When high school basketball fans think back to the 1980s, programs like Quincy, Providence St. Mel, East St. Louis Lincoln and the arrival of city powers King and Simeon are easy to think back on.
The 1990s brought us memorable basketball giants in Peoria Manual and Thornton, a few steamrolling Proviso East teams and the continued dominance of King.
The first 10 years of the 2000s included Glenbrook North, Peoria High and the beginning of a Simeon juggernaut.
This list is comprised of the 50 winningest programs over the past 10 years, starting with the 2010-11 season and concluding with the 2019-20 season. Every team in every class throughout the Chicago area will be broken down in a variety of ways. But total wins, with winning percentage used as tie-breaker, determined the rankings.
We present No. 9 Evanston today and will add one program a day going forward.
9. EVANSTON: 229-83
Decade’s biggest storyline: The back-to-back seasons Evanston put together in 2017-18 and 2018-19 –– and continued through the postponed 2019-20 season –– was a record-breaking stretch, even for a proud basketball program that is steeped in endless success and tradition.
Evanston finished third in the state in Class 4A in 2018 and was the Class 4A state runner-up in 2019, losing to Belleville West in the state title game. It’s the only time in Evanston history where the Wildkits made back-to-back trips to state and brought home state trophies.
The 32-win season of 2018-19 tied the school record for most wins in a season.
The 2019-20 Wildkits were still alive and set to play in a sectional championship with a sparkling 29-4 record before the pandemic pulled the plug last March.
Underrated highlight: Blake Peters’ 80-foot shot.
With Evanston trailing by two in a televised home game with Maine South in January of 2018, Peters, who was just a freshman, launched a full-court, one-handed 80-foot heave that gave the Wildkits a stunning 45-44 win.
The epic moment went viral while turning Peters’ life upside down for a brief period. The shot made SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays and was ranked No. 1. Peters was invited to ESPN’s ESPY Award Show as the shot was nominated in the “Best Play” category.
Player of the Decade: Nojel Eastern (2017)
All-Decade Team: James Farr (2011), Nojel Eastern (2017), Elyjah Williams (2017), Lance Jones (2019) and Blake Peters (2021)
Other decade highlights:
-The decade started with the big-name hiring of Mike Ellis as coach in 2010. Ellis came from Peoria Richwoods, where he was fresh off a 30-win season and two state runner-up finishes. The hiring of Ellis has proved fruitful as Evanston has enjoyed its most successful decade of basketball in program history.
-Individually, Eastern’s impact over the course of the decade was immense. A four-year starter who went on to play at Purdue, Eastern finished as the school’s second all-time leading scorer (behind only Juvon McGarry) with 1,345 points. He’s the only player in Evanston history with 1,000 points, 400 rebounds and 300 assists in his career.
-Eastern, Peters, Jones and Jaheim Holden all scored over 1,000 career points in the decade. Peters was on track to become the all-time leading scorer in Evanston history.
-Peters, a current senior, already set Evanston three-point records for most threes in a game, season and career. He was poised to finish among the all-time three-point shooters in state history.
-The past four seasons the Wildkits went a combined 115-18 over the past four seasons, averaging a remarkable 29 wins a season.
-The Wildkits have won or at least shared the Central Suburban League South in each of the past six seasons. That’s the longest conference title streak in Evanston basketball history.
-Evanston won four sectional championships over the course of the decade, including a surprise run in 2011-12.
-In 2016-17, Evanston put together arguably the toughest schedule in program history. That included a trip to Florida to play in the prestigious Beach Ball Classic to face nationally-ranked teams. Evanston finished second. Evanston also travels
-Even with all the success in the decade, especially in the past few years, there remains a question of what might have been if not for all the talent that left Evanston.
This past decade Evanston was as fertile as any area in producing top basketball talent. In addition to the great players that took the Evanston program to a record-breaking decade of basketball, the list of talented players who lived and played in Evanston in 7th and 8th grade is pretty eye-opening as well.
Lorenzo Dillard (Niles North to Division II Angelo State), Rodney Pryor (Niles Notre Dame to Georgetown), Dravon Clayborn (star at Niles North), Aquan Smart (Niles North to Maryland), Patrick Baldwin, Jr. (currently the No. 2 ranked player in the country), Anthony Sayles (the top unsigned senior in Illinois now at Notre Dame) and Ahamad Bynum (Simeon senior who has signed with DePaul) all resided in Evanston before leaving for other schools to play their high school basketball elsewhere.