We hype. We talk about the best this, the best that. We compare and contrast who's better.
But how about the worst? We never talk or write about the worst.
No one could possibly be a bigger critic of the four-class basketball system in Illinois than yours truly. For me, four-class basketball has sucked the loving-March-life out of me when it comes to prep basketball in this state.
But that's not to say every State Finals in the two-class system were glorious. There was a down year here and there in two-class basketball as well, which brings me to the point of all this: The 20-year anniversary of ...
The worst State Finals ever.
Right now there is someone in the Bradley-Bourbonnais community reading this and saying, "Wait a minute! Weren't we in Champaign in 1993?"
Yes, you were Boilermakers.
But this was the Bradley-Bourbonnais team a year after Chris Gandy, the 6-8 all-stater who went on to play at Illinois, had graduated.
Yep, 20 years ago today, Mar. 20, 1993, the Class AA Elite Eight tipped off in Assembly Hall in Champaign.
The 1993 season and State Finals in Champaign will forever be highlighted by one of coach Sonny Cox's most dominating King teams. The Jaguars were led by what we've never seen before and may never see again: A pair of highly-regarded 7-footers leading the way.
King went 32-0 behind 7-1 Rashard Griffith and 7-3 Thomas Hamilton, who averaged 21 and 18 points a game, respectively. Jerard Billingsley, Ronald Minter and Dewarren Stewart rounded out this senior-dominated juggernaut.
But this State Finals conversation starts with King and ends with King. There was nothing else -- at least for anyone outside the seven participating communities.
King won the state championship game in an absolute yawner, demolishing Rockford Guilford by 37 points in a 79-42 win. That's a 37 point-margin! In a state championship!
King's other two wins -- 82-54 over Proviso East in the quarterfinals and 69-38 over Danville in the semifinals -- weren't much closer or better. Those are three games decided by an average victory margin of 32 points a game.
But lets get away from King for a moment. The first session quarterfinal games on Friday featured these two, uh, um ... tantalizing matchups: Fremd (23-6) vs. Bradley-Bourbonnais (28-2) and Rockford Guilford (25-6) vs. Edwardsville (24-6). Try and name any of the big-named players on those four teams.
The King bracket did feature Glenbrook North. But this was one year after Mr. Basketball winner Chris Collins had graduated and a decade before Jon Scheyer arrived. This was, you remember I'm sure, the Kyle Scott, Brian Culhane and Jamar Holcomb version of GBN hoops.
A pretty solid Danville team, led by DeMarko Wright and Keon Clark, buried Glenbrook North by 20 points in the quarterfinals, while King crushed Proviso East in the final quarterfinal game.
Speaking of Proviso East, don't get too excited. This was two years after the "Three Amigos" -- Sherrell Ford, Michael Finley and Donnie Boyce -- played and won a state championship, and a year after the Pirates went unbeaten en route to winning back-to-back state titles.
Memorable, take-home moments for the fan? There weren't any, unless you want to keep talking about how the two King 7-footers looked as if they were matched up against 8th graders. This was a dud of an Elite Eight.
Hey, it happens. The 2006 Final Four, after all, featured Florida, UCLA, LSU and George Mason, with the closest game being a 14-point margin of victory. The combined seeds of the four teams was greater than 20 and there wasn't a single first, second or third-team AP All-American playing in the Final Four field.
The Class AA State Finals doldrums in Illinois didn't last long. The following March began the four-year run of dominance by Peoria Manual, with stars Brandon Hughes and Willie Coleman leading the way with the help of a couple of freshmen, Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin. The Rams knocked off Troy Hudson, who went on to play 10 years in the NBA, and Carbondale in a 61-60 state championship game thriller.
That was promptly followed by what would become the last true heyday of State Finals basketball in Illinois, from 1995-1998. Peoria Manual and Thornton captivated state basketball fans at the State Finals from 1995-97, while the 1998 field was as talented as any we've seen with Whitney Young (Quentin Richardson, Cordell Henry and Dennis Gates), Elgin (Sean Harrington, Marcus Smallwood and Marcus Howard), Galesburg (Joey Range and Rod Thompson), Maine West (Lucas Johnson and Kevin Frey) and Fenwick (Corey Maggette and Chris Williams).
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