I've covered high school basketball in Illinois since the 1950s and I'm constantly asked which is the best team I've ever seen. For the last 35 years, the answer has always been the same.
Thornridge 1972. Quinn Buckner, Boyd Batts, Mike Bonczyk, Ernie Dunn, Greg Rose.
If you saw them, you know what I mean. If you didn't, you can't make a valid comparison.
It would be like saying the 1961 Yankees (Mantle, Maris) was the best major league baseball team you ever saw without seeing the 1927 Yankees (Ruth, Gehrig).
In fact, I've never met anyone who saw Ron Ferguson's Thornridge team who ever mentioned another team in the same sentence...not Quincy 1981 or Marshall 1958 or Lyons 1953 or Collinsville 1961 or Evanston 1968 or Peoria Manual 1997 or Thornton 1966 or King 1986 or Proviso East 1991 or Simeon 2007.
Why Thornridge? One statistic is all you need to know. In the course of winning 33 games in a row, the Falcons never allowed an opponent to come within 13 points.
There are other reasons why Thornridge was in a class by itself. The Falcons averaged nearly 90 points per game while allowing opponents barely over 50. Their 1-2-1-1 zone press was the most intimidating and effective pressure defense anyone had ever seen. There was no weak link. Every starter was qujick, could shoot, pass, handle the ball and play suffocatting defense.
In the state finals, Thornridge made a statement for the ages. The Falcons won their last four games by margins of 28, 29, 19 and 35 points. Their 104-69 thrashing of Quincy is the standard by which all other state championship games are measured, like the Bears in Super Bowl XX.
Even the late Jerry Leggett, who coached Quincy's great 1981 squad led by Bruce Douglas and Michael Payne, never questioned Thornridge's brilliance. He saw up them up-close-and-personal while coaching at Rich Central.
And former Peoria Manual coach Dick Van Scyoc never disputed the issue. His team lost to Thornridge three times during the 1971-72 season, including a 71-52 defeat in the state quarterfinals. A member of that team was Wayne McClain, who succeeded Van Scyoc and won three state titles. McClain never argued the point, either.
It makes for an interesting debate. Who was better? Marshall's unbeaten 1958 powerhouse, the first all-black team to win a state title, was led by George Wilson, M.C. Thompson, Steve Thomas and Bobby Jones. And the great Ralph Wells was a mid-year graduate. Collinsville's 1961 team, coach Vergil Fletcher's best, featured Bogie Redmon and Fred Riddle. Most recently, Simeon dominated the state with Derrick Rose and Tim Flowers.
But Thornridge was best of all. If you saw them, you know what I mean.