Actor Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs is best known for his Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington character from Welcome Back, Kotter. Fewer people know him from the popular black cinema classic Cooley High.
Hilton-Jacobs’ character in the movie, Richard “Cochise” Morris, was a tragic figure from the Cabrini-Green housing projects. He was a high school basketball star in 1964 Chicago. His best friend was nicknamed “Preach.”
I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it.
Heartrending figures have been seen in Illinois High School Association basketball in real life too.
Ben Wilson tops the list. If you haven’t heard of Ben Wilson, he was one of the best ballers to ever charm Chi-town. He was the first Chicagoan to be named America’s number one recruit.
Tragically, he was murdered by two trigger-happy high school thugs with a .22 in 1984.
Wilson was average, but after growing to Magic Johnson’s height, while retaining point guard ball skills, he became unstoppable.
“Benji” was in the recruiting class with Glen Rice, Danny Ferry, Sean Elliott, Pervis Ellison, Rod Strickland and Roy Marble.
Another Chicago native, Derrick Rose, plays for all the marbles.
He may be the best guard in the NBA, but is he the best guard to ever rise out of Chicago—and Illinois? Probably. I’d like to offer the question for debate.
In IHSA basketball history, few back court players evoke visions of high-flying and explosive ability like Derrick Rose.
Shaun Livingston is from Illinois. He led Peoria High to consecutive titles in 2003 and 2004 and skipped college for the NBA. At 6'7", he was known for ball-handling and scoring—high flying, not so much.
Frank Williams starred on two state-champion teams from 1995-96 at Manual High. The 6'6" guard was known for playmaking and quick hands on defense. He played for the University of Illinois and in the NBA.
Other topnotch guards from Illinois include Shannon Brown, Dee Brown, Michael Finley and Quinn Buckner—all from Proviso East.
Shannon, a Lakers guard, may be able to match Rose’s leaping and dunking ability. Shannon is more of a shooting guard.
Dwyane Wade, another shooting guard, is a leaper and a dunker. His mother is a preacher.
At least one preacher emerged from the all-time great point IHSA guards.
Rev. Bruce L. Douglas Sr. was the man on Quincy High’s 1981 undefeated national championship team.
A Parade All-American, Douglas nearly led Quincy to another undefeated season his senior year, but lost in the 1982 semifinals.
Nick Anderson, who attended Simeon like Rose and Wilson, was more of a two guard. I’d describe Quintin Richardson from Whitney Young and Jamie Brandon and Marcus Liberty from Chicago King the same way.
Julian Wright from Homewood-Flossmoor fits in the same category.
Brandon set the record for 269 points in state tournament games. He helped King win a state title in 1990.
Two former NBA guards played at Carver High School—Cazzie Russell and Tim Hardaway. Russell was the 1962 Chicago Sun Times Boy’s Player of the Year.
All-Everything at Carver, he also commentated on the games for radio broadcasts while he was resting on the bench. I’m kidding, but he did play in the NBA for 12 years after his college ball at the University of Michigan.
On the banks of Lake Michigan, Rose’s closest Chicago point guard competition, in my view, is Isiah Thomas.
“Zeke” was an All-American guard at suburban St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Ilinois.
Isiah didn’t win a state championship, but he led Indiana to a national championship— something Rose fell short of.
St. Joseph lost to undefeated Lockport in the 1978 title game, 64-47, but Thomas led the state tournament in scoring. Rose led Memphis to the NCAA Finals, but they lost to Kansas.
Rose was named Illinois’ “Mr. Basketball” in 2007. In hoops-crazy Chicago, he led Simeon Career Academy to back-to-back state titles—wearing No. 25.
Wilson’s jersey number was 25. On the South Side, No. 25 is in the neighborhood with No. 23 in terms of legendary status.
Rose reportedly grew up playing ball on a court in journalist Michael Wilbon’s old neighborhood.
The Bulls were smart to draft him number one. They could have taken Michael Beasley, who may become an All-Star one day. Rose is already on Team USA.
Cut him some slack if he gets tired in fourth quarters during Bulls games. After carrying the United Center on your back for the entire game, you’d be tired too.
Another legendary player who can match and maybe outdo Rose’s high-flying tactics is another former Illinois Mr. Basketball, Ronnie Fields.
He was rated number three in the nation by Parade in 1996.
I saw his YouTube highlights and discovered he is extremely capable of doing a 360 on a solo break. But he was a train wreck by his senior year in high school, and ended up overseas.
Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times claims Fields could touch the top of the square with his elbow.
Teammates with Kevin Garnett at Farragut Career Academy in 1995, he led in dunks— nine to Garnett’s 23—after the first eight games.
Many observers claim Fields was a better player than Garnett.
“I had a teammate, Ronnie Fields, who was probably better than I was,” Garnett said.
“K.G.” was the first player in 20 years—the fourth American-born player—to join the pros directly from high school.
In an interview with SLAM, speaking in third person like Rickey Henderson, said Fields:
“There were so many great players before Ronnie and there are great players after Ronnie. I think we’re all equal.”
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