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.