While Illini Nation celebrates basketball coach Bruce Weber's notable successes on the recruiting trail--it is fun to contemplate the future rather than suffer through the present, isn't it?--a realist might caution that it is time to temper the euphoria.
History tells us that young players who are projected for future stardom sometimes don't achieve those lofty expectations. Why? Because they don't get bigger or better. Because they don't mature.
There are many examples. This isn't to say that Stan Simpson or Brandon Paul or D.J. Richardson or Joseph Bertrand or Jereme Richmond or Crandall Head won't become the next Dave Downey or Deron Williams or Deon Thomas or Nick Anderson or Kenny Battle in an Illini uniform.
But you can fill a scrapbook with the names and press clippings and pictures of eighth-grade phenoms and high school stars, even McDonald's All-Americans, who were touted as "the next Isiah Thomas" or "the next Cazzie Russell" and never made it. You've probably heard about many of them.
Thomas Hamilton, LaKeith Henderson, Ronnie Fields, Tunji Thurman, Superstar Edwards, Imari Sawyer, Marcus Catchings, Leonard Myles, Raymond McCoy, Teddy Grubbs, Jamie Brandon, William Gates, Glen Grunwald, Audie Matthews, Larry Rosenzweig, Prentis Baker, Arthur Sivels.
You could win a lot of basketball games with any five of those guys.
Perhaps it is unfair to include some of them in that list.
Grunwald, a three-time all-stater at East Leyden, was Player of the Year in 1976 and recruited by Indiana coach Bob Knight. But he suffered a knee injury during the summer before he enrolled in college and, although he was co-captain of Indiana's 1981 NCAA championship team, he never was the same.
Matthews was one of Bloom's all-time greats and Player of the Year in 1974. He had a good but not outstanding career at Illinois. Brandon, one of the state's all-time leading scorers, led King to state and national championships in 1990. But he had a checkered college career at LSU.
McCoy and Grubbs were members of the class of 1979, regarded by many as the best ever produced in Illinois. Some critics rated McCoy as a better guard than Isiah Thomas, another 1979 graduate. But he never blossomed in college. Grubbs started fast at DePaul, then suffered personal problems and faded out of sight.
Gates, one of the stars of the award-winning "Hoops Dreams" documentary, also was compared to Isiah Thomas. But a knee injury slowed his progress at St. Joseph and Marquette.
Fields and Kevin Garnett were standouts at Farragut in 1995 and Fields was Player of the Year in 1996. But poor grades and an off-the-court accident sent his career spiraling in another direction. After high school, it was discovered that he didn't have a "game" for the next level. He was an athletic freak of nature who executed spectacular dunks but had little else.
Edwards' mother named her son "Superstar"--yes, that was his real name--because she predicted her son would be the next great player in Chicago. But Edwards and Disco Cooper, who enrolled at King during the Marcus Liberty era, never lived up to the hype.
Neither did Henderson, who was supposed to follow Sonny Parker, Billy Lewis, Garnett, Fields and Michael Wright as the next great player at Farragut. Or Prentis Baker, a one-time Catholic League Player of the Year at Leo. He transferred from Leo to King and back to Leo, then enrolled at Northeastern University in Boston and disappeared.
But perhaps the best of all was Sivels, who attended Crane in the early 1970s. He was a legendary performer on the city's playgrounds but he played at Crane for only one semester, then became academically ineligible and dropped out. He later attended two junior colleges but left before ever suiting up.
How good was Sivels?
"Arthur's reputation preceded him more than anyone else," said longtime friend Lloyd Walton, who played at Mount Carmel, Marquette and the NBA. "He was better than we were, me and Isiah Thomas and Rickey Green and Billy Harris and Maurice Cheeks and Sam Puckett...by far.
"If he was playing today, he would be recognized as the best playmaker to come out of Chicago, the best in the NBA. He was a great ball-handler. No one could handle the ball like him...except Leon Hilliard of the Harlem Globetrotters. He knew how to run a team."
So remember Arthur Sivels the next time you think about nominating a high school sophomore for sainthood.