This is Part II in recognizing the 18 most decorated high school players in Illinois in the modern era, beginning with the two-class system in 1972, with certain requirements (see below). Part I, which highlighted the first nine players, can be read HERE.
Forget for a moment all the post-high school success of the great players who have been produced in Illinois.
Forget that Dwyane Wade, a Richards graduate, became a NBA all-star and both a world and Olympic champion.
Forget that Chicago Perspectives product Anthony Davis won a title at Kentucky, was the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and is arguably one of the five most talented basketball players on the planet right now.
While their prep careers are still fresh in your mind, go ahead and forget Simeon star Derrick Rose’s run to the Final Four with Memphis, being a top pick in the NBA Draft and the youngest player ever named MVP in the NBA, and eliminate the recent success and buzz about Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young, who just won a NCAA Tournament title and is a potential No. 1 pick in this June’s NBA Draft.
Lets focus only on the high school basketball résumé of this state’s most memorable players.
Who are the most decorated and accomplished players in state history?
And where does current state champion and McDonald’s All-American Jalen Brunson fall on that list?
What inevitably happens with lists like this is people forget to read the qualifications and exactly what the list pertains to, thus there will be a half dozen “Are you kidding me? … Where is Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields? This list is stupid!” responses to the list.
Here is a look at the potential list, a historical perspective, with the only real requirement –– an absolute must –– being that each player had to have won at least one state championship. Without a state championship, the high school résumé is incomplete.
As a result, many of the state’s greats aren’t included on this list, including the aforementioned Fields and Garnett, as well as the likes of Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre, Nick Anderson, Howard Nathan, Eddy Curry and several others who never won a state championship.
With more access to player accomplishments through social media, the Internet, Twitter, national rankings and awards, along with simply more banter and conversation, it’s also easier and more favorable to build a long-lasting and impressive résumé in the past 10 to 15 years than it was in the 1970s and 1980s –– or even the 1990s, for that matter
Again, this is not about being the absolute best player in state histoy, just the most accomplished and decorated. The first nine players were highlighted yesterday. Here are the next nine, listed alphabetically, since the beginning of the two-class era in 1972, players from Illinois with the most impressive prep basketball résumés.
A final ranking of these finalists will be published Thursday.
■ Marcus Liberty, King (1987)
The case for: Before there was mass media exposure given to high school players or any Internet access, Liberty emerged as a star on his own as the multi-faceted 6-8 forward was profiled in Sports Illustrated as the top-ranked senior player in the country. Liberty, who was a McDonald’s All-American and the Parade Player of the Year, was a basketball legend in Illinois.
As a junior he led King to a state championship and 32-1 record, followed by a return trip to the state championship game his senior year, where it fell to LaPhonso Ellis and East St. Louis Lincoln in the final. But in that title game, Liberty left a memorable impression by scoring 41 points and pulling down 15 rebounds. He set what was, at the time, a state tournament scoring record with 143 points in four games.
■ Shaun Livingston, Peoria Central (2004)
The case for: Throughout his high school career he was the rare breed as a 6-7 pure point guard. He was a player who fans across the state wanted to see as the hype built over his final two seasons.
But Livingston became synonymous with winning while becoming a prep legend. As a junior and senior at Peoria Central, Livingston led the Lions to a remarkable 62-3 record and back-to-back state championships. During his senior year he averaged 18.5 points, six rebounds and six assists a game.
Livingston, who won Mr. Basketball in Illinois his senior year, was co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game, was a consensus top five prospect in the country in 2004 and the No. 1 ranked point guard. He made the jump from high school to the pros, after committing to Duke, where he was the No. 4 overall pick of the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2004 NBA Draft.
■ Sergio McClain, Peoria Manual (1997)
The case for: Regarded as the heart-and-soul during his four years at Manual while the program won four straight state championships. As a senior, McClain, a three-time all-stater, was named the 1997 Mr. Basketball award winner.
The case against McClain for being on the list would be his overall numbers as the 6-4 do-it-all never did put up eye-popping offensive numbers, never averaging more than 18.5 points a game. But he was certainly a household name in Illinois prep basketball over a four-year period.
■ Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young (2014)
The case for: The consensus No. 1 player in the country and All-American as a senior in high school while winning multiple National Player of the Year honors, including the USA Today National Player of the Year, Parade Player of the Year and the Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year. Those are accomplishments that are rare for any player.
As a senior, though, he added what was missing: leading Young to a state championship. He did so in impressive fashion. In an Illinois prep classic, a state semifinal win over Stevenson in 2014, Okafor had 33 points and 14 rebounds. He also had 35 points and 13 rebounds in a sectional win over St. Rita.
He won multiple gold medals for Team USA in 2011, 2012 and 2013, earning MVP honors at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championships.
Okafor, who won a Public League championship as a junior, was named MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and was the 2014 Illinois Mr. Basketball winner and the 2013 Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year.
In 2012, Sports Illustrated named Okafor one of the magazine’s “Future Game Changers,” a group of 14 young star athletes considered to be the top talents in each of their respective sport.
■ Jabari Parker, Simeon (2013)
The case for: It starts with winning four straight state championships, something only the boys down at Peoria Manual accomplished back in the 1990s. He was MVP of the FIBA Americas U16 Championship, where he won a gold medal in 2012 and 2013. That’s Parker’s biggest résumé builder as he was the ultimate winner.
But you’re also talking about a high school player who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, with the headline “The Best High School Basketball Player Since Lebron James” and had a sitdown with Katie Couric on Good Morning America. You can certainly argue Parker was the most hyped player in state history.
For much of his high school career he was the No. 1 ranked player in the country, finishing as the consensus No. 3 ranked player in the country as a senior. He was a two-time Gatorade National Player of the Year, received the Morgan Wooten Award in 2013 and was a McDonald’s All-American as a senior. Parker was the co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic all-star game.
In addition, Parker is the only player in Illinois to ever be named Mr. Basketball as a junior in high school –– and is the only two-time winner in state history –– while also winning Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year.
■ Derrick Rose, Simeon (2007)
The case for: Won back-to-back state championships during his junior and senior years, becoming the first Chicago Public League team to ever win consecutive titles. Simeon finished the year as the No. 6 team in the country by USA Today.
Rose had monumental individual performances during his career, including a last-second overtime basket to beat Peoria Richwoods in a state championship game his junior year. He also had a signature moment with 28 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds over Oak Hill Academy, the nation’s No. 1 ranked team that finished 40-1 on the season.
A consensus top five player in the country in a loaded class nationally and the top-ranked point guard in the country in 2008. Rose was the Mr. Basketball winner and Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year in 2008.
■ Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North (2006)
The case for: The legend began when he led a no-named Glenbrook North team to the Elite Eight as a freshman, leading the Spartans in scoring with 15 points a game.
As a junior in 2005, Scheyer led Glenbrook North to a 32-2 record and a state championship. That came after scoring 48 points in the super-sectional. Then there is the legendary game at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, where he scored 21 points in 75 seconds that will forever be talked about.
While Scheyer wasn’t a top 20 player in the country, he was a McDonald’s All-American and had a cult-like following during his high school days in Illinois. But it’s his high school numbers and production that elevates his status; Scheyer was an Illinois high school icon who filled gyms. As a senior he averaged an attention-grabbing 32 points and 5 assists a game and, people forget, finished his career as the state’s fourth all-time leading scorer with 3,034.
■ Marty Simmons, Lawrenceville (1983)
The case for: The current head coach at Evansville, Simmons was one of the most celebrated players in state history, even while playing outside the Chicago area and in an era without Internet highlights and websites. His legend grew as he led Class A Lawrenceville to back-to-back-state titles and unprecedented 34-0 records in consecutive seasons. The 68 straight wins became a legendary mark in state basketball history, breaking the Quincy mark of 64 straight wins.
Simmons, who averaged 34 points a game in four state tournament games in 1983, scored a ridiculous 1,087 points during his senior year and finished his career with a whopping 2,986 career points. He was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois in 1983. Simmons also had a signature moment in a state quarterfinal win over Providence St. Mel. In the 56-54 win, Simmons scored 43 points, including all 23 of Lawrenceville’s second half points and 33 of its final 35.
■ Frank Williams, Peoria Manual (1998)
The case for: Early in his career he joined up with Manual teammates Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin to win three state championships in his first three years of high school. Although he didn’t win a fourth title as a senior, Williams became an even bigger name statewide. He was a McDonald’s All-American and was named Mr. Basketball for the state of Illinois in 1998.
As a senior, he averaged 24 points, 8 rebounds and six assists a game, playing with flare and putting together one memorable week of basketball that made headlines. He scored 40 points against Farragut, 42 against East St. Louis and 38 against Proviso West in a memorable one-week span.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport