By Joe Henricksen

Imagine a 30 for 30 on Illinois prep hoops

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By Joe Henricksen

Any sports fan who missed out watching ESPN Films' critically acclaimed 30 for 30 last year, a documentary series featuring 30 films done by Hollywood filmmakers, missed some of the best sports television the Hoops Report -- and most sports fans -- have ever watched. We're talking must-see, set the DVR and a wide-range of feelings will surely follow and pour out after watching.

These are stories -- 30 in all over the past 30 years -- you never thought would grab you the way they do. These are fresh takes on sports stories that go beyond.

The 30 for 30 basketball stories alone have included gripping tales. Among the stories told in this series have been the relationship between former Loyola Marymount stars Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers, an inside look at the death of Len Bias and, maybe the best and most poignant of all, the story of war, friendship and sportsmanship through the eyes of Vlade Divac, the late Drazen Petrovic and the greatest European National Team of all time. (The wife had a tear in her eye after this one. OK, I nearly did, too).

Other must-see 30 for 30 stories included "One Night in Vegas," the story of the friendship of boxer Mike Tyson and rapper Tupac Shakur; "The U," the racial and cultural evolution of Miami football in the 1980s; "No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson," which included the 1993 trial of prep phenom Allen Iverson, and "The Best that Never Was," the close look at one of the most heavily recruited football players ever, Marcus Dupree, and his quick rise to fame and stardom and an even quicker fall.

While it would never happen and the idea is purely fictitious, I would do anything for these great storytellers to get their hands on real Illinois prep basketball history. I'm talking the likes of John Singleton, Peter Berg and Barry Levinson taking the many great prep basketball stories in Illinois and delving into them with full gusto and deliver the quality and unique television we've seen with the original 30 for 30. Can you imagine an up-close, investigated inside look at 30 prep basketball stories from Illinois high school basketball over the last 30 years?

So here is the first installment of a few potential stories -- 10 to get you started -- all of which occurred in the last 30 years (since 1980). Here are stories the Hoops Report would love to see highlighted in an Illinois prep basketball 30 for 30 version. What are some of the Illinois prep basketball stories you would love to see showcased in a 30 for 30 series? The Hoops Report would love to hear your ideas.

"KG"
This would be a no-brainer, right? Full access to it all? An inside look at Kevin Garnett's move in the summer of 1994 from rural South Carolina, where he was Mr. Basketball in that state as a junior, to the inner city and Farragut High School -- the reasons why it happened, how it went down and how the best player in the country landed in coach "Wolf" Nelson's lap. This anticipated 30 for 30 would show us the impact the move had on Chicago high school basketball and the beginning of the prep phenom regularly jumping to the NBA. Imagine a Garnett-type move and story happening now? With all the media and internet exposure?

"Not Quite Good Enough"
Thornton had great athletes (NBA player Melvin Ely, NFL players Napoleon Harris and Antwaan Randle-El) in the mid-1990s and piled up wins (93-4) and trophies (2 state runner-up finishes and a third-place finish) over a three-year period. But it was never quite enough as the Wildcats fell to Peoria Manual, which handed Thornton three of its four losses. A legacy and legend were built, even without reaching the goal of a state title.This is a look at that team and program, the highly-anticipated matchups between Peoria Manual and Thornton, as well as the coach, Rocky Hill, who ultimately lost his job despite all the success.

"End of the Two-Class Hoops Society"
In January of 2006, Illinois high school basketball was forever changed. The IHSA made the bold and controversial move to potentially harm the exciting and healthy two-class system in boys basketball. Now with this 30 for 30 investigative documentary, everyone will be able to see just how it all went down. They will get to see how the four-class system was ramrodded through by the IHSA, starting with ignoring the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and continuing with the infamous "survey" that neither truly supported the switch or even had a large response from IHSA member schools. This will examine that decision and the effect it's had (good and bad) on prep basketball, its marquee event and its fans.

"Nothing is Guaranteed"
Ronnie Fields, the great Farragut dunking roadshow, attracted fans, coaches and filled gyms with his dunks, talent and high-flying act. But his story does not conform to America's definition of superstar athlete. He was Chicago basketball with his signature dunks that filled gyms. However, since a dangerous car wreck late in his senior year, he battled injury, academics, legal issues and oversized expectations. Today Fields remains the athlete who reminds everyone nothing is guaranteed.

"The Jordan Boys"
Wonder what life was like living as the basketball-playing sons of the biggest sports icon in the world and in the city their dad owned? The Jordan years -- in this case, the kids playing prep hoops in Chicago -- is revisited. An up close and personal look at Jeff Jordan's days at Loyola Academy and Marcus Jordan's early years at Loyola before transferring to Whitney Young, where he won a state title his senior year.

"Twin Towers"
Now 20 years since their debut, the King tandem of Thomas Hamilton and Rashard Griffith, a pair of 7-foot high school stars, have left more questions than answers when it comes to why neither player reached the heights everyone expected. They were a traveling roadshow as prep stars, attracting recruiters from schools all over the country. An examination of the road these two high-profile prep players took since being hyped as early as 14 years old.

"King"
There was the success (an astonishing 503-89 in a 20-year run). There were the players (Efrem Winters, Levertis Robinson, Marcus Liberty, Jamie Brandon, Rashard Griffith to name a few). And there was "Sonny." Throughout the 1980s coach Landon "Sonny" Cox's King Jaguars became a national program, producing wins, titles and big-time individual talent. King basketball blazed a new image in high school hoops in Chicago. And with the success came swagger, bravado and controversy. This was the lone larger-than-life prep basketball program in Illinois basketball history during this era. Imagine unprecedented access to all that went down with the King program over a 20-year period. There was controversy and plenty of jealousy that followed Cox wherever he went as the coach at Chicago King, but there are plenty of untold stories of how the iconic Cox helped youth on the South Side, along with his love and talent as a jazz musician. That's some good television.

"On Guard! -- in the SICA East"
The 1989-90 season was the year of the guard in the state of Illinois, led by Chicago King superstar Jamie Brandon. But if you were a fan in the south suburbs in the late 1980s and were following the Class of 1990, you were treated to a special time in the legendary SICA East basketball conference. The conference featured the guard trio of Tracy Webster of Thornton (Wisconsin), Townsend Orr of Thornridge (Minnesota) and Brandon Cole of Bloom (DePaul) -- plus talented Drennon Jones of Eisenhower (UIC). Here is an internal look at the long-lasting friendships between these players, especially the bond between Thornton-Thornridge rivals Webster and Orr, from their childhood days through today. Imagine the great footage that could be found from those classic matchups in south suburban gyms.

"$80K and the Chevy Blazer"
The recruitment of Simeon's Deon Thomas turned ugly -- so says former Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl, who taped conversations with Thomas and contended Illinois offered $80,000 and a Chevrolet Blazer. The way recruiting was looked at changed forever in Illinois as Iowa and Illinois engaged in a recruiting battle for the Simeon star. The NCAA cleared Illinois assistant Jimmy Collins and Illinois in Thomas' recruitment, but it sanctioned the Illini for other violations and setting the program back a few years. What followed left Illinois on probation and a winding coaching road for former Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl. Here is a look back at how that started and how it went down.

"Out of Nowhere"
What if I told you a player from the city of Chicago was the No. 1 ranked player in the country and no one knew who he was just six months earlier? The unparalled story and rise of Anthony Davis of Chicago Perspectives. How about access to some film going back to see where he was as a freshman and continuing on through his sophomore and junior year when he played in absolute obscurity? The film feature would lead right up to the explosion of Davis as a prospect that catapulted him to No. 1 ranked player in the country and a national story.

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28 Comments

The Ben Wilson Story, period.

How about the Ben Wilson story too??

Great stuff Joe. The 30 for 30 series was great. I ended up buying all of them on Amazon. Here are a few of my ideas to add to your ten.

- The Howard Nathan Story. Story about the former Mr. Basketball from his time at DePaul to his cup of coffee in the NBA and his present day situation of being paralyzed from the waist down as a result of being shot. Still considered one of the great high school players I have seen in the state.

- Tom Shields. His coaching life in Chicago at Tabernacle Christian with the great John Battle to his state championship winning team at Providence St. Mel and state runner up Hales Franciscan team to his time in Pekin and Pontiac. He is a story and has coached in all walks of life.

- The Three Amigos. The story of Donnie Boyce, Sherrel Ford, Michael Finley and the two time state championship Proviso East team of the early 90s.

- East St. Louis. In the late 1980s there were not many programs that could compete with East St. Louis. Coach Bennie Lewis and the Flyers were churning out talent and state championships year after year. This story would focus on East. St Louis, Bennie Lewis and the wild success of his program.

- 4-Peat, the Story of Peoria Manual. To this day Peoria Manual is the only team in IHSA history to win four consecutive state championships. Led by legendary head coach Dick Van Scyoc for the first title and then Wayne McClain for the last three, the Rams could not be stopped and Peoria became the toast of Illinois high school basketball in the mid 90s.

- The legend of Jon Scheyer. As a much talked about Freshman Jon Scheyer's name was on the radar at an early age. In his time at Glenbrook North, the rangy sharpshooter led his team to a state title and put up crazy sick numbers, including a tournament record 52 points, 21 in the last 1:30 of the fourth quarter.

- The Bob Hambric Story. When people nowadays talk about Simeon basketball, they think of Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker and Robert Smith. Before these people arrived at 87th and Vincennes, Bob Hambric was the coach who put the Wolverines on the map. He guided his talented teams to state championships and helped produce some of the most talented players in the state of Illinois. One could make the case that Simeon would not be where it is today without Bob Hambric laying the foundation for one of the state's best ever programs.

I am sure I could think of more, but I need to get back to work. Great stuff again Joe. I would love to see this happen although I know it is a pipe dream.

Can't find stuff like this on high school hoops anywhere. Love my Hoops Report in the morning as a high school hoops junkie. I love those ESPN 30 for 30 things as well. I see people mentioning Ben Wilson so I have to agree there. How about a look at St. Mel back in the day, how that small school coached by Tom Shields were world beaters and so fun to watch. Could probably do something on Quincy. Do you have more coming Joe? Keep giving us more.

Good stuff! How about the Waukegan And Jereme Richmond story?

Great list, Joe. Gotta add a documentary on the Hebron story too.

Base it on the book "Once There Were Giants", add any archival film footage that can be found, and you've got a winner.

For that matter, you could expand it to other states, where similar stories are told and re-told. Edgerton, Minnesota. Milan, Indiana. The list goes on.

Yeah, Hoosiers was already made, but a documentary version would be sweet.

The 30 for 30 are what you said, some of the best television out there. Its real-life reality TV instead of the crap that is out there. I too was thinking Hebron like Westy was but realized its only last 30 years. Great story nonetheless. And great topic here Joe. Love it. WOuld love to see a complete list of 30 and then vote on them.

Joe,

Don't sit around and wait for ESPN. Pitch your idea to a local channel like WGN or WTTW.

Ben Wilson would be a good one, but CSN Chicago did this 2 years ago - 25: The Ben Wilson Story.

Something on Leon Smith might be intriguing

his name keeps popping up in the news, so something on Reggie Rose - something like exploiting the system, or in over his head.

Hebron seems like a no brainer although it was 60 years ago. Before Hoosiers, there was Hebron.

Another candidate for Illinois High School basketball 30 for 30 would be the first Proviso East State Championship that may have saved the high school! At the time there were racial fights with involvement with the Black Panthers, Dick Gregory, students going to school with helmeted police lining sidewalks and school hallways, etc. The Proviso East basketball team went on to win the state championship with Jim Brewer who along with his team mates played despite warnings and even death threats! The team helped bring both the white and black students together under a common interest that very well may have saved the high school from further riots/fighting.

Love a 30 for 30 sampling on Ernie Kivisto of East Aurora. Charistmatic. Style that was not the norm at the time.It would be like the Paul Westhead 30 for 30 I saw on ESPN.

Have me thinking now all day of the ones I would like to see. Great work Joe. Get it all with this blog including knowledge, history and insight on prep hoops in Chicago. But the one I would give anything would be the one that highlighted a cheating, under the table scandal. Don't know which one, plenty to choose from, and highlight in something like this that brought it all out.

What about the story of Quincy Basketball especially under Jerry Leggett (players like Kenny Payne, Bruce & Dennis Douglas) when they set state record for victories in row but lost to Mendel Catholic in Semi's. The program has something like 3000 season ticket holders and when the state tournament was at U of I the place would be packed with Quincy fans. May have had one of the all time best pregame warmup passing drills which included all of the coaches, ball boys and mascot.

This 30 for 30 is great. I would like to see King, Thornton, or one with the three amigos from Proviso East. The Ronnie Fields story would be great because you can touch on Garnet at the same time. Another good 30 for 30 would be the Chicago Public league. I mean how many pros and D-1 stars have come out of the public league in the last 30 years? Joe if you or ESPN don't make it happen I might have to do it myself.

How about a story on the 1964 Cobden Appleknockers? One of the best small school, David vs. Goliath stories ever, though they eventually only won 2nd (but, beat the best teams to get to the Championship).

Actually the Ben Wilson story is in the works. It will be coming out Oct. 2012.

As always great stuff from the Hoops Report. But think fans! Lets get some non-descript stories out there like the ESPN 30 for 30 did. Some good under the radar stories have been introduced in the comments but what are some others?

I agree with Tom's suggestions.

If you were going to do this the Ben Wilson story is the first one that needs to be told.

I am a little disappointed Joe. You are usually all about giving the downstate programs respect. IMO Manual's four year run is more worth telling that Thornton's back to back runner up finishes (both title game loses to Manual.) Maybe you are just appealing to the local crowd here. I also think the Quincy and ESL multiple titles are better stories. Heck, a documentary on Quincy as how that down embraces HS hoops would be great. Bar none the best HS player introduction you will ever seen.

Joe - Great stuff as usual! Although you left Erik Herring off your list of Thornton's team. He was definitely one of their best players. He had a nice career at Bowling Green too (at least that's what I remember).

A few that I'd love to see 30 for 30 on...

-Chris Head's Westinghouse team from 2000 (tallest player was like 6'3 and they beat Oak Hill who had 2 seven-footers and was No. 1 in the nation). I believe they went undefeated until losing to West Aurora in the state finals? One of the most tenacious defense teams I've ever seen. They also won state in 2002. Profile on the players but more importantly the polarizing head coach with questionable tactics.


Or profiles on a couple of the most gifted players I ever saw on the high school level that never sustained college careers whether it was academics or off court problems. They are Joey Range (Galesburg) and Jamarcus Ellis (Westinghouse). I don't care what anyone says they had the makings of 10+ year pros. As physically dominant as Q was in the 98 state tournament, Range was right there with him. As for Ellis, I haven't seen a guard quite like him in the state since. Incredibly versatile offensively and the best defender I've seen on and off the ball when he wanted to be.

Joe, whattya think?

Classic work from the Hoops Report. Thanks. Would expect nothing less. How about Lawrenceville's winning streak? How about Eric Anderson vs. LaPhonso Ellis?

A few more I have thought of:

The Pontiac Holiday Tournament. This was the original high school holiday basketball tournament that was started in 1926. The tournament takes place in a small central Illinois town and has a long tradition of showcasing some of the states best teams over the last 85 years. It may not get the same hype as the Proviso West Holiday tournament, but it is arguably the best tournament year in and year out.

Teutopolis. This town is not just the home of Superman, but also some great boys and girls high school basketball teams over the years. State championships have been won by the boys and the girls. Often times those of us in the city forget or don't know what it is like to live in a small town like this and how seriously they take their basketball.

St Josephs High School and Gene Pingatore - This story would explore the coaching career of Gene Pingatore. From his younger days with Isiah to his first and only state title winning team in 2000. It would also talk with former players and current players about the St. Joseph's tradition and what kind of a coach and man Gene Pingatore really is.

Once again, I am sure I can and will think of more. I love this topic Joe. Great stuff.

I would love to see one on the turnaround of Niles North basketball. You could pretty much make one about the coaching tandem of Olsen and Drase. They turned around a Maine East program that had not won a regional in 34 years and they took over a Niles North team that had 3 wins in 08-09 and made them into sectional champions.

Joe, I think it's interesting almost all of these topics are pre-four-class days. You mention in your 30 for 30 blurb on the topic that you'd investigate all the good and bad that has come of four-class hoops. I didn't realize there was anything good about it. :)

Mr. Bell, first I want to thank you for sticking with High School sports for so many years. From Teddy Grubbs and Efrem Winters all the way through to Liberty and Brandon. I saw you in the winter time in the worst hoods in the city...covering and not just watching high school basketball in the city and down state. To me you are a true Icon in high-school sports in the city of Chicago.

With that being said, I am so glad to hear that ESPN will bring light to the Benji story. # 25 was more than a basketball player to us...he was a glimpse into what was possible for young inner city high-school students. He was a breath of fresh air in what could only be described as the closest thing to hell on earth for so many people. Benji was the first positive news about the public school system, and the only young black person from the south side I think I have ever heard about...he was a "baller" and he was humble about it.

30 years later....I pray that he is remembered for the person he was as much as for the game he had. Really his game and him were one in the same...smooth and silky, as well as smart and shy.

Who knows, would he have been as good as Len Dias and Johnnie Dawkins in college? Could he have been as good as Bird or Magic or even Jordan in the Pros...that's the thing that keeps Benji alive for me, and some others who watched him from afar in HS. We see that Nick went on to many good things in the NBA and he will tell you that Ben was ten times better than he was. What if...the eternal question that will go un-answered about Benji...and that's why I think he is still to this day...so hard to let go of.

Jabari has a chance...will he become Derrick Rose, or Marcus Liberty? Who knows but what we do know....as of this moment...if you look back at old HS clips of Benji, and look at Parker....you see an uncanny resemblance in their games and attitude's....and yes the attention he is earning. I feel that he will be good. Benji good...Rose Good...Jordan Good.

Seeing how Benji will be received by the rest of the country on a national stage will be an event in my house...not so much for the story...those of us from the south-side in those hoods all know the story....the question for us becomes, will Benji's story this time be able to do something, 30 years after he was gunned down, that most NBA All-Stars, MVP's and HOF'ers may never be able to do, which is save young lives, by dying way too soon himself?

God bless...you are in our prayers Mr. Bell...thank you for being a part of Benji's story..by keeping it alive.

Back in the day, only the Mormons and Taylor Bell came to the “hood “on the south side of Chicago. From, covering players in the late 70’s like Teddy Grubbs and Efrem Winters all the way through to Liberty and Brandon if you played basketball Taylor Bell saw your game. I saw with my him own eyes, Taylor Bell in the winter time, in the worst hoods in the city. Doing what I’m sure he loved to do, covering kids with dreams of college and beyond, not just another high school basketball game. To me he is a true icon in high-school sports in the city of Chicago.
With that being said, I am so glad to hear that ESPN will bring light to the “Benji story # 25” on ESPN 30 for 30. As I’m sure you know, Ben Wilson was more than a basketball player to us who lived and grew up on the south side. He was a glimpse into what was possible for young inner city high-school folks. He was a breath of fresh air in a place that could only be described as “the closest thing to hell on earth that anyone could ever imagine”. Ironically enough it’s a city known for being “so cold” in so many ways as well. Many people growing up where Benji and I grew up, we saw it that way. The City was hot and cold all at once. Just some days hotter or colder than others is all, where we are from anyway.
Benji was the first positive news about the Chicago public school system, that I had ever heard or paid any attention too any how. The only young black person from the south side I think that about doing something good for himself and the people around him. He was a "baller", we all looked up to him and at the same time he was humble about it, and that made it easy. Everybody knew him, and he knew everybody, the same.
30 years later, I pray that he is remembered for the person he was, as much as, for the game he had.
Really, I think part of the reason he was so good, is that his game and him were one in the same, smooth and silky as well as smart and shy in a way. Somewhat like, ” I’m good, you good too, just keep working, and we good, no stress we can do this.” is what it would say if it could talk to you. It was just as relaxed and natural as all out doors. In the midst of the chaos, was this peace in his game, a comfort I guess?

Who knows, would he have been as good as Len Dias and/or Johnnie Dawkins in college? Could he have been as good as Bird or Magic, maybe even Jordan in the Pros?
That's the thing that keeps Benji alive for me and so many others to some degree, as much as how tragically his life ended, some of us who watched him from afar play basketball, still are waiting to see someone that was that good that early.
We see that Nick Anderson went on to do many good things in the NBA and was Benji’s teammate. I bet he will tell you himself, that Ben was ten times better than he himself was. And the reason Nick gave his all every game, and in life as well.

Rose came close in high school and is now on an elite level in the NBA.
Jabari Parker is next up and seems to be giving his every effort to live up to Benji’s legacy as well. .


What if, the eternal question that will go un-answered about Benji and his future after high school. Even still to this day, some 30 plus years later, it remains so hard to let go of.
Then there is light again on the south side, there is a place for young man working and keeping faith. Jabari Parker, will he become Derrick Rose or Marcus Liberty?
Two former high-school “phenom’s”, one, Derrick Rose, who is now world famous and another, Marcus Liberty, who has traveled the world to play the game he loves, if not for long on the NBA level, but at a professional level none-the-less overseas.
Who knows which path Benji would have taken, who know’s?
If you look back at old basketball clips of Benji, and look at Jabari Parker’s game, you can see an uncanny resemblance in their games and even their attitude's and yes handling the attention as well. Will he be Benji good, Rose good, Jordan good? I bet your life he will give it his all, because of where he plays and who played there before him, # 25.
In close,
Seeing how Benji will be received by the rest of the country on a national stage will be an event in my house. Not so much for the story, those of us from the south-side of Chicago in those hoods know all about the story. The question for us becomes, will Benji's story, this time, be able to do something 30 years after he was gunned down? Can his story do something that most NBA All-Stars and MVP's, HOF’ers or the NBA high fliers may never be able to do, which is: do you think can save young lives, by dying way too soon themselves himself?

Len Bias has, im sure of it.

Let’s pray that Benji has saved a life or two in the time past, and with any help from the good people over at ESPN 30-30 many more lives to come?

God bless, you, you are in our prayers thank you for being a part of Benji's story, by helping to keep it alive.

-paul aka nose-picken-nobody

By Paul on February 10, 2012 10:24 PM

Back in the day, only the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Taylor Bell came to the “hood “on the south side of Chicago. From, covering players in the late 70’s like Teddy Grubbs and Efrem Winters all the way through to Liberty and Brandon til this Crop of young heralded players of Jabari Parker and Jahill Okafor, if you played basketball in Illinois Taylor Bell saw your game.

I saw with my him own eyes, Taylor Bell, in the cold the is the “Chicago Hawk”, in the worst hoods in the city, doing what I’m only someone who loved could do, covering kids with dreams of college and beyond. For him and the inner city kids it was not just another high school basketball game. To us he was the only reason to pick up a newspaper, to see the write up in the High School sports section. Now he has become a local icon in high-school sports in the city of Chicago without question.

With that being said, and by the posting of this comment, I am clearly ecstatic to read that ESPN will bring light to the “Benji # 25 story” on ESPN 30 for 30. As I’m sure you know by the fact that you are reading this article, Ben Wilson was more than just a basketball player, to those of us who lived and grew up on the south side of the city. He was a glimpse into what was possible for young inner city high-school folks. He was a breath of fresh air in a place that could only be described as “the closest thing to hell on earth that anyone could ever imagine”.

Ironically enough it’s a city known for being both as “hot” as hell while being sometimes “cold” and un yielding in politics as well as daily life. Many people growing up where Benji and I grew up, we saw it that way, it was never a just a day for us, it was hot or it was cold, never like on Oak Street or the North Shore, where days cold be sunny, and mild, for us those days always seemed to have if nothing else a “tinge” of gray, if not in the sky, in the color of the exterior of the torn down abandoned buildings, or maybe the old discarded syringes only feet from the entry way into a lot of the CPS of the day and in a lot of them to this day. For us it seemed some days were just hotter or colder than others is all,

Benji, was the first positive news about the an inner Chicago public school student, that I had ever heard or at least paid any attention to anyhow. The only “young black/African American” person from the south side I think that about doing something good for himself and the people around him.

He was a "baller", we all looked up to him, while at the same time he didn’t see it that way, he was humble about it, and that made it easy for most of us to like him just that much more. Everybody knew him, and he knew everybody, the same. You see we all had this tragic situation that we were in trying to find a way out of. Benji, knew how tough things were for us on the “low end” and yet and still he smiled and by doing so gave the rest of us hope, not that we could win state for the city, no it was much more than that for some of us, Benji was showing what could happen if we worked hard to become the best at something, he gave us hope that we too could be 1# in the nation at something, anything, other than the murder rate and high school drop-outs.

30 years later, I pray, that he is remembered for the person he was, as much as, his game.

Really, for those of us I think part of the reason he was so good, is that his game and him were one in the same. If you were familiar with him he was smooth and silky as well as smart and shy in a way, if his game could talk I’m sure you would at some point hear something like this “I’m good, you’re good too, Imma just keep working on it til it become easy, work with me and you will see that we are all good, no stress, take it in stride, we can do this.”

It was just as relaxed and natural as all out doors. In the midst of the chaos, right outside the doors of the High School gym’s he played in, was this “peace” and serenity in his game, a comfort level that made things that are difficult for most of us simple and natural for him I guess?
Who knows, would he have been as good as Len Dias and/or Johnnie Dawkins in college? Could he have been as good as Bird or Magic, maybe even Jordan in the Pros?

We all have wondered that for the last 30 years.

And if you aks most people who saw Benji play, that's the thing that keeps Benji’s basketball dream alive, but the real Benji story is for as great a ball player that he was and as great and wonderful person he was , the story is how tragically his life ended.

We needed to feel safe in the inner city, but if the best of us could be gunned down for no reason, we were no more than “human beings to the Mafia of Al Capone days”- nothing.

We see that Nick Anderson, who had transferred from Prosser to play with Benji, went on to do many good things in the NBA and was Benji’s teammate for only a brief time never playing a game with his longtime friend. I bet he will tell you himself, that Ben was ten times better than he himself was. And the reason Nick gave his all every game he played in, as well as in the way he chooses to to live his life as well.

Now in Chicago, we have Derrick Rose, who came through Simeon and wore #25 as a tribute to himself and what type of person he is and to show the world that Ben Wilson was still alive in the hearts and minds of Chicago High School basketball. Rose, now on an elite level in the NBA, will tell you he is great, but at 6’8” Benji had his skills and maybe a better shot, LOL.

Jabari Parker is next up and seems to be giving his every effort to live up to Benji’s legacy as well. At the same height and that smooth easy relaxed game, the faith that once was Benji, and Rose rest on his shoulders, and through his faith and hard work we can see once again, hope, on the south side of Chicago where in a lot of cases, there is no reason to have any.

“What if”?

The eternal question if life, and the question that burns us all about this or that, will go un-answered in the case of Ben Wilson and his future after high school. Even still to this day, some 30 plus years later, it remains so hard to let go of, like the high school sweet heart that we look back and say, “I wonder what ever happened to her?”

As Ihave mentions before, there is light again on the south side of Chicago, there is a place in this place for young man working hard and keeping the faith. Will Jabari Parker, become Derrick Rose or Marcus Liberty or worse the next Ben Wilson?

To even pen that statement should tell you something, it should tell you that all these years later, that a tragedy like Ben Wilson’s could still happen 30 years later on the south side of Chicago. How, you might ask, well the same way, kids not named Ben Wilson or Nick Anderson, are beat to death to only later have it posted on YouTube, the same way that kids not named Derrick Rose or Marcus Liberty are shot down on their way to or coming home from CPS’s on the south side of Chicago almost every week or so, but without a #1 ranking in the country attached to their obituaries, or a # on a jersey to keep their legacies alive.

I pray for Jabari, and I am confident that he will go on to fulfill his dreams in life and in basketball. I have no doubt that he will have every opportunity afforded him by God, and his God given talent, but there are so many kids that work just as hard as Jabari in the class room, that stay late to study, and go home and work on their math and reading skills, that I am not so confident will get a chance to achieve their full potential, kids who are more likely to find themselves ending up shot and killed without so much as a by-line than to have the future that will become one nurtured and encouraged like that of Jabari Parker’s.


Case in point in the sports world even, two former high-school “phenom’s”, one, Derrick Rose, who is now world famous and another, Marcus Liberty, who has traveled the world to play the game he loves, if not for long on the NBA level, but at a professional level none-the-less overseas. Both highly ranked and deserving of accolades that only the very best of the best could achieve in High School basketball in the city, both have had very different paths to success, but on very different levels to say the least.

Who knows which path Benji would have taken?

In close,

Seeing how Benji will be received by the rest of the country on a national stage will be an event in my house. Not so much for the story, those of us from the south-side of Chicago in those hoods know all about the story, even if you were not alive when it happened, his story has been past down like a family heirloom, and will be for many years to come.

The question for us now becomes, what will “Benji's story” be able to accomplish, this time, as it is past down yet again?

The next generation of youth trapped on Chicago’s south side, or in the Marcy Project in Brooklyn, or in East LA/Compton Ca, or in the 4th ward in Houston, Tx., or in Miami’s Overtown or maybe in Liberty City, or countless other inner city neighborhoods across this country.

Will Benji’s story be able to do something 30 years after he was gunned down, this time, that didn’t quite catch on as well as it could have when it actually happened?

Can Benji’s story do something that most NBA All-Stars and MVP's, HOF’ers, or even the NBA’s greatest player ever Michael Jeffery Jordan may never be able to do, which is-

Can Ben Wilson’s story “save young lives” by dying way too soon himself?

What a cross to bear for a young person to have to carry post-mortem, but something tells me that Benji will do it from above with a smile and with ease.

God bless you all for helping to keep Benji alive so that he may be able to save other lives.

-paul aka nose-picken-nobody

How about the blonde bomber, Jay Shidler?

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on November 7, 2011 5:50 AM.

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