Steve Tucker and Derril Kipp have been close friends for years. Nobody knows more about girls high school basketball in Illinois than they do. They have been observing the game for more than 30 years, Tucker as a former high school sports writer and editor at the Chicago Sun-Times and Kipp as a basketball coach at Maine West in Des Plaines.
They agree on a lot of things but when the conversation turns to Bolingbrook's Morgan Tuck and Niles West's Jewell Loyd, two of the most prolific scorers in state history, they agree to disagree. They agree both are great high school players. But how great? All-time greats?
The subject came to a boiling point on January 16th when Tuck and Loyd were matched up in the showcase game of the annual McDonald's Shootout at Willowbrook. Tuck scored 26 points as Bolingbrook crushed Niles West 67-36. Loyd scored 26 points but shot only 6-for-19.
Tuck is a 6-foot-2 senior who is committed to Connecticut. She was Illinois' Ms. Basketball in 2009, a three-time All-State selection who is a member of USA Basketball's U17 and U19 national teams. She averages 31 points per game and hopes to lead Bolingbrook to an unprecedented fourth state championship in a row.
Loyd is 5-foot-10 senior who is committed to Notre Dame. She is a two-time All-Stater and a member of USA Basketball's U17 national team. She averages 30 points per game.
According to All-Star Girls Report, Loyd and Tuck rank 3 and 4 nationally in the class of 2012. A year ago, Tuck's teammate, Ariel Massengale, now a freshman starter at Tennessee, ranked No. 3 in the class of 2011.
So where do Tuck and Loyd rank among the all-timers in Illinois?
"It is hard to compare players from different eras," Tucker said. "Tuck and Loyd don't rank on my list of the top five but they have to be in the discussion for the second five."
Tucker's first five, in no particular order, are Yolanda Griffith of Carver (1988), Candace Parker of Naperville Central (2004), Tamika Catchings of Stevenson (1995), Kim Williams of Marshall (1993) and Tina Hutchinson of East St. Louis Lincoln (1983).
Griffith emerged as one of the all-time greats in women's basketball, a future Hall of Famer who has been voted as one of the 15 best players in the history of the WNBA. Parker, one of the top five players in the WNBA today, is a likely member of the 2012 Olympic team. Catchings, another WNBA star, played only two years at Stevenson, losing only one game and winning a state title before moving to Texas. Williams won three state titles in four years at Marshall. Hutchinson was the first dominant player in state history but she was injured before her great career could be realized.
Tucker's second five would include Tuck, Loyd, Whitney Young's Dominique Canty and E.C. Hill, Peoria Richwoods' Nora Lewis, Chicago Notre Dame's Carol Owens, Marshall's Kim McQuarter, Joliet East's Pam Gant, Joliet West's Kathy Boswell, South Shore's Diana Vines, Lindblom's Donna Holt, Hinsdale Central's Toni Kokenis, Senn's Bebe McBride and Maine West's Nancy Kennelly.
"Tuck has a great skill set. What amazes me is how much better she is now than last year," Tucker said. "She won state last year and was good. But she is much better now. She is playing on a team with seven other Division I players and she dominates. She has developed so much.
"The biggest difference is she has gone from more of a post player who played with her back to the basket and rebounded to a player who shoots the three. She can do everything. Is she a top five player? The others have more history. If Bolingbrook wins the state again, since no one has ever won four in a row in girls, you'd have to add that to the mix."
Kipp also rates Griffith and Catchings on his all-time first five. But he also picks Boswell (1978), Lewis (1985) and Marshall's Janet Harris (1981) to fill out his starting lineup. He singles out Lewis, who was national high school player of the year in 1985 and later was a national collegiate player of the year who won two NCAA championships at Louisiana Tech, as "maybe the best player ever."
Kipp's second five are Hutchinson, Canty, Massengale, Parker and Marshall's Marie Christian.
"Is Tuck as good as Massengale? She is good but the state titles that Bolingbrook won were precipitated by Massengale's ability. Without her, they wouldn't have won any state titles," Kipp said.
"Tuck is a player who has gotten better each year. She has the ability to play inside and outside. But she has to prove she can play at Connecticut because of her (6-foot-2) size. She can't play in the post at Connecticut. No one pushes her around in Illinois. She has to keep changing her game, depending on where they play her in college."
Tucker said Loyd is "one of the most offensive-minded players I have seen. She has no range. She can make it from half-court. It is so hard to compare the two because Tuck plays with so many Division I players. There never has been a match-up of two kids like that in one game. If she was at Bolingbrook and Tuck at Niles West, they still would be great players but maybe the whole take on this story would be different," he said.
Kipp isn't as impressed. "She will be good at Notre Dame. In high school, she is scoring a lot of points and does a lot of things because no one can guard her. She is shooting the ball extremely well from deep but she isn't being guarded by people who can guard her," he said.
"She isn't a top five player. Does she have great potential? Yes. She can handle the ball. And she scored 50 points against Maine West. But I like Tuck way better. She is more of a team player and plays harder."
The first 10 women inducted into the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum in Pinckneyville in November were Boswell, Gant, Canty, Catchings, Harris, Williams, Lewis, Hutchinson, Griffith and Hill. Parker wasn't eligible because nominees must be out of high school for 10 years before being considered.