By Joe Henricksen
Everyone loves to discuss and debate the prep basketball classes that come through Illinois. Is it a good year for in-
state talent? Where does the class rank among all-time great classes? We all can pick out the top classes as we
look back on them, starting with the deep and talented Class of 1998. That class remains the best the Hoops Report
Sure, we can debate. The 1978 class featured Mark Aguirre, a future NBA No. 1 pick. It also had Craig Hodges,
Mitchell Anderson, Perry Range and Kevin Stallings, who all went on to have stellar careers after high school. In
1979 Isiah Thomas, Darrell Walker and Kevin Bontempts graduated together. The 1980 class was top-heavy and
had Russell Cross and Doc Rivers, followed by Voise Winters, Walter Downing, Jeff Hornacek and Michael Payne
in the Class of 1981.
But no class has ever had a combination of top talent at the top and depth throughout as the Class of 1998. The
stars at the top — Quentin Richardson, Corey Maggette and Frank Williams — all had brilliant post-high school
careers. All three were NBA first-round picks. And although Williams’ star faded quickly, he had a terrific career at
Illinois. But that class also included the likes of Bobby Simmons, who is still playing in the NBA, Michael Wright (a
star at Arizona), Lance Williams (DePaul), Lucas Johnson (Illinois), Damir Krupalija (Illinois), Kevin Frey (Xavier),
Dennis Gates (Cal), Cordell Henry (Marquette) and Joey Range to name only a few. Even the lesser-knowns like
Henry Domercant, who was one of the nation’s leading scorers while at Eastern Illinois, was in the Class of 1998.
The list of Division I standouts goes on and on.
No one, however, talks about the worst classes that have come and gone through Illinois. This story does, ranking
the four most talent-starved classes in the last 30 years. Is there a recent class that could — or should — be
mentioned in this group?
4) Class of 1999 …. I will say this class had size — and some players that have turned out to be quality college
assistant coaches. Thank goodness Lincoln’s Brian Cook and Proviso East’s Steven Hunter made it to the NBA.
Those two saved the class. Remember King’s Leon Smith? Those were three players all 6-11 of taller who had
high hopes, with Hunter and Cook both making millions. Elgin’s Sean Harrington (Illinois) and Mount Vernon’s Kent
Williams (Southern Illinois) had productive college careers. But those two were top five players in this class! The
other top players in this class included the likes of Peoria Central’s Jerrance Howard, Plano’s Brad Korn, Proviso
East’s Perry Smith, Rockford Boylan’s Joe Tulley, DeSales’ Jerrell Parker, Evanston’s Karlton Mims, Bloom’s C.C.
Malone, Stagg’s Joe Scott, Westinghouse’s David Bailey and Peoria Manual’s Marlon Brooks.
3) Class of 1983 …. The big name that came out of this class was Kevin Gamble of Springfield Lanphier. He starred
at Iowa and had a decent career in the NBA. The drop after Gamble is rapid. Marty Simmons of Lawrenceville was
Mr. Basketball. His career at Indiana was hardly glorious. Len Bertolini of St. Patrick? Hardly a household name in
the history of prep basketball in Illinois. Tony Reeder of St. Joe’s and Tom Schafer of Jacobs were among the top
players, both of which struggled in their college careers. And Eric Kumerow of Oak Park had a fantastic career —
2) Class of 1995 …. This class is easy to look past — and completely forget if not for Kevin Garnett transferring in
for his senior year to star at Farragut. First, though, there were some underrated players in this class that
bossomed, such as Tolono’s Brian Cardinal (at Purdue), Brother Rice’s Rico Hill (at Illinois State) and Kenwood’s
Nazr Mohammed (at Kentucky). Overall, though, the class was brutal. Joliet’s Gary Bell was the headliner while in
high school. Other all-staters in this class included Billy Donlon of Glenbrook North, Nate Fox of Plainfield, Matt
Moran of Pekin, Kyle Cartmill at Quincy and Willie Coleman at Peoria Manual.
1) Class of 1989 …. The biggest name? Deon Thomas of Simeon, who did go on to become the all-time leading
scorer in Fighting Illini history. While he was Mr. Basketball and had a terrific college career, he was barely a blip on
the radar in his NBA career before starring overseas. The rest of the class formed, arguably, the worst group of
seniors. Tommy Michael of Caryle and Chris Reynolds of Peoria Central played and contributed at Illinois and
Indiana, respectively, but that’s about as good as it gets. The top players in the class — Tim Geers of DeLaSalle,
Juvon McGarry of Evanston, Todd Leslie of Fremd, Deryl Cunningham of St. Joe’s and Mike Hughes of Peoria
Central — didn’t do much of anything at the collegiate level.