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Simeon’s Russell Woods (left) and Jabari Parker (right) smile as they get ready to take on Stevenson in the Class 4A state championship game.
Simeon’s Russell Woods (left) and Jabari Parker (right) smile as they get ready to take on Stevenson in the Class 4A state championship game.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

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The best Illinois high school basketball teams of the decade

A ranking of the top teams in Illinois from the 2009-2010 season through the 2018-2019 season — and a few others that just missed. 

As we approach the 2019-2020 high school basketball season, we’re also entering a new decade of prep basketball.

The past decade was highlighted by several stars who led their teams to state championships before going on to college stardom and on to play in the NBA. These were transcendent players who led the very best teams of the past decade.

There were obviously a whole bunch of great teams, from state champions to others that fell short but maybe were just unfortunate to meet one of the other top 10 teams in March.

Here is a baker’s dozen ranking of teams in Illinois from the 2009-2010 season through the 2018-2019 season — and five others that just missed.

1. 2013 Simeon

Simeon’s Kendrick Nunn blasts around Milton’s Zach Hodskins.
Simeon’s Kendrick Nunn blasts around Milton’s Zach Hodskins.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

There have been too many great Simeon teams to count. But this edition from the perennial powerhouse could be coach Robert Smith’s best. In fact, it could be argued it had all the ingredients to be considered one of the best in state history.

There was a combination of star power and up-and-coming talent who all bought in and understood their roles. The bottom line, however, is that the program was stacked with superior talent and it went out and met all expectations.

Record and accomplishments: 30-3, Class 4A state champs, Pontiac Holiday Tournament champs.

The résumé: The Wolverines lost only one in-state game — 54-53 to Morgan Park in the city playoffs, a team that is No. 3 on this list. The other two losses came to national prep school power Montverde (Fla.) and DeSoto (Texas), a team that finished 33-3.

In addition to the state playoff run, which included wins over Proviso East and Stevenson in Peoria, Simeon picked up regular-season wins over Morgan Park, Curie, Young, Bogan and several out-of-state foes.

The combination of Parker and Nunn capped off a four-year run that included a remarkable four state titles and 118 wins.

The talent: The roster makeup of this team, from top to bottom, is about as good and deep as you will find. The senior group was headed by Jabari Parker, one of the top three players in the country who played at Duke and was the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Parker was not at full health the entire season while working his way back from injury.

But the remaining seniors — Kendrick Nunn (Illinois and Oakland), Jaylon Tate (Illinois), Russell Woods (Missouri) and Kendall Pollard (Dayton) — also all played high-level college basketball.

Future Loyola star and NCAA Tournament hero Donte Ingram was a junior. Ed Morrow (Nebraska and Marquette) and DJ Williams (Illinois and George Washington) were sophomores, while Zach Norvell (Gonzaga) was a freshman.

2. 2014 Young

Young’s Jahlil Okafor slam dunks after passing Benet’s defense.
Young’s Jahlil Okafor slam dunks after passing Benet’s defense.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

A legit, dominating and difference-making big man at the high school level goes a long way. We haven’t seen one like Jahlil Okafor since. Surround that massive matchup nightmare with some other Division I talent and it’s a lethal combination.

Record and accomplishments: 28-5, Class 4A state champs, Chicago Public League champs.

The résumé: This Young team played an absolutely loaded and high-profile schedule, including national games all over the country. In total, the Dolphins faced 13 out-of-state foes, most of which were nationally ranked, and knocked off the likes of Tyus Jones and Apple Valley (Minn.), Prime Prep (Texas), Oak Hill Academy and Southwind (Tenn.). Young didn’t lose to a single in-state team.

The Dolphins beat Simeon in a highly anticipated sectional game before knocking off Stevenson and Benet in Peoria to claim a 4A state title.

The talent: The anchor and star in the middle, 6-10 Jahlil Okafor, was an absolute force at the high school level. He averaged 24.3 points and 11.4 rebounds a game. One year later he won a national title at Duke and was the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft.

Paul White, who played at Georgetown and Oregon in college, and Miles Reynolds, who finished his college career at Oklahoma, formed quite the supporting cast by combining for 30 points a game.

3. 2013 Morgan Park

Billy Garrett Jr. hugs Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin.
Billy Garrett Jr. hugs Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

There have been so many terrific Nick Irvin-coached teams at Morgan Park since he took over the program in 2008. This is without question the very best of the Morgan Park teams, led by a special senior backcourt.

Record and accomplishments: 33-3, Class 3A state champs, Proviso West Holiday Tournament champs.

The résumé: The best of all the great Morgan Park teams under coach Nick Irvin. The Mustangs lost three games all season (Young, Simeon and Bishop Gorman out of Las Vegas) by a total of just nine points.

But Morgan Park dazzled all year, crushing foes for four months, including Stevenson (by 15), Bogan (by 31 and 21) and Proviso East (by 25) in the regular season. The state tournament trail included an average victory margin of 38 points a game in the seven March wins.

The talent: The senior backcourt of Billy Garrett (DePaul) and Kyle Davis (Dayton) was dynamite. They played off one another so well in an interchangeable backcourt. Senior guard Markee Williams and 6-8 senior big man Xzavier Taylor (Bradley) were rock solid, while underclassmen Josh Cunningham (Bradley and Dayton), Lamont Walker and Charlie Moore played their roles perfectly and were budding talents.

4. 2015 Stevenson

Stevenson’s Justin Smith (3), Nichols Parker (5), Ryuji Aoki (13), Jalen Brunson (15) and Connor Cashaw.
Stevenson’s Justin Smith (3), Nichols Parker (5), Ryuji Aoki (13), Jalen Brunson (15) and Connor Cashaw.
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

This team may have even been a little bit underrated among the decade’s elite teams. This was a terrific team with a crazy good star leading the way.

Yes, there was Jalen Brunson, who was barely human throughout his senior campaign. But there were also multiple Division I players and a chemistry and an efficiency that was easy to recognize. The pieces fit together perfectly as a team.

Record and accomplishments: 30-3, Class 4A state champions, Proviso West Holiday Tournament champions.

The résumé: The lone losses came to a few heavyweights. Future NBA star Jayson Tatum and Chaminade out of St. Louis knocked off the Patriots, while a loaded Findlay Prep team in Las Vegas handled Stevenson in a nationally televised game. The Patriots also fell to Simeon in a regular-season showdown in February.

By the time the postseason rolled around the Patriots were on cruise control, playing outstanding team defense and with precision offensively. Stevenson walloped both foes in Peoria, beating Bolingbrook by 20 and Normal 57-40.

The talent: The Patriots were led by McDonald’s All-American and future college Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, who finished his career as one of the most decorated prep players in state history.

Brunson was otherworldly at times. He scored 48 in the loss to Chaminade, 41 in a sectional win over Notre Dame and 30 in the state championship game win over Normal. He averaged over 23 points a game as a senior.

Senior Connor Cashaw was an all-state caliber player who averaged over 16 points a game, signed with Rice and finished his college career at Creighton. Sophomore Justin Smith, who currently plays at Indiana, was a double-figure scorer and a budding star, while senior guard Matt Johnson was the unsung player.

5. 2013 Proviso East

Proviso East’s Sterling Brown moves the ball down court against Edwardsville.
Proviso East’s Sterling Brown moves the ball down court against Edwardsville.
Patrick Gleason/For Sun-Times media.

We usually associate the very best with champions, but that wasn’t the case with this Proviso East team that lost to the No. 1 team on this list. But this talent-laden team was very well balanced — there were four players who averaged in double-figures — and put constant pressure on opposing teams.

Record and accomplishments: 30-4, Class 4A third-place finishers.

The résumé: We’ll start with the losses, because look at who this Proviso East team lost to … Lone Peak out of Utah was a national power and, according to some, the best high school team in the country. Lone Peak looked like it at the Chicago Elite Classic, where it buried Proviso East, though Proviso East star Sterling Brown didn’t play.

Proviso East was also stunned by Oswego at Thanksgiving, only to get revenge one month later at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament with a 79-55 win.

After being throttled by a dynamic Morgan Park team (No. 3 on this list) in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament championship game, the Pirates rattled off 19 straight wins before falling to the No. 1 team on this list, the 2013 Simeon team in the state semifinals.

The talent: The speed, pace and pressure Proviso East played with was dizzying, led by the 1-2 senior punch of Sterling Brown and Paris Lee. Brown went on to play for SMU and is currently in the NBA. Lee became the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year at Illinois State.

There was also a star-in-the-making in junior Jevon Carter, who went on to become a college All-American at West Virginia.

6. 2018 Belleville West

Belleville West is all smiles after winning the Class 4A basketball state championship.
Belleville West is all smiles after winning the Class 4A basketball state championship.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Belleville West was a force for two seasons. There were a pair of state title teams, both led by star EJ Liddell, but this one was the most talented and the best of the two. Liddell was dominant, even as a junior, but everything seemed to come more easily and clicked — at both ends of the floor — for the Maroons.

Record and accomplishments: 32-2, Class 4A state champions, Centralia Holiday Tournament champions.

The résumé: This was the first of two straight state championship teams. But this one was more dominant. Belleville West won its five games to get to Peoria by an average victory margin of 26 points a game and then beat Larkin by double figures in the state semis. Coach Joe Muniz’s team overcame talented Young, in overtime, to capture the state championship.

This Belleville West team also featured more individual talent as a whole (see below) than the the 2019 state champions.

The two lone losses on the season came to out-of-state schools, including one to Missouri power Chaminade out of St. Louis.

The talent: Liddell was a do-it-all big man who altered and impacted the game in so many different ways. While the opposing team’s focus had to be on Liddell, the Maroons also featured Division I prospect Malachi Smith, who averaged 16 points a game. But Liddell was absolutely dominant, both offensively and especially defensively with his shot-blocking ability.

7. 2016 Belleville Althoff

Belleville Althoff’s Jordan Goodwin.
Belleville Althoff’s Jordan Goodwin.
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

Maybe this Althoff team isn’t as memorable as some of the others on this list. The program isn’t quite as recognizable and the Crusaders won a Class 3A state championship. But it was an extremely talented group fueled by the stat-sheet-stuffing Jordan Goodwin.

Record and accomplishments: 32-2, Class 3A state champions, Collinsville Holiday Tournament champions.

The résumé: This was a Class 3A juggernaut that lost two games, one of which came early in the season when Althoff was working off some hardwood rust following a deep football playoff run and late start to the season for some of its players. The other loss came to St. Louis power Chaminade.

The rest of the season was total domination, including a state tournament run to Peoria where there wasn’t a game within 14 points. Althoff then knocked off St. Joseph in the state semifinals and crushed Lincoln-Way West 62-37 in the state championship game.

The talent: Jordan Goodwin (18.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 3.2 apg) was just a junior but was a man-child at the high school level, which included a massive Peoria performance. In two wins in Peoria, Goodwin went for a combined 44 points, 25 rebounds, six assists and five steals. Goodwin is currently playing at Saint Louis.

This team also featured 6-6 Brendon Gooch (13.5 ppg), who went on to Southern Illinois, Tarkus Ferguson (13.6 ppg), who is putting together a terrific career at UIC, and Marvin Bateman (11.1 ppg), who became a Division III star at Greenville.

8. 2012 Simeon

Jabari Parker dunks for Simeon at the end of the game and smiles.
Jabari Parker dunks for Simeon at the end of the game and smiles.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

Record and accomplishments: 33-1, Class 4A state champions, Pontiac Holiday Tournament champions, Chicago Public League champions.

The résumé: This Wolverines team beat everyone in its path with the exception of mighty Findlay Prep out of Las Vegas. That included beating highly ranked Morgan Park and both Curie and Young twice.

After taking care of Bloom in the state semifinals, Simeon squared off with a loaded and unbeaten Proviso East team. Simeon came from behind to edge the Pirates 50-48

The talent: Senior Steve Taylor was the top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2012 that year, but it was the ultra-talented junior group, led by Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn and Kendall Pollard, that raised this team to a state championship caliber level.

9. 2014 Curie

Curie’s Cliff Alexander reaches back to slam against West Aurora.
Curie’s Cliff Alexander reaches back to slam against West Aurora.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

There is so much to the story surrounding this team and its “What if?” season. The 2013-2014 Curie basketball season was a drama-filled one with extreme highs and equally extreme lows.

Record and accomplishments: Pontiac Holiday Tournament champions, Chicago Public League champions (later vacated).

The résumé: The Cliff Alexander team was dynamite during the regular season, finishing atop the polls and ranked No. 1 heading into regional play. In addition to winning the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, the Condors captured a Chicago Public League championship which was later vacated due to eligibility issues.

A drama-filled season included a city title game win over Young (since vacated) and a regional semifinal loss (with Alexander but without most of the other starters) to DuSable due to eligibility issues of several players. There was a lot of unknown left with this team.

The talent: Big Cliff was a dominant figure, blocking shots and scoring around the rim. He was among the nation’s top five prospects in the country and just behind Okafor in Illinois’ Class of 2014. Yes, the overall skill level was lacking, but the athleticism and ferociousness he played with as a senior was impressive and jaw-dropping.

In addition to Alexander, who ultimately headed to Kansas for a short stint, Curie featured senior Joseph Stamps and junior Joshua Stamps. This was the most talented Curie team in coach Mike Oliver’s two-plus decades leading the program, even better than the state championship team of 2015-2016.

10. 2010 Waukegan

Jereme Richmond dunks over Sam Thompson.
Jereme Richmond dunks over Sam Thompson.
Patrick Gleason/For the Sun-Times

This core group, featuring uber-talent Jereme Richmond, reached Peoria for the second straight year in 2010 after losing to Young in the 2009 state championship. This was an extremely talented team that had the misfortune of running up against two terrific Young teams in Peoria in back-to-back seasons and losing both games by a total of five points.

Record and accomplishments: 27-5, Pontiac Holiday Tournament champions, Class 4A third-place finishers.

Résumé: After the Bulldogs won the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, beating Simeon in the title game there and then knocking off Young by 17 points in a heavily hyped showdown in late February, it was clear this was the team to beat heading into March.

The only loss from the middle of December on came to Maine South without three starters, including Richmond.

The talent: Forget what did or didn’t happen following his ballyhooed high school career. Richmond was an absolute star. He was a phenom the day he entered high school and put together a phenomenal high school career.

While there were some turbulent times with this team, the talent was undeniable, led by the 6-7 do-it-all Richmond. He put up 20.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game with a presence that few players provide a team. In addition, Aaron Johnson (12.8 ppg), Mike Springs (9.6 ppg), Akeem Springs (9.4 ppg) and Quan Conner (14.1 ppg) provided balanced scoring and one heck of a supporting cast.

11. 2011 Benet

David Sobolewski brings the ball down for Benet past Simeon’s Kendrick Nunn.
David Sobolewski brings the ball down for Benet past Simeon’s Kendrick Nunn.
Sun-Times file photo

This is the lone team on the list that didn’t make it to Peoria. Nonetheless, it’s a team that despite stubbing its toe in a monumental sectional clash is widely considered as one of the decade’s very best.

At the time of the team’s only loss of the season, the Redwings were the top-ranked team in Illinois and ranked No. 7 in the country.

Record and accomplishments: 29-1, Proviso West Holiday Tournament champions.

The résumé: Benet ran the table during the regular season, which included capturing a holiday tournament title at Proviso West, and beating Simeon in an epic late-season showdown at the sold out UIC Pavilion.

Unfortunately, top-ranked Benet was stunned by dynamic superstar Ryan Boatright (29 points, six assists) and East Aurora in a memorable, still-talked-about game at the East Aurora Sectional.

The talent: There was individual talent with two future Big Ten players in David Sobolewski (Northwestern) and 6-11 Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin), who went on to become college basketball’s Player of the Year four years later. But beyond the talent there was a precision, comfort and confidence that this team played with all season.

12. 2019 Belleville West

Belleville West’s EJ Liddell (32) cheers after getting a dunk late in the fourth quarter in the Class 4A state championship game.
Belleville West’s EJ Liddell (32) cheers after getting a dunk late in the fourth quarter in the Class 4A state championship game.
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

After winning a state title the year before, it was bound to be tougher to repeat — and it was. The schedule was stronger and the pressure was greater. But the Maroons, again led by Liddell, responded with a second straight state championship.

Record and accomplishments: 34-4, Class 4A state champions, Collinsville Holiday Tournament champions.

Résumé: The upgraded schedule from the year before included 12 out-of-state opponents, which led to wins over St. Louis Vashon, Seattle’s Rainier Beach and St. Louis Chaminade. Liddell and Company also beat Simeon in a late-season showdown.

The Maroons then went on an impressive postseason run that included March victories over Danville and Bolingbrook to reach Peoria. Then Belleville West blew out Curie in the semifinals and knocked off Evanston 71-59 in the state championship.

The talent: Ohio State recruit Liddell, the two-time Mr. Basketball winner, averaged 20.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.8 blocks a game. Liddell was the centerpiece of a program that went 66-6 in two years.

There were veterans surrounding Liddell, including Keith Randolph, a 6-5, 250-pound physical presence inside who is playing football at Illinois, was a big, veteran senior who provided 9.1 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. Lawrence Brazil (13 ppg) was a senior leader at point guard who consistently came up big in important games and moments. Will Shumpert (9.3 ppg) and Jaylin Mosby (8.9 ppg) and sophomore Tommie Williams added punch on the perimeter.

13. 2012 Proviso East

Proviso East’s Branden Jenkins, right, hugs teammate Paris Lee.
Proviso East’s Branden Jenkins, right, hugs teammate Paris Lee.
Sun-Times file photo

Keith Carter, Trashaun Carroll and Paris Burns were the seniors, while juniors Sterling Brown and Paris Lee rounded out a potent starting five. This team almost cracked the top 10 on this list as it rolled its way to a 32-0 record before losing to Simeon, 50-48, in the state championship.

Record and accomplishments: 32-1, Proviso West Holiday Tournament champs, Class 4A state runner-up.

Résumé: The overall record and finish warrants maybe being higher on this list. But the overall résumé kept this Proviso East team outside the top 10. There was the Proviso West Tournament title in December, but there weren’t many other signature wins or moments during the regular season to differentiate itself.

Plus, the road to Peoria wasn’t exactly daunting. It included regional and sectional wins over Hoffman Estates, Glenbard North, Lake Park and Schaumburg. Those two sectional wins were by a combined 60 points. The Pirates then beat West Aurora 62-51 in the super-sectional.

The talent: There will always be a debate between the 2011-2012 Proviso East team that lost just once and the 2012-2013 team that landed at No. 5 on this list. That’s because the talent was similar, though stars like Jevon Carter, Sterling Brown and Paris Lee were young on this team that checks in at No. 12.

Seniors Keith Carter (Saint Louis/Valpo) and Paris Burns combined to score 32 points a game in 2011-2012 to lead the way, while rugged senior Trashaun Carroll provided athleticism and presence around the basket.

Other teams that just missed

2011 Simeon

This was the second title during Simeon’s four-peat. Sophomores Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn evolved into legit stars as the Wolverines won the Pontiac Holiday Tournament and a Class 4A state championship.

2014 Morgan Park

Senior Josh Cunningham was a load for the Class 3A state champions. Torry Johnson and Lamont Walker were key senior contributors while sophomore Charlie Moore emerged as a weapon.

2014 Stevenson

Jalen Brunson scored 56 points in a memorable state semifinal loss to Young before the season ended with a third-place finish in Class 4A and a 32-2 record. The Patriots also won the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, beating eventual 3A state champs Morgan Park in the final.

2014 Marian Catholic

This Tyler Ulis-led team finished 28-3 but fell to Edwardsville in an upset loss at the Illinois State Super, though a hobbled Ulis in the super-sectional didn’t help. The 5-8 all-everything played but fought through a nagging turf toe injury.

2018 Orr

The best of the three straight Orr state title teams included always overlooked Dannie Smith and fellow seniors Chase Adams, Raekwon Drake and Ty Mosley. The Spartans finished 30-4 on the season.

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