (on game days). I tell them it shows respect for your school and shows respect for the sport,” Klinefelter said. “I’ve got respect for the sport because if you don’t have pride in what you’re doing, then sometimes you just go out there and just compete. I think that’s some of the mentality I changed when I took over. Before it was OK to lose. Now it’s not. It hurts to lose.”
And as well as the Little Giants did this season, starting 19-0, winning their first regional championship since 1990 and winning the most games at DePue since Eric Bryant’s 1980 Sweet 16 team (27-3), it hurt when they lost to Newark 62-42 in the sectional semifinals.
It hurt a lot.
“l tell the guys, you have to seize the opportunity when it’s there. We had the great year this year. Even up to the regional, I said, people can still beat you, no matter what you did all year; nothing’s given. Because next year we could have injuries, or whatever. You got to do it when you have the chance,” Klinefelter said.
“Next year, you have a little chip on your shoulders that there’s expectations there, so now you have to live up to those expectations. And hopefully that’s why they’ll work even a little harder and try to do even better.”
Being there this year, will help them get back next year, Klinefelter said.
“They have a little taste of what it’s like. I know we went over to the sectional against Newark, a team that’s been there seven or eight times. They didn’t have any fear in themselves. We came out in the first quarter, and we were a little bit shell shocked. We kind of regrouped a little bit, but got ourselves in a hole. Being there now, I think they know what it feels like. I know they love that feel of winning, and I love seeing them win.”
The Little Giants’ success brought sexy back to basketball in DePue this year, a town full of pride in its basketball program.
“Now we’re seeing all these kids on the basketball court where we never saw them there. The courts are packed now,” said Klinefelter, a 1977 graduate of DePue. “Even after we won their regional, I saw about six or seven eighth-graders that were there and said, ‘Coach we’re ready for the summer already.’
“If you know DePue, they used to be a big basketball town. They love their basketball and the history we’ve had from way in the past. I think we lit a fire there, so hopefully we can hold on to them for a while.”
Klinefelter said he has a group of really good kids, and they all work well together. And even though he may dress flashy, the kids know he means business.
“I’m hard on them because I demand a lot of respect from them and a lot of discipline. And sometimes they’re not used to that,” he said. “But after they get to know me, ‘Oh yeah, that’s just coach, man, you got to get used to that.’”
“He’s a great coach; he wants the best for us,” junior ring-leader Rafa Puga said. “He’s always pushing us to be respectful young men. He knows what we got in us, but wants us to do better because he can see our potential.”
When it comes to picking out his wardrobe for next season, Klinefelter is going to think twice about sporting those orange-tipped shoes
“I might throw them out. We lost to Roanoke and Marquette when I wore them,” he said, laughing.
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