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Curie’s Cliff Alexander screams with teammates after defeating Simeon.
Curie’s Cliff Alexander screams with teammates after defeating Simeon.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

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The best Illinois high school basketball players of the decade

Ranking the top 10 players in Illinois from the 2009-2010 season through the 2018-2019 season — and a few others that just missed. 

The 2010s era of prep basketball in Illinois came to an end last spring when the Class of 2019 graduated and moved on to the college ranks.

Looking back, the individual high-level talent that highlighted the past 10 years can stack up against any decade in Illinois high school basketball history. There was a stretch during the first half of the decade where the state was churning out generational talent, many who left their mark on the sport forever.

How about these decade highlights:

➤ There were three different players — Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor — who at one time were considered the top-ranked prospect in the country during their high school career.

➤ One year after graduating from high school, Davis went No. 1 in the NBA Draft, Parker went No. 2 and Okafor No. 3 in their respective draft classes.

➤ There were three players who went on to become college basketball’s National Player of the Year: Davis, Jalen Brunson and Frank Kaminsky.

➤ There were six players from the state who went on to become first-team college basketball All-Americans: Davis, Parker, Okafor, Kaminsky, Brunson and Tyler Ulis. Plus, Ethan Happ and Keita Bates-Diop were second-team All-Americans.

➤ Sports Illustrated recently released its college basketball All-Decade Team and included Davis on the first team, while Kaminsky, Okafor and Brunson all made the second team. Fred Van Vleet, who starred at Rockford Auburn, made the third team.

What this all says is that picking an Illinois All-Decade Team wasn’t easy, though the criteria is quite simple.

The first thing to keep in mind is this: All-Decade is about the overall high school career and the individual prep résumé these players put together. Thus, a bust at the next level really isn’t relevant (Jereme Richmond), nor is a late bloomer with a modest high school career who went on to become a star at the next level (Frank Kaminsky).

And while, yes, individual talent obviously matters, a winning pedigree and accomplishments do come into play.

In addition, another factor to consider is playing just one season in the decade. It’s a little more challenging for a potential player to be fully recognized and appreciated.

With that being said, here is the Illinois high school basketball All-Decade first and second teams.

FIRST TEAM

Jalen Brunson, Stevenson

Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson (15) lays in a reverse shot against Riverside-Brookfield.
Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson (15) lays in a reverse shot against Riverside-Brookfield.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

There are few players in state history with as decorated of a career as Brunson. The 6-2 guard’s record-breaking individual performance helped lead Stevenson to Peoria for three straight years, including winning a state championship as a senior.

He was selected as a McDonald’s All-American and won the state’s Mr. Basketball award.

Brunson also made an impact internationally. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2015 U19 World Championship as he led Team USA to a gold medal.

Brunson’s production and numbers were off the charts.

There were some individual magical moments throughout Brunson’s career, highlighted by the record-setting 56 points he scored in the state semifinals loss to Young as a junior. Brunson also scored 57 points in a big double overtime win over Lake Forest and 48 points in a matchup with Chaminade and Jayson Tatum in the Cancer Research Classic in West Virginia.

With his 2,682 career points, Brunson is among the top 20 all-time scorers in state history.

Post-high school career: In three seasons at Villanova, Brunson won a pair of national championships. As a junior he was named AP College Basketball Player of the Year, Naismith College Player of the Year and won the Wooden Award.

The Dallas Mavericks selected Brunson with the 33rd pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He averaged 9.3 points as a rookie last season.

EJ Liddell, Belleville West

Belleville West’s EJ Liddell (32) holds up three fingers after dropping one against Evanston in the Class 4A state championship.
Belleville West’s EJ Liddell (32) holds up three fingers after dropping one against Evanston in the Class 4A state championship.
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

The career Liddell put together is pretty remarkable. He produced in a big way and was the ultimate competitor.

A top 50 player nationally, Liddell was the top-ranked prospect in Illinois in the Class of 2019. He became just the second two-time Mr. Basketball winner in state history. As a senior he averaged 20.2 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 63 percent from the field. Plus, he was a difference-maker defensively with 144 blocked shots.

He was also a monster when it mattered most, putting up big numbers in Belleville West’s biggest games. And there were a lot of them the past two years in leading the Maroons to back-to-back state championships and 100 wins overall in four seasons.

He wrapped up his career with eye-popping numbers, including 2,508 points and 1,004 rebounds in his four-year career.

Post-high school career: Liddell is currently a freshman at Ohio State.

Jahlil Okafor, Young

Young’s Jahlil Okafor looks to move inside, as St. Rita fans scream from behind.
Young’s Jahlil Okafor looks to move inside, as St. Rita fans scream from behind.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

Okafor will go down as one of the most dominating big men in state history. Period.

During his senior season Okafor averaged 24.1 points and 11.3 rebounds while compiling a 28-5 record and capturing a Class 4A state championship. This came after a junior season in which he put up 24.8 points and 12.6 rebounds.

As a bonus, Okafor was huge in Young’s biggest games: 35 points and 13 rebounds in a sectional final win over St. Rita; 33 points and 14 rebounds in a state semifinal win over Stevenson; 22 points and 23 rebounds against Providence (Fla.) in the City of Palms Classic; and he averaged 31 points and 12.5 rebounds in the loaded Les Schwab Invitational in Oregon.

As a junior in the city title game, Okafor went for 19 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks, including the game-saving block of Billy Garrett’s shot in Young’s 60-56 overtime win over Morgan Park.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 ranked prospect in the country in the Class of 2014 and the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top-ranked prospect in Illinois, ahead of Curie’s Cliff Alexander, who was top five nationally.

Named the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year as a junior, the 6-11 Okafor was the Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year, MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and Mr. Basketball in Illinois as a senior.

Post-high school career: As a unanimous first-team All-American at Duke as a freshman, Okafor led the Blue Devils to the 2015 national championship. He became the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and has played four seasons in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and is currently with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Jabari Parker, Simeon

Simeon’s Jabari Parker shoots a jumper over Young’s Paul White.
Simeon’s Jabari Parker shoots a jumper over Young’s Paul White.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

Forget about the hype, including the Sports Illustrated cover and being the most media-covered athlete maybe in Illinois prep sports history. And forget about the ranking as Parker was the No. 3 ranked prospect in the country in the Class of 2013.

Parker’s biggest attribute is that he won. And he won big, capturing four state championships and compiling 118 wins in his four-year Simeon career. In his final two years at Simeon he averaged a combined 19.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.7 blocks while going 63-4.

Parker, who scored 1,870 points in his career, became the first two-time Illinois Mr. Basketball winner in state history. In addition to being a McDonald’s All-American, Parker won the Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year.

Post-high school career: In his only season at Duke, Parker was a consensus first-team All-American as a freshman.

The Milwaukee Bucks selected Parker with the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He’s spent time with the Bucks, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards and will play this season with the Atlanta Hawks. In five seasons he’s averaged 15.1 points.

Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic

Marian Catholic’s Tyler Ulis during the class 4A supersectional against Edwardsville.
Marian Catholic’s Tyler Ulis during the class 4A supersectional against Edwardsville.
Brian O’Mahoney/For the Sun-Times

While vastly overlooked early in his high school career, the pure-as-they-come point guard shined throughout his four seasons at Marian Catholic. As a junior and senior he led the Spartans to a combined record of 57-7 and two sectional championships, the first two in program history.

Maybe more than anyone on this list, Ulis lifted an entire basketball program to state relevancy.

The McDonald’s All-American was a consensus top 25 player in the country in the Class of 2011. He scored a school record 2,335 career points, including averaging 23 points and 6.8 assists as a senior.

Post-high school career: As a sophomore at Kentucky, Ulis was the SEC Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. Ulis decided to forgo his final two years at Kentucky and was a second-round pick (No. 34 overall) of the Phoenix Suns. Ulis, who has played in 133 NBA games but has battled some injury issues, recently signed with the Sacramento Kings.

Second-Team

Cliff Alexander, Curie

Cliff Alexander scores against North Chicago.
Cliff Alexander scores against North Chicago.
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

The physically and athletically imposing Alexander became a force over the final two years of his career. By the time he was a senior, the 6-9, 245-pound Alexander was a consensus top five prospect in the country and a McDonald’s All-American.

Alexander averaged 25 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks as a senior and was named the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year.

He had a few signature moments, including a Pontiac Holiday Tournament semifinal performance for the ages. His follow-up dunk at the buzzer to beat West Aurora in the semifinals capped off a game in which Alexander had 37 points, 26 rebounds, five blocks and 10 rim-rattling dunks.

Unfortunately, an academic scandal disrupted Curie’s season as Alexander’s Condors lost in the regional after dominating the regular season.

Post-high school career: He played just one season at Kansas, playing just 17 minutes a game and averaging 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds while also being suspended due to eligibility issues.

A very short NBA career consisted of a total of 10 points in eight games for the Portland Trail Blazers. He has spent time playing in France, Germany and the NBA’s developmental league.

Ryan Boatright, East Aurora

Ryan Boatright of East Aurora.
Ryan Boatright of East Aurora.
Heater Eidson/For the Sun-Times

There certainly wasn’t a player who was as electric or more entertaining during the past decade than the dynamic Boatright.

An explosive guard with blazing end-to-end speed with the basketball, Boatright scored 63 points in one game and went for 55 in another.

As a senior he averaged 31.2 points and had seven games of 40-plus points. He scored 29 points in East Aurora’s huge upset of unbeaten and No. 1 ranked Benet in the sectional.

Boatright shared the 2011 Mr. Basketball Award with Rock Island’s Chasson Randle.

Post-high school career: As a junior at Connecticut, Boatright was a key defensive player and averaged 12.1 points in helping the Huskies to a NCAA national championship. He averaged 17.4 points as a senior and finished his career with 1,786 points, 446 rebounds and 491 assists.

Following his stellar career at UConn, Boatright has played overseas and in the NBA’s G League.

Anthony Davis, Perspectives-MSA

Anthony Davis of Perspectives-MSA playing for his club team Meanstreeets.
Anthony Davis of Perspectives-MSA playing for his club team Meanstreeets.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

First, you have to ignore the basketball stardom Davis has reached out of high school.

Second, the prep career of Davis is an odd one. There is no other way to explain it.

Davis was an absolute unknown until the spring of his junior year. Months later he was the No. 1 player in the country and a coveted high-major prospect.

However, when factoring in the overall high school career, there were some questions in figuring out just where to place Davis on the all-decade team. But pure and simple, Davis is the most talented prospect to come out of Illinois in the last decade, which is why he was the No. 1 player in the country.

Davis put up monster numbers during his senior year, though Perspectives didn’t play the type of schedule that showcased his talents to the masses. Even while playing inferior competition, Perspectives finished 6-19 as Davis put up 32 points, 22 rebounds and seven blocked shots.

Though Davis was a McDonald’s All-American, he didn’t win Sun-Times Player of the Year and finished fourth in Mr. Basketball voting. But his pure talent puts him on the second team.

Post-high school career: No player has made a bigger splash out of Illinois. Davis was the consensus college National Player of the Year while leading Kentucky to a national championship as a freshman.

Since being the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Davis has been a six-time all-star and averaged 23.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in his career.

Chasson Randle, Rock Island

Chasson Randle of Rock Island moves quickly down the court, defended by Terrance Walker of Brooks.
Chasson Randle of Rock Island moves quickly down the court, defended by Terrance Walker of Brooks.
Sun-Times file photo

The understated Randle has one heck of a career résumé, including a Class 3A state championship as a senior and sharing the state’s Mr. Basketball Award that same year with another all-decade performer, Ryan Boatright.

During his senior year state title run, the first in Rock Island history, Randle averaged 21.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists. The 6-3 guard was ranked among the top 75 prospects in the country and won a gold medal with USA Basketball’s U17 team. He finished his career as Rock Island’s all-time leading scorer (2,159) and rebounder (773).

Post-high school career: Randle was a star at Stanford, where he became the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,375 points and was an honorable mention All-American as a senior.

As a professional he played overseas and has had stints with the 76ers, Knicks and Wizards in the NBA. Last season he played in 49 games for the Wizards, averaging 15 minutes and 5.5 points.

Jereme Richmond, Waukegan

Moments after Jereme Richmond stunned the crowd with a game-winner from half court in the 2009 Class 4A sectionals.
Moments after Jereme Richmond stunned the crowd with a game-winner from half court in the 2009 Class 4A sectionals.
Sun-Times file photo

There was certainly a case for Richmond to be on the first team. He was that talented of a player and that dynamic of a high school basketball figure. However, the fact Richmond played just one year in the decade hurt his case.

Richmond’s career, albeit a bit mercurial, was outstanding. As a senior he led Waukegan to a third-place finish in Class 4A while averaging 20.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and nearly three assists and three blocks. He also helped the USA Basketball 18U team to a gold medal.

He had a treasure chest of accolades, including being a McDonald’s All-American, Illinois Mr. Basketball winner and a two-time Sun-Times Player of the Year. He finished as the 24th ranked prospect in the country in the Class of 2010.

Post-high school career: Richmond, who spent four years committed to Illinois while in high school, spent just one season playing for the Fighting Illini. He averaged 7.6 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes a game in his one season of college basketball.

Off-the-court issues plagued Richmond, including a short period of time in prison. Since then Richmond has played professionally for fractions of a season in the Dominican Republic and Argentina.

Others who just missed

Wayne Blackshear, Morgan Park

Ayo Dosunmu, Morgan Park

Billy Garrett Jr., Morgan Park

Jordan Goodwin, Belleville Althoff

Malcolm Hill, Belleville East

Talen Horton-Tucker, Simeon

Charlie Moore, Morgan Park

Alonzo Verge, Thornton

Keita Bates-Diop, Normal U-High

Charles Matthews, St. Rita

Zach Norvell, Simeon

Kendrick Nunn, Simeon

Fred Van Vleet, Rockford Auburn

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