By Joe Henricksen
After Ohio State’s Evan Turner put on a show in a marquee win over Purdue this week (32 points), the versatile 6-7 talent put his name right back in the discussion as an All-American candidate after missing six games. And when you include Sherron Collins of Kansas and Jon Scheyer of Duke in that same discussion, you’re now talking three potential college basketball first-team All-Americans who starred right here in Illinois as prep stars.
How special would that be? When was the last time three players from one metropolitan area were all first-team All-Americans together? But that’s where we could see Scheyer, a Glenbrook North product, Collins of Crane and St. Joseph’s Turner when the postseason awards come out at the end of this season.
Now lets put this into perspective. Since the heyday of Illinois products being represented on college All-American teams, which was the late 1970s and early 1980s, the state has had a total of three — count them, three! — AP first-team All-Americans that were products of Illinois: Dwyane Wade (Richards) in 2003, A.J. Guyton (Peoria Central) in 2000 and Hersey Hawkins (Westinghouse) in 1998. And in that time there were a total of three second-team AP All-Americans (Dee Brown in 2005 and 2006; Luther Head in 2005; Ken Norman in 1987).
The state of Illinois had quite a run of AP college All-Americans in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with Rickey Green (first-team 1977), Dave Corzine (second-team 1978), Ronnie Lester (second-team 1979), Mark Aguirre (first-team 1980 and 1981), Isiah Thomas (first-team 1981) and Terry Cummings (first-team 1982). But in the last 27 seasons since 1982? Just three first-team AP All-Americans (Wade, Guyton and Hawkins) and only three second-team selections (Norm, Brown and Head).
We digress back to the current state of college basketball. We’re talking a real possibility of three Illinois products (maybe four if you count Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen of Proviso East) landing on the first and second AP All-American teams.
You figure Kentucky freshman sensation John Wall has one of the five spots locked up, with Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody, Syracuse’s Wesley Johnson and Texas’ Damion James, along with the aforementioned Illinois trio, all in contention for the final four spots. Turner’s injury certainly hindered his chances, but with a big second half of the season those six games he missed will be easily forgotten. In numerous midseason All-American teams by media outlets, I have seen both Scheyer and Collins placed on different first-teams. It’s not too far fetched to believe all three could be on that first team together. Heck, Proviso East product Jacob Pullen, who is putting together an outstanding season for a likely NCAA Tournament team in Kansas State, is pushing for third or second-team All-American status.
Turner, who played both his high school ball at St. Joe’s and his AAU ball for Mike Mullins and the Illinois Wolves with Illinois’ Demetri McCamey, is averaging a double-double at nearly 19 points and just over 10 rebounds a game. He’s also putting up 5.6 assists, 1.5 steals and over 1 block shot a game. Maybe most impressive is he’s shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. Those are All-American numbers.
Scheyer has been nearly flawless in keeping Duke among the top 10 teams in the country. His move to point guard has been instrumental in Duke’s success. The 6-5 senior has an almost eye-popping 5-1 assist to turnover ratio (98 assists and only 20 turnovers on the season), which is tops in the nation, along with averaging just under 20 points a game. In a recent seven game stretch the former Illinois Mr. Basketball winner averaged 25 points and nearly 8 assists a game.
Then there is Collins, who unfortunately always seemed to be playing in the shadows of Simeon’s Derrick Rose and Scheyer during his high school days as the two of them were playing in Peoria and winning state championships. Now Collins has a national title at Kansas and is the leader of a team many believe could win another. Collins might not have the numbers of Turner or Scheyer — though he’s averaged 26 points over his last three games — but his presence on the floor for the Jayhawks is immeasurable while averaging 16 points and 4.3 assists a game.
A big reason the three are in the All-American discussion is they are veteran college players. Scheyer and Collins are four-year players and Turner is in his third season in Columbus. With the continued cycle of early defections from college to the pros, players with talent and experience like the Illinois trio possess is often a rare commodity. These three have been rewarded and Illinois high school basketball fans are enjoying turning the television on and seeing three of America’s best players right from their backyard.