As the 1971-72 high school basketball season unfolded there was a sense something special was happening. Thornridge, led by the legendary Quinn Buckner, was in the midst of a memorable and dominant run that culminated with a second straight state championship and 58-game win streak.
That Falcons team was immediately placed on a pedestal and labeled the state’s greatest high school basketball team. After finishing 33-0 while averaging 87.5 points a game and beating every opponent it played by at least 14 points, including a 104-69 romp over Quincy in the state championship, there wasn’t much left to debate.
But the fact that iconic Thornridge team is still so revered and categorically recognized as the greatest high school basketball team in state history still today, 45 years later, is even more impressive and remarkable.
“I never dreamed we would still be talking about this so many years later,” says Greg Rose, who scored 26 points in the 1972 state championship game. “It’s incredible and a blessing.”
Buckner was the big name and most talented player. But more than that he was the leader who brought inspiration and competitiveness. Buckner, who starred at Indiana and enjoyed a 10-year NBA career, is one of only seven players in history to win an NCAA championship, NBA championship and an Olympic Gold Medal.
Buckner, Rose, the great Boyd Batts and their teammates –– Ernie Dunn, Mike Bonczyk, Bill “Nee” Gatlin, Tony “Grubbs” Jackson, James “Pook” Loggins, Mark McClain and Mike “Duck” Henry –– will be recognized and honored Thursday night before the Thornridge-Thornton game. Thornridge will retire the 10 jersey numbers of those players who were prominent fixtures on both state championship teams.
“That great team has never been honored in any way,” says current Thornridge coach and 1974 alum Rocky Hill. “We said, ‘You know what? This needs to happen.'”
Hill was part of a committee that helped put the ceremony together and bring back all of the Thornridge legends from 1972. There will be a meet-and-greet reception at 4:30 p.m., followed by a ceremony between the sophomore and varsity games.
“It’s going to be great to see those guys,” says Rose, who now splits his time living between California and Las Vegas. “I feel so honored.”
Ernie Dunn, a key figure on that 1972 team who now lives in Houston, says he’s “shocked” at how that team is still remembered today.
“I can’t tell you the amount of people who I talk with from around the country who remembers that team,” says Dunn. “Different conversations I have will ultimately turn to Quinn Buckner and those Thornridge teams, and I’m always shocked how many people will remember and bring it up. It’s flattering to be a part of that.”
Hill was a member of the sophomore team at Thornridge during the state championship run of 1972. He still can vividly recall the aura surrounding that team.
“They were a traveling road show,” says Hill of coach Ron Ferguson’s must-see team. “We would come out for pre-game warmups for the sophomore game and it would already be a standing-room only crowd, both home and away.”
Now Thornridge hopes to fill the gym again in honoring the best team in Illinois prep basketball history.
“The spirit of that team will never go away,” says Hill. “It’s a landmark team that this entire community remembers. We think it’s going to be a slam dunk night.”