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Schwab: Roberts’ honor a long time in the making

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Jim Roberts has made a concerted effort to give the 2012-13 Batavia boys basketball team and its new coach, Jim Nazos, plenty of space to do their thing.

But the Bulldogs weren’t about to let their old coach disappear entirely from the spotlight.

On Saturday night, before Batavia plays De La Salle in the final game of the 20th annual Night of Hoops, Batavia will honor Jim Roberts and his wife, Sylvia, by renaming the event the “Jim and Sylvia Roberts Night of Hoops.”

It is a gesture that was lobbied for by Roberts’ former players after Roberts stepped down in April for family health reasons after 27 years as Batavia’s coach and caretaker of the program’s many deeply rooted traditions.

“It was definitely something that we said right when he retired, and as soon as we got a new coach in place, we talked to [Batavia athletic director Dave Andrews] about it and said we definitely want to honor him,” Batavia senior guard Mike Rueffer said. “And when we had a returners’ meeting with coach Naz, that was one of the first topics brought up by pretty much everyone, that we wanted to do something to honor Coach Roberts and what he’s done for the program.”

Using Night of Hoops as the forum through which to honor Roberts makes perfect sense. Not only is the event highly anticipated each year, but it was launched under Roberts’ watch, even though Roberts is quick to credit former Bulldogs star Corey Williams and former Proviso East coach Bill Hitt for advancing the original idea.

Roberts has intentionally kept his distance this winter. He said he has caught the Bulldogs on broadcasts, but has not attended Batavia’s games. He and Sylvia plan to be in attendance Saturday.

“It’s greatly appreciated that they would do something like that,” Roberts said. “It brings back a lot of memories for my wife and I. It’s just very nice of those guys to do that.”

Andrews said continuing Night of Hoops was never in question after Roberts stepped down, considering how much support the event has built during the past two decades. A who’s-who list of Illinois basketball programs have been part of the field, which debuted as a doubleheader before turning in to a tripleheader of sophomore and varsity matchups.

Simeon, St. Joe, Proviso East, King, Peoria Manual – name a revered basketball program in the state, and chances are it has paid homage to Batavia’s Night of Hoops.

Roberts’ impressive connections in the coaching fraternity played a key part in making that happen, but Andrews said he is confident the event will continue to carry cachet under Nazos.

“We have almost doubled our resources when it comes to having the contacts available because obviously Jim Roberts is still working in our building,” Andrews said. “Jim Roberts still works very closely with myself and Jim Nazos, and we have a very open line of communication.”

There’s no doubt having a coach who lived and breathed Batavia basketball like Roberts working in close proximity to his successor has the potential to be awkward. But Roberts clearly is on board with the Nazos era, a great thing for all involved.

“A guy like Jim Nazos, he understands what high school basketball is all about,” said Roberts, who won 455 games with the Bulldogs during his Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame career. “His record speaks for itself, and what he’s done. He’s embraced a lot of the traditions here at Batavia, and he’s doing a fine job.”

Andrews said “so far the returns are pretty huge” when it comes to alumni response to Saturday’s festivities.

Count Rueffer among the current Bulldogs who will be moved to see Roberts back in his natural habitat.

“I’m just going to have to call him Coach Roberts forever,” Rueffer said. “He’s never going to be Mr. Roberts to me. He’s always going to be coach Roberts.”

• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or jschwab@shawmedia.com.

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