If you’re a big high school basketball fan, go ahead and stop reading.
No, really. I’m not kidding. Just stop.
There may be some of you who truly love the high school game, who simply want to be in a high school gym on a winter night. You’ll take in any local rivalry game or a holiday tournament no matter who’s playing.
But for the majority of the high school basketball diehards in this state, with no affiliation to a certain school, it’s been about the super talent the state has produced.
It’s been about that player everyone is talking about and needing to get out and see, whether it was at Proviso West or Pontiac at Christmas time, some shootout in January or February or in Champaign or Peoria the final weekend of the season.
It’s about being able to watch a legacy begin to grow for many of those players and, ultimately, applying a historical perspective in regard to their individual talents.
Ronnie Fields or Jamie Brandon as a high school senior? Was the talent in the Class of 1998 better than the Class of 1979? And, while they were in high school, wondering if Darius Miles, Eddy Curry and Shaun Livingston really were one-and-done players like Kevin Garnett?
If this weren’t the case then high school basketball would be a much bigger deal in other states with far less talent than Illinois.
So if what has captured your fancy in following prep hoops over the years is getting out and seeing the next generation of college stars, or, in some cases, bonafide, no-doubt-about-it pros while they were still just local high school stars –– and you’re still reading this –– prepare yourself for one glum report.
Anyone who has a clue about high school basketball in this state understands the importance uber-talent has on fans while recognizing the impact it’s had on the sport over the decades. Producing great talent has led to attractive storylines, including unforgettable individual performances, high-level, much-talked about high school teams, and the always fun-to-follow recruiting wars we’ve found so intriguing and appealing over the years.
The recently graduated Class of 2016 was very forgettable. It didn’t feature a McDonald’s All-American, included just one consensus top 100 talent and was very short on Division I talent in terms of sheer numbers.
In the 20 years I’ve “officially” covered the high school basketball scene as editor/publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, the Class of 2016 is the second weakest class of talent I’ve seen in those two decades. (Sorry, Class of 2012, you’re still the most forgettable.)
But the bummer crop in a particular class happens. And everyone who follows the game accepts it, albeit reluctantly.
We agree the random weak class is just a blip on the radar and we move on. We wait for the next batch of players. This is Illinois after all, a high school basketball hotbed where Chicago, the suburbs and even parts across the state have churned out must-see prep hoops stars for over half a century.
But what we’re seeing right now is different. The overall talent level is considerably down in multiple classes, stretching years. That’s plural, folks.
Yes, it’s easy to pick on a class and finger point when there isn’t a Shaun Livingston, Derrick Rose, Evan Turner, Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker or Jahlil Okafor. Those are six players who, from 2004 to 2014, went No. 4, No. 1, No. 1, No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 in the NBA Draft, respectively –– either right out of high school (Livingston) or 12 months later (the others).
That number right there –– six players from Illinois in a 10-year period who were all top four picks in the NBA Draft ––is incredible. It’s likely never to happen again.
In the 19 years leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft, from 1997 to 2015, we’ve had 28 former prep players from Illinois drafted in the NBA’s first round, including at least one player from this state in 17 of 19 drafts.
But forget those super, no-brainer talents for a minute. We don’t even have a Tyler Ulis (a second-round pick this past season) or a Jalen Brunson, a pair of guards who were McDonald’s All-Americans.
Where are the Chasson Randles and the Ryan Boatrights? Those two were in the same class as current NBA players Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky back in 2011.
Where are the Keita Bates-Diops? And though Cliff Alexander’s college career fizzled quickly, it sure was fun getting out and watching him play at Curie during his senior year. Think about that Class of 2014 for a minute: Jahlil Okafor, Alexander, Ulis and Bates-Diop all in one class as top 30 prospects nationally.
In 31 McDonald’s All-American Games played from 1978 to 2008 there was at least one player from Illinois in the game. You read that right –– a McDonald’s All-American every single year for three decades. And in 22 of the 31 years there were multiple McDonald’s All-Americans from Illinois.
That noteworthy run ended in 2009; the state didn’t have a representative in the 2009 game. The state didn’t produce a Burger Boy in 2012 or 2016. And there was only one player each in 2010, 2013 and 2015. That’s a seismic shift in top-level talent from the previous three decades of the McDonald’s All-American game.
Thankfully, Jeremiah Tilmon returned to East St. Louis and is at least will be in position to be a McDonald’s All-American in 2017, because there wasn’t a chance otherwise.
Right now the Class of 2018 has only one player, Morgan Park’s Ayo Dosunmu, ranked among the top 50 in the country. The 6-3 point guard is ranked No. 20 by scout.com and No. 21 by rivals.com. At this point that’s certainly no guarantee for a McDonald’s All-American game invite, though Dosunmu is currently on the right track.
By the time the Class of 2018 graduates, it’s not inconceivable to say our state will have had just 10 McDonald’s All-Americans in the 10 years from 2009 to 2018 –– and that’s presuming Tilmon and Dosunmu both make it.
By contrast, there’s never been a 10 year stretch where there has been less than 16 McDonald’s All-Americans from Illinois. The high-water mark was from 1979 to 1988 when Illinois produced a whopping 21 McDonald’s All-Americans.
The talent drought in Illinois has been felt everywhere.
The three main shoe sponsored club basketball programs in Illinois –– Mac Irvin Fire, Meanstreets and Illinois Wolves –– had their struggles this spring and summer. In their respective Nike and Under Armour “shoe leagues,” the three 17U teams went a combined 17-28.
Meanstreets, which finished with an overall record of 9-8, did qualify for the Peach Jam in July, losing to the eventual Peach Jam camp MoKan, 99-66.
To make matters worse, for the first time in club basketball history our three shoe sponsored teams’ best player on each team wasn’t even from Illinois.
Meanstreets was led by top 15 national talent Brian Bowen, who plays for La Lumiere in Indiana. Michigan recruit Jordan Poole from Milwaukee led the Mac Irvin Fire, while Isaiah Coleman-Lands, a point guard from La Lumiere, was the top player for the Wolves.
If all this statistical data isn’t enough, there is the eye test. Believe me, I’m the last one who wants to highlight such a significant drop in basketball talent in this state. But it’s here and it’s pretty significant.
While it’s not safe to fully judge a class too early, it’s easy for me to see there are fewer calls and inquiries from college coaches. It’s also easy to make this declarative statement: high school basketball talent in the city and state has been and continues to be down.
I don’t want to leave you basketball savants feeling all blue. There is some good news, which we’ll talk about in tomorrow’s column.
NBA Draft history for Illinois prep players
Amazingly, for 22 years –– from 1987 to 2008 ––there was only one year where an Illinois prep product wasn’t selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. However, since 2008 there have been three years where the NBA Draft’s first round didn’t include a player from Illinois.
In addition, there isn’t a player from Illinois projected to go in the first round in any 2017 NBA mock drafts or any 2018 NBA mock drafts. If those projections hold up, that would mean Illinois would be absent from three straight NBA Draft first rounds (2016, 2017, 2018) and four of the last six.
Here is a look at where Illinois players were selected in the first round of the NBA Draft over the past 35 years.
1981 – Mark Aguirre (Westinghouse) No. 1; Isiah Thomas (St. Joseph) No. 2
1982 – Terry Cummings (Carver) No. 2
1983 – Russell Cross (Manley) No. 6
1984 – None
1985 – Alfredrick Hughes (Robeson) No. 14; Uwe Blab (Effingham) No. 17
1986 – None
1987 – Ken Norman (Crane) No. 19
1988 – Hersey Hawkins (Westinghouse) No. 6
1989 – Nick Anderson (Simeon) No. 11; Tim Hardaway (Carver) No. 14; Byron Irvin (Julian) No. 22: Kenny Battle (West Aurora) No. 27
1990 – Kendall Gill (Rich Central) No. 5
1991 – Shaun Vandiver (Romeoville) No. 25
1992 – LaPhonso Ellis (East St. Louis Lincoln) No. 5
1993 – Acie Earl (Moline) No. 19
1994 – Juwan Howard (Vocational) No. 5; Deon Thomas (Simeon) No. 28
1995 – Kevin Garnett (Farragut) No. 1; Michael Finley (Proviso East) No. 21; Sherrel Ford (Proviso East) No. 26
1996 – None
1997 – Anthony Parker (Naperville Central) No. 21
1998 – Keon Clark (Danville) No. 13
1999 – Corey Maggette (Fenwick) No. 13; Leon Smith (King) No. 29
2000 – Darius Miles (East St. Louis) No. 3; Quentin Richardson (Young) No. 18
2001 – Eddy Curry (Thornwood) No. 4; Steven Hunter (Proviso East) No. 15
2002 – Melvin Ely (Thornton) No. 12; Frank Williams (Peoria Manual) No. 25
2003 – Dwyane Wade (Richards) No. 5; Brian Cook (Lincoln) No. 24
2004 – Shaun Livingston (Peoria Central) No. 4; Andre Igoudala (Springfield Lanphier) No. 9; Tony Allen (Crane) No. 25
2005 – Luther Head (Manley) No. 24
2006 – Shannon Brown (Proviso East) No. 25
2007 – Julian Wright (Homewood-Flossmoor) No. 13; Alando Tucker (Lockport) No. 29
2008 – Derrick Rose (Simeon) No. 1; JaVale McGee (Hales Franciscan) No. 18
2009 – None
2010 – Evan Turner (St. Joseph) No. 2
2011 – Iman Shumpert (Oak Park-River Forest) No. 17
2012 – Anthony Davis (Perspectives) No. 1; Meyers Leonard (Robinson) No. 11
2013 – None
2014 – Jabari Parker (Simeon) No. 2
2015 – Jahlil Okafor (Young); No. 3; Frank Kaminsky (Benet) No. 9
2016 – None
2017 – There are no Illinois products in any first-round mock NBA Drafts
2018 – There are no Illinois products in any first-round mock NBA Drafts