Top 10 Chicago high school basketball players of all time
More than a game
The Chicagoland area is second to none when it comes to high school basketball.
While producing some of the greatest talent in the game over the last 40 years, the area has also cultivated a rich culture surrounding the sport. Chicago basketball runs much deeper than the Bulls.
Here’s a look at our top Chicago high school basketball stars to ever grace the hardwood.
Honorable Mention: Ben Wilson, Simeon
Wilson is still considered by many to be the most talented Illinois high school basketball player of all time.
As a sophomore in 1982-83, Wilson played on the Simeon varsity team, something that wasn’t too common at the time. Then, during his junior year, he led the Wolverines to a Public League title and their first state championship in school history. Entering his senior year he was considered the top preps player in the country and poised to be the next big star. But those dreams were cut short when he was fatally shot on Nov. 20, 1984.
Wilson’s No. 25 is retired by Simeon, but his legacy lives on as former Public League stars like Derrick Rose, Nick Anderson and Juwan Howard have worn No. 25 in his honor. He undoubtedly had many more accolades in store.
10. Cazzie Russell, Carver
Russell was one of the first great players to emerge from the Chicagoland area. As a sophomore, he led Carver to the freshman-sophomore championship.
Then, in 1962, his senior season, Russell was named the Sun-Times Player of the Year. He led the Challengers to a 28-5 record, but Carver fell short, losing to Decatur in the State Championship. Don’t pin that on Russell, though: He notched 24 points and 15 rebounds in Carver’s 49-48 defeat in the title game.
9. Ronnie Fields, Farragut
Farragut’s Ronnie Fields was regarded as the best freshman in the country by ESPN in 1992-93. A Mr. Basketball winner, 1996 McDonald’s All-American and three-time All-Stater, the 6-foot-3 guard had a reported 50-inch vertical leap and entertained many crowds with his thunderous dunks and high-flying ways throughout his years in the Public League.
During his senior season, he averaged 32.4 ppg and 12.2 rebounds per game, and led the Admirals to an 11-1 record, but unfortunately broke his neck in a car accident one week before the city playoffs. He ended his high school career the third-all-time time leading scorer in Public League history with 2,619 points.
8. Jalen Brunson, Stevenson
A Mr. Basketball winner and McDonald's All-American (2015), Brunson is one of the most decorated players in the history of Chicago high school hoops. He led Stevenson to three straight state championship berths, which the school capped with its first state title in 2015.
In the clincher, which marked the first time a Lake County school won a boys basketball championship, Brunson tallied a 4A-title-game-record 30 points. Brunson also holds Stevenson records for single-game scoring (57) and total points (2,682).
7. Jamie Brandon, King
Brandon finished his high school career at King, where he started all four seasons, the second-leading scorer in Illinois high school basketball history with 3,174 points. King won a whopping 91 percent of its game (114-11) in Brandon’s time there.
Brandon was also named Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American as a senior in 1990, a season in which he led the Jaguars to a state title. At the time, his Mr. Basketball victory was the most one-sided in the award’s history — he won by a margin of 1,167 votes.
6. Marcus Liberty, Crane/King
Marcus Liberty led Crane to a sophomore city title as a freshman. Then, he transferred to King, where he led the Jaguars to a state title during in 1986, his junior year.
Entering his senior campaign, he was regarded as the top player in the country according to both USA Today and Sports Illustrated. The Jaguars again went to the state championship game that season, but fell short against East St. Louis. During the tournament run, Liberty averaged 35.7 points per game, and his 143 points in four games is still the most points scored in the IHSA tournament. He was named Mr. Basketball of Illinois that year (to compound three All-State nods and a McDonald’s All-American selection for his career), and went on to help lead the “Flying Illini” to a Final Four appearance in 1989.
5. Quinn Buckner, Thornridge
Before becoming a broadcaster, Quinn Buckner was a two-sport star at Thornridge. He is the only player in Illinois state history to be named player of the year in basketball and football.
Buckner led the Falcons to back-to-back state basketball championships in 1971 and 1972 in seasons they combined to go 64-1. The ’72 team is often referred to as one of the greatest Illinois high school basketball teams of all time. They finished with a perfect 33-0 record and their smallest margin of victory was 14 points (they squashed Quincy 104-69 in the title game).
4. Mark Aguirre, Austin/Westinghouse
Aguirre was a star sophomore at Austin when he scored 46 points against Westinghouse in the City Playoffs. Then, ironically enough, he transferred to Westinghouse after a coaching change. Aguirre earned national player of the year and McDonald’s All-American honors in 1978.
In his junior year, 1977, the Warriors lost the city championship — their first ever championship game appearance — to Phillips in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 12,000 people. But Aguirre led them to a city title the next year before going on to star at DePaul, where, as a freshman, he helped the team reach the Final Four for only the second time in school history. They lost to Larry Bird and Indiana State that season, but Aguirre went on to win multiple national player of the year awards in 1980-81 and was selected No. 1 overall by the Dallas Mavericks in the 1981 NBA Draft.
3. Derrick Rose, Simeon
The former Simeon star led the Wolverines to a Public League title during his junior season in 2006. What’s more, Rose hit a buzzer-beater against Richwoods that secured the Wolverines their first State Championship since 1984.
During his senior season, Rose won Mr. Basketball, was named a McDonald’s All-American, and Simeon went on to become the first Public League team to repeat as state champions with a win over O’Fallon. The Wolverines finished that season ranked No. 1 in the country with a 33-2 record, according to Sports Illustrated.
2. Isiah Thomas, St. Joseph
Thomas is arguably the most successful pro to come from the Chicago area. At St. Joseph in Westchester, Thomas played under the leadership of legendary coach Gene Pingatore. As a junior in 1978, Thomas led the Chargers to a 31-2 record and a state championship game berth, where they lost to Lockport.
As a senior, Thomas was one of the most coveted high school basketball prospects in the state of Illinois. He would go on to win a national championship with Indiana and was named one of the 50 greatest basketball players of all time in 2017.
1. Jabari Parker, Simeon
Jabari Parker is perhaps the most decorated high school star in the city’s history. He was the first freshman in Simeon history to start on the varsity team. He was part of the Simeon dynasty that won four straight state titles from 2009-2013. As a junior, Parker set the Wolverines program’s high scoring mark, pouring in 40 points in just 21 minutes against Perspectives. He also became the first junior to be honored as Illinois’ Mr. Basketball.
The national awards rolled in, as well. Parker was also named Gatorade national player of the year that season, becoming just the fourth junior to ever receive that award. As a senior, he joined Sergio McClain (Peoria Manual) as the only two players in IHSA history to start four straight Championship games. He also became the first two-time winner of Illinois’ Mr. Basketball.