The Illinois stars who never made it to the state finals


The Illinois stars who never made it to the state finals

The state high school basketball tournament has begun, Illinois' signature event, the original March Madness. For decades, it has been the dream of every kid who began shooting hoops in a playground or at a rim nailed to a garage or a tree to play in the state finals in Huff Gym or Assembly Hall or Carver Arena.

It has been a showcase for some of the best players in state history...Lou Boudreau, Johnny Orr, Ron Bontemps, Max Hooper, Walt Moore, Deacon Davis, Ted Caiazza, Nolden Gentry, Mannie Jackson, George Wilson, Bogie Redmon, Cazzie Russell, LaMarr Thomas, Bob Lackey, Jim Brewer, Owen Brown, Quinn Buckner, Rickey Green, Russell Cross, Marcus Liberty, LaPhonso Ellis, Jamie Brandon, Rashard Griffith, Sergio McClain, Darius Miles, Eddy Curry, Jon Scheyer, Derrick Rose.

But the list of elite players who didn't play in the state finals is just as long and distinguished, Hall of Famers who went on to stardom in college and the NBA but never realized the dream of every high school player in Illinois--to play in the finals of the state tournament.

How about this five? Proviso East's Glenn "Doc" Rivers, Batavia's Dan Issel, McLeansboro's Jerry Sloan, Du Sable's Maurice Cheeks, Carver's Terry Cummings.

Or this five? Centralia's Bobby Joe Mason, East Leyden's Glen Grunwald, Richards' Dwyane Wade, Mount Carmel's Antoine Walker, Springfield Lanphier's Andre Iguodala.

These players from the pre-1970s era? Mount Carmel's Archie Dees, Collinsville's Rodger Bohnenstiehl, Marshall's Rich Bradshaw, Madison's Don Freeman, Dunbar's Billy Harris, Lockport's Jeff Hickman, Canton's Dave Downey, Peoria Manual's Al Smith, Tamms' Chico Vaughn.

These Public Leaguers? Parker's Tom Hawkins, Crane's Eugene Ford, Dunbar's Ronnie Lester, Simeon's Bobby Simmons, King's Efrem Winters, Westinghouse's Eddie Johnson and Hersey Hawkins.

These suburban stars? Thornton's Lloyd Batts, Maine South's Pete Boesen, St. Joseph's Evan Turner, Homewood-Flossmoor's Julian Wright, Glenbrook North's Chris Collins, Proviso East's Shannon Brown, Downers Grove North's Rick Howat, Proviso West's Michael Ingram.

Talk about frustration.

Rivers, now coach of the Boston Celtics, was an All-Stater in 1978, 1979 and 1980. His teams were 23-5, 26-2 and 26-2 and won regional titles. But they never won a sectional.

Grunwald, now interim vice-president of the New York Knicks, was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the nation in 1976, ahead of future Louisville star Darrell Griffith. In four years at East Leyden, his teams were 20-3, 21-4, 28-1 and 25-1. They won 108 games in a row in the regular season but never qualified for the Elite Eight. They lost three times in the regional. In 1975, they lost to Proviso East in the supersectional.

Mason, whose No. 14 jersey hangs next to Dike Eddleman's No. 40 in Centralia's Hall of Fame, was a two-time All-Stater in 1954 and 1955. His teams finished 25-7 and 29-3 and were ranked No. 3 in the state but lost twice to Pinckneyville in the sectional final.

Issel was a 1966 All-Stater at Batavia in Chicago's far western suburbs. He and future NFL quarterback Ken Anderson were boyhood friends and teammates. Issel was recruited by Adolph Rupp and became an all-time standout at Kentucky and an ABANBA Hall of Famer.

Batts was the leading scorer in Thornton history. He averaged 29 points as a junior and 35 as a senior for teams that won 47 of 56 games. As a junior, he starred on a team that was ranked No. 4 in the state after the regular season. He had 20 points and 13 rebounds in a 63-61 loss to Waukegan in the supersectional. As a senior, his team lost to Joliet Central and Roger Powell in the sectional final.

Smith wasn't rated among the top five players in Peoria history according to a 2000 survey in the Peoria Journal-Star. But legendary coach Dick Van Scyoc and former Bradley coach Joe Stowell insist that Smith was best of all, even better than 2004 NBA lottery pick Shaun Livingston. A three-sport star, he pitched Peoria Manual to the 1965 state baseball championship. He played basketball and baseball at Bradley.

Boesen was Player of the Year in the Chicago area in 1975. His team was 23-4 but lost in the supersectional.

Ingram was Player of the Year in the Chicago area in 1985. His Proviso West team was 25-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state at the end of the regular season. But the Panthers lost to East Leyden in the sectional final.

Downey was a two-time All-Stater at Canton and went on to become one of the greatest players in University of Illinois history. As a junior, his team started 13-1 and was ranked among the top five in the state. But he suffered a broken ankle and missed eight games. Despite his 33-point performance, his team lost a one-pointer to Kewanee in the sectional. As a senior, his team again lost in the sectional and finished 18-8.

Freeman, who also became an all-time performer at Illinois, led Madison to a 29-1 record as a senior in 1962. The team was 24-0 and ranked No. 3 in the state at the end of the regular season but lost to Collinsville in the regional final.

Vaughn, a 5-foot-11 guard, is the state's all-time leading scorer. From 1954 to 1958, he scored 3,358 points, averaging 32.3 points in 104 games. He attempted more shots (2,583) and made more (1,282) than anyone else before or since. His 1958 team at tiny Tamms was 26-4 but lost to defending state champion Herrin in overtime in the sectional. He played for eight years in the NBA and ABA before retiring in 1970.

As Opening Day approaches, Cubs roster comes into focus


As Opening Day approaches, Cubs roster comes into focus

With less than a week until Opening Day, the Cubs' roster is all but set.

Joe Maddon told reporters in Arizona Friday the Cubs will roll with eight relievers to open the season, which doesn't come as any surprise. 

Left-handed pitcher Randy Rosario was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, leaving Eddie Butler and Shae Simmons as the two most likely guys to take the final bullpen spot.

Butler, 27, is out of minor-league options, which means if the Cubs do not keep him on their big-league roster, they risk losing him on waivers. Simmons still has two options remaining.

Butler also represents more starting pitching depth for the team beyond their five-man rotation and Mike Montgomery. Theo Epstein's front office likes to enter a season with 8-10 starting pitching options in case of injury, so it'd be hard to see the team getting rid of their No. 7 guy on that depth chart.

This spring, Butler has pitched 10 innings over five games with a 4.50 ERA and five strikeouts. He made 11 starts and two bullpen appearances with the 2017 Cubs, posting a 3.95 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.

Simmons, 27, signed with the Cubs as a free agent Feb. 16 and pitched nine games with the Seattle Mariners last year. He's appeared in four games for the Cubs this spring, pitching to a 2.45 ERA with five strikeouts in 3.2 innings.

In carrying eight relievers, that only leaves one position player spot available (backup catcher). Outfielder Peter Bourjos is expected to start the season in the minor leagues.

Veteran backstop Chris Gimenez will probably get the nod on the big-league roster over youngster Victor Caratini.

Gimenez comes with experience and a knowledge and relationship with Yu Darvish and we do have confirmation Darvish is making the Opening Day roster:

The Cubs really like Caratini and he's arguably their top position player prospect, but at age 24, he needs to play every day and see regular at-bats, which he wouldn't get backing up Willson Contreras in Chicago.

With that, here's the projected Cubs' Opening Day roster:


Willson Contreras
Chris Gimenez


Anthony Rizzo
Kris Bryant
Addison Russell
Javy Baez
Tommy La Stella
Ben Zobrist


Ian Happ
Kyle Schwarber
Albert Almora Jr.
Jason Heyward

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester
Kyle Hendricks
Yu Darvish
Jose Quintana
Tyler Chatwood


Brandon Morrow (closer)
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Justin Wilson
Steve Cishek
Brian Duensing
Mike Montgomery
Eddie Butler

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

As the Bears begin to fill out their draft board in earnest, they’ll do so by evaluating the players they like and the players they think will be available when they pick eighth in April. And what players check both those boxes and go into their draft “clouds,” as Ryan Pace calls them, will depend largely on how many quarterbacks are taken ahead of the Bears’ pick. 

With about a month until the draft, it seems clear two teams will take a quarterback with a top-seven pick: the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. The Browns own the Nos. 1 and 4 picks; the Jets traded up from No. 6 to No. 3, and teams rarely invest that kind of draft capital to not draft a quarterback. 

That leaves a few hinge points in how many quarterbacks are picked by the time the Bears are on the clock:

New York Giants (No. 2 overall)

The Giants still have an aging Eli Manning but could move to use the second pick to draft his long-term replacement. Or, alternatively, they could use this deep class of top-end quarterbacks as an avenue to trade down, add some picks and build out a young core that way. Either of these scenarios would be good news for the Bears, as we’ve seen Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson connected to the Giants at No. 2 as well, if they were to stay there. The Buffalo Bills could be motivated to trade up to No. 2 to make sure they get the guy they want with quarterbacks almost assuredly going off the board at Nos. 1 and 3. 

Cleveland Browns (No. 4 overall)

If the Browns get their quarterback with the first pick — Sam Darnold? — they could be sitting in an ideal spot at No. 4. If the Giants draft a quarterback, Cleveland could play hardball and tell teams they’re fine keeping the fourth pick and drafting Barkley with it. That could create a bidding war between the Buffalo Bills (No. 12) and Denver Broncos (No. 5) to trade up and draft the last of the four clear-cut top quarterbacks in this class. In this scenario, Cleveland adds a bunch of picks to an already-sizable stash and accelerates their growth through the draft. 

If the Giants were to trade out of the No. 2 pick, let’s say to the Bills, it may lessen Cleveland’s desire to trade down from No. 4 unless a team in need of a quarterback like the Arizona Cardinals (No. 15) or Miami Dolphins (No. 11) starts lurking around. But as we saw last year with the Bears trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky, teams don’t want to leave things to chance if they have conviction on the quarterback they want. So that brings us to the…

Denver Broncos (No. 5 overall)

The Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two-year deal and still have 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch on their roster, though he hasn’t shown much in only five games as a pro. Does Denver absolutely, positively have to draft a quarterback? No. They’re probably in the same boat as the Giants in that regard. But what if they really like Josh Allen and/or Baker Mayfield, both of whom their coaching staff worked with at the Senior Bowl, and one of them is still on the board when the Browns’ pick comes up at No. 4? Or what if Josh Rosen has been their guy all along? 

In that case, John Elway may make an aggressive move to guarantee he gets the quarterback he wants, and not risk losing that guy if a team were to cut the line by trading with the Browns. 

The other scenario is less positive for the Bears: Maybe the Broncos only have one or two quarterbacks out of this group they want, and they either can’t find a trade partner to move out of No. 5 or don’t want to. If three quarterbacks are drafted in the first seven picks, the Bears may not have the opportunity to draft one of Nelson, Chubb or Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, for example, is a super-talented prospect — but we seem to be moving toward a consensus that Nelson, Fitzpatrick, Chubb and Barkley are the four best non-quarterback prospects in this draft. And in all likelihood, the Bears will only be able to draft one of them four quarterbacks are taken before they pick. 

The wild card here is Nelson, given his position (guard) is rarely seen as worthy of being a top-10 pick. But those who saw him up close in college believe he’s a future perennial Pro Bowler, possibly beginning as soon as his rookie year. The Bears’ fit is obvious, with Harry Hiestand coming to coach the offensive line from Notre Dame and the team — as of right now — still having a fairly clear need for another interior offensive lineman. Perhaps Nelson falls to the Bears even if there are only three quarterbacks off the board before they pick, but having four go off the board would make things a little less stressful at Halas Hall in late April. 

Indianapolis Colts (No. 6 overall) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7 overall)

The Colts already traded down once, and likely did so with the confidence that Chubb would still be on the board at No. 6 to help their limp pass rush. Fitzpatrick seems to be a good fit with Tampa Bay, though a player of his caliber would be a good fit anywhere. Either of these teams still could be persuaded to trade down, especially if the Giants and/or Broncos pass on a quarterback.

Chicago Bears (No. 8 overall)

If four quarterbacks are off the board by the time the Bears pick, that’s ideal for Pace. If three are, he still could get someone from his No. 8 pick “cloud” and be content staying there. If only two are — and this doesn’t appear to be a likely scenario — that means the Bills haven’t found a trade partner and may want to leapfrog the Dolphins at No. 11 to get their guy. More likely, if the Bears are able to trade down from No. 8, it would be because a team like Arizona wants to make sure the quarterback they want isn’t snagged by an opportunistic team ahead of them. 

But Pace's draft history has seen him trade up far more frequently than trade down. If someone who's in his draft cloud is available when the Bears go on the clock, chances are he'll pick that guy and not trade down. 

Plenty can and will change between now and when the draft begins on April 26. But for right now, the landscape ahead of the Bears suggests only positive things setting up for their first-round pick.