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City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year: Belleville West’s EJ Liddell

Belleville West's EJ Liddell (32) holds up three fingers after dropping one against Evanston's in the 4A state championship at Peoria Civc Center in Peoria IL, Saturday 03-16-19. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

(As Editor/Publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, a high school basketball publication for nearly two decades and currently a recruiting service that goes out to college coaches across the country, I have awarded a Player of the Year in Illinois for the past 23 years. E.J. Liddell of Belleville West is the 24th recipient of the award.)

There are few players in the history of Illinois high school basketball who have accomplished all that Belleville West’s E.J. Liddell has in his four-year career, and it goes well beyond the numbers, which include over 2,500 career points.

Liddell, who has been the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 1 ranked prospect in the Class of 2019 for nearly three full years, has been a dominating figure at both ends of the floor. He’s a two-time state champion, leading the Maroons to a combined record of 66-8 the past two seasons, and joined an elite and small club of players as both the top-ranked player in the state and boasting multiple state championships.

Liddell talks about his season, his time at Belleville West and his future at Ohio State.

In E.J. Liddell’s words …

➙ Staying at my home school, a public school. That’s what I think is the most important thing when I look back at my four-year career. I could have gone to a private school. I could have gone to a prep school. But I stayed in my home city school. I built a lot of relationships and feel like I built a legacy by playing at Belleville West. My dad wanted me to build a legacy at Belleville West, leave my mark and be a name people remember.

➙ It’s perfectly fine to stay home, to play for your home city school and build something. My freshman and sophomore year we were decent, but we kept building. We kept getting better and better. I built a perfect relationship with coach [Joe] Muniz and my teammates. And your city is going to be behind you and support you more than any prep school ever will. There is an excitement there.

➙ I want to make my teammates better. I don’t have to chuck up a whole bunch of shots to win games. I do what I need to do, and when it’s time to take over a game, that’s what I do. I will try and take over games in key points or when it’s needed. If I am double and triple-teamed, I need to find my teammates and trust they are going to knock down shots. That’s my instinct –– to pass the ball. I have always believed that I’m a good passer. This year I was able to show that more.

➙ He [coach Joe Muniz] has meant a lot to me. He’s more than a coach. Even though I have my dad in my life, coach Muniz has been like a father figure to me. He took me in like I was one of his own kids, outside of basketball. He worried and looked after my school effort and academics. He worried about the type of person I am and he helped keep me humble. I can’t thank coach Muniz enough.

I started playing AAU ball in the 7th or 8th grade, and I was killing those guys on the circuit. Then I started seeing them all getting the national shine early on in high school. That really drove me even more, to try and get to the level that I’m at now.

➙ I worked hard and put a lot of work in, so I want people to know and see my improvement and my work ethic. During my freshman and sophomore year, I couldn’t do half the things I can do now as a player. I play so much harder. I jump higher. I shoot better. I dribble better. The national rankings stuff started in the middle of my junior year. I played with the national guys, and I personally felt I could play with anyone. I stayed humble, kept working and finally got the shot I deserved.

➙ They [Ohio State] really play together. It’s a total team effort. They really guard on defense. And coach Holtmann can really coach.

➙ I can’t wait to get to college. I want to show everyone my full game. I want to show how I can dribble the ball, pass the ball. It’s important for me to get the absolute most out of my college experience while I’m at Ohio State.

City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year Winners

2019: EJ Liddell, Belleville West

2018: Talen Horton-Tucker, Simeon

2017: Mark Smith, Edwardsville

2016: Charlie Moore, Morgan Park

2015: Jalen Brunson, Stevenson

2014: Jahlil Okafor, Young

2013: Jahlil Okafor, Young

2012: Jabari Parker, Simeon

2011: Wayne Blackshear, Morgan Park

2010: Jereme Richmond, Waukegan

2009: Drew Crawford, Naperville Central

2008: Kevin Dillard, Homewood-Flossmoor

2007: Derrick Rose, Simeon

2006: Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North

2005: Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North

2004: Shaun Livingston, Peoria Central

2003: Shannon Brown, Proviso East

2002: Dee Brown, Proviso East

2001: Pierre Pierce, Westmont

2000: Dwyane Wade, Richards

1999: Leon Smith, King

1998: Quentin Richardson, Young

1997: Brian Wardle, Hinsdale Central

1996: Ronnie Fields, Farragut