Classic high school basketball game rewatch: Proviso East’s Three Amigos beat Peoria Manual (1991)

Proviso East’s Three Amigos are an immortal part of the state’s high school basketball lore.

SHARE Classic high school basketball game rewatch: Proviso East’s Three Amigos beat Peoria Manual (1991)
Sherell Ford shoots a free throw.

Sherell Ford shoots a free throw.

Sun-Times file photo

Proviso East’s Three Amigos are an immortal part of the state’s high school basketball lore. Donnie Boyce, Michael Finley and Sherell Ford had the Three Amigos nickname in high school. They won a state title together in 1991 and then all three went on to be selected in the NBA Draft four years later.

Finley was picked 21st and went on to become the best professional player. Ford, the 1991 Sun-Times Player of the Year, was selected 26th and Boyce, the most highly-regarded early in his career and the group’s leader, was selected 42nd.

Boyce is the current head coach at Proviso East.

The three stars were matched up against Peoria Manual for the title in 1991. Remember the Rams and Howard Nathan? 1991 was the year of Hoop Dreams. Nathan and Manual play the villain in that landmark documentary. They knock off Arthur Agee’s underdog Marshall squad in the Class AA state semifinals.

That’s pretty much where the documentary left high school basketball. But the state tournament went on.

Nathan was compared to Isiah Thomas during the pregame show. At this point Manual had only won a single state title, back in 1930. Proviso East was a more established power, with championship game victories in 1969 and 1974.

The state was loaded with talent that season. Gordon Tech star Tom Kleinschmidt posted absolutely insane statistics, as did future NBA player Juwan Howard at Vocational. I read through the Sun-Times’ All-State team before the game and tweeted this:

Those Kleinschmidt numbers are incredible. A high school game is only 32 minutes long and he was accounting for 40 points pretty much on his own, on average.

But I have to admit that after watching the 1991 title game that Sherell Ford was very, very impressive. The dunks, the drives to the basket coupled with a smooth little mid-range shooting touch. He had three or four big blocks and even some sweet passes out of the post. He played like a more polished Julian Wright or Darius Miles.

It’s easy to see why he was Sun-Times Player of the Year. That’s what happens when you tweet before watching.

Howard Nathan did not have a good title game overall but he came alive at the very end to turn what should have been a double-digit win for Proviso East into a closer final score.

“[Nathan] went to sleep for three and a half quarters. He’s wide awake now,” McReynolds said on the broadcast.

McReynolds and Dan Roan speculated that Nathan may have been tired. Peoria Manual played the second semifinal and remember back then both the semis and title game were played on the same day. Nathan played the entire win against Marshall, despite it being a 68-55 win for the Rams.

Finley’s size and athleticism on defense also clearly impacted Nathan. It’s not often a future NBA All-Star guards you in a high school game.

A few other tidbits:

-The win made Proviso East the first Class AA title winner from the suburbs since Maine South in 1979. I wasn’t aware the suburbs had that long of a big school title drought.

-Ford’s parents were in a car serious car accident on their drive from Louisiana to Champaign to see the state finals. Ford’s dad is interviewed on crutches early in the game.

-The Three Amigos were so unselfish. That’s probably the thing that impressed me most about the team.

-Why didn’t Jerry Hester play more for Manual? He’s just a sophomore in this game but it is so clear what he’s about to become.

-Jamal Robinson could play. He’s also a sophomore in this game. He was so interesting that I did a little research on him. He transferred to Proviso East from St. Joseph and went on to have a spectacular high school career, even finishing third in Mr. Basketball voting. It’s strange I’d never heard of him before.

The starting lineups:

Peoria Manual
F Tony Freeman (22), 5-11 Sr.
F Sam Davis (50), 6-1 Sr.
C Clint Ford (54), 6-3 Jr.
G Mike Grayer (20), 5-11 Sr.
G Howard Nathan (34), 5-10 Sr.

Proviso East
F Donnie Boyce (20), 6-5 Sr.
F Ray Gay (34), 6-2 So.
C Sherell Ford (44), 6-7 Sr.
G Michael Finley (24), 6-6 Sr.
G Thaddeus Smith (10), 5-11 Sr.

Watch it all and read Dan Bickley’s story below:

Boyce has fine finale

BY DAN BICKLEY

CHAMPAIGN—When this group first started filling it up on the playgrounds of Maywood, Donnie Boyce was the man.

And eight years later, that’s exactly how Boyce ended his bittersweet career at Proviso East. The 6-5 senior scored all of his 15 points in the second half and added 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks as Proviso toppled Peoria Manual 68-61 for the Class AA title.

“Donnie is our leader,” said teammate Mike Finley. “He always has been.”

However, after the first 16 minutes of the championship game against Manual, the most important game he ever had been a part of, Boyce was merely a frustrated basketball player . . . and a scoreless one at that.

“I had my man pinned, but the guards just weren’t getting me the ball,” Boyce said. “We yelled at each other. We weren’t making the right decisions, we were taking the shots too early. We talked about all of that - then we got back in focus.”

“This was it,” Boyce said. “There wasn’t anything left after this game, it was the last of my high school career. I wasn’t going to lose this game.”

“Donnie stepped it up,” Manual guard Howard Nathan said. “Donnie, Sherell (Ford), Mike (Finley) . . . they’re all great players. But Donnie took over.”

The seeds for this state title were sewn eight years ago when Boyce, Finley and Ford met in fourth grade.

Boyce was the star - and he remained that way until he broke his ankle as a junior and missed most of the season. In his absence, Ford and Finley emerged.

So from the first day of practice this season, Boyce was content to fill his role as team leader, totally abandon his perimeter game and relinquish the spotlight that was once his alone.

But after going an entire weekend without a field goal, critics said Boyce was not the same player he had been.

“Without question, Donnie has been the most maligned player on this team,” Proviso coach Bill Hitt said.

“Donnie does all the little things,” Finley said. “He was the spark tonight. He’s like the garbage man, but a lot more. His leadership has been incredible.”

And never more in demand than when Proviso trailed 28-23 at halftime against Manual.

Proviso had been relatively unimpressive in its victories over Carbondale and Libertyville and Boyce had scored only 17 points in the two games, including a four-point, two-rebound performance against Carbondale.

But that all changed in the final 16 minutes of his career, as he hit 6-of-7 shots and changed the entire complexion of the game.

“Donnie Boyce was a monster on the boards in the second half,” Hitt said. “Anyone who has followed us for any length of time knows that is no fluke. Donnie’s knee was sore at halftime . . . playing two games in one day is fatiguing. But he showed a lot of character . . . we all did.”

“I wasn’t as impressive as everyone thought, the whole team wasn’t,” Boyce said. “But we won . . . and that’s all that matters.

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