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The Best of Illinois’s High School Basketball Archives

Kevin Garnett, Benjamin Wilson, Andre Iguodala, LaPhonso Ellis, a trio of future NFL stars, the Flying Illini—and the legendarily named Uwe Blab—are archived for eternity on YouTube.

Kevin Garnett (right, back) and Ronnie Fields (right, front) on the 1995 Farragut Academy team   Photo: José M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

The Illinois State High School Association is assembling an impressive online archive of films, going back to the early recordings of spectacularly coiffed poet/IHSA administrator H.V. Porter up through the 2014 girls’ and boys’ championship basketball games. Here’s a good explainer, courtesy of the Tribune, for how they are putting it together. It’s still spotty, but it picks up some vintage recordings of some of the best athletes to pass through the state, including its best basketball player, its most tragic, and its best-named.

1995: Chicago (Farragut) vs. Harvey (Thornton), Class AA Quarterfinal

This game might have the most athletic talent on one court in the IHSA archives, featuring a matchup of future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett and NBA mainstay Melvin Ely at center. (Farragut paired Garnett with high-school legend Ronnie Fields, whose path to the NBA was derailed, but put together a career in the CBA and overseas.)

Thornton assembled a better football team than basketball team, with future NFL players Antwaan Randle-El, Napoleon Harris, and Tai Streets, but managed to upset number-one Farragut in a tense but sloppy game.

Garnett, considered the best player in the country, was naturally ridiculous; he’s already got some of the moves that made him a transformative power forward. But in a surprisingly abysmal first quarter, what most impresses about Garnett is his court vision. Despite being the biggest and best player on the court, Garnett was averaging seven assists, and not just because he was being regularly double- and triple-teamed.

The most depressing part is when one of the announcers claims that because Garnett’s mom wants him to stay in Chicago, he’s going to college at DePaul (he actually was drafted to the Minnesota Timberwolves after high school).

1987: East St. Louis (Lincoln) vs. Chicago (King), Class AA Championship

The most points ever scored in a Class AA tournament; the most points ever in a Class AA championship game; and a one-man show from Marcus Liberty, who would go on to play with Nick Anderson (from Simeon), Kendall Gill (from Rich Central in Olympia Fields), and Kenny Battle (Aurora West) on the 1988-1989 Flying Illini. (The only other player on King to do anything was freshman guard Jamie Brandon, who played with Shaquille O’Neal at LSU.)

Across from Liberty? A 16-year-old LaPhonso Ellis, already Lincoln’s star.

1980: Chicago (Manley) vs. Effingham, Class AA Championship

Uwe Blab! It’s hard to forget a seven-footer named Uwe Blab. He showed pretty good moves for a guy who’d learned about basketball several years before from the movie The Absent-Minded Professor. He didn’t like basketball all that much; he’s now a software developer.

2002: Chicago (Westinghouse) vs. Springfield (Lanphier), Class AA Championship

Westinghouse, alma mater of Eddie Johnson and Hersey Hawkins, wins its first state championship in school history, surviving a 17-point comeback engineered by one of the all-time great athletes to play basketball in the state, Andre Iguodala, who may pick up a championship ring this season for the Golden State Warriors.

1984: Chicago (Simeon) vs. Aurora West, Class AA Semifinal

The second-to-last game in the life of Benji Wilson, who was killed just before his senior season at Simeon—for which he was considered the preseason number-one player in the nation. (Had Wilson lived, it’s possible he could have played with Kenny Battle, Aurora West’s star, on the Flying Illini.) Instead, Nick Anderson, Juwan Howard, Derrick Rose, Deon Thomas, and Jabari Parker would all wear Wilson’s 25—on their jerseys or, in Parker’s case, on his shoes—in tribute to Wilson.

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