As the years go by, every once in a while, someone who wasn't there at the time it happened invariably asks: "What was the best high school basketball team of all time?" And someone who was born in the 1980s responds: "Derrick Rose and Simeon in 2007."
This is in defense of an argument that rarely has had to be made. Thornridge 1972 was the best team in state history. It's a slam dunk, a no-brainer. Coach Ron Ferguson's Falcons were the best there ever was. Here's why.
There have been many great teams, including Quincy 1981, Marshall 1958, Collinsville 1961, Taylorville 1944, La Grange 1953 and 1970, Evanston 1968, Thornton 1966, Proviso East 1991, Peoria Manual 1997 and Simeon 2007.
But even Jerry Leggett, who coached Quincy 1981 and observed Thornridge 1972, and Wayne McClain, who played three games against Thornridge in 1971-72 and coached Peoria Manual 1997, never rated their teams higher than Thornridge. In fact, it is rare to meet anyone who saw Thornridge who doesn't agree.
Thornridge was 33-0, in the midst of compiling a then state-record 54-game winning streak No team came within 14 points, an achievement unmatched by any other team in state history. The closest game was a 70-56 victory over a St. Patrick team coached by the legendary Max Kurland. La Grange's unbeaten 1953 powerhouse, led by Ted Caiazza, never allowed an opponent within nine points.
In an era before the three-point shot was adopted, the Falcons averaged 87.4 points per game while allowing 56.3.
Four players earned all-state recognition from at least one publication or rating service--Quinn Buckner, Boyd Batts, Mike Bonczyk and Greg Rose. Buckner earned All-America and National Player of the Year status.
Four players averaged in double figures--Buckner (22.7), Batts (19.1), Rose (18.1) and Ernie Dunn (10.4).
Bonczyk averaged 8.2 assists per game, Buckner 5.4.
Thornridge had a .498 shooting percentage while limiting opponents to .374.
In a 1994 survey, Reidel's Roundball Review rated Thornridge 1972 as the fourth best high school team of all time, behind Baltimore Dunbar 1983 (three NBA first-round picks and four NBA players), New York Power Memorial 1964 (Lew Alcindor) and Hyattsville, Maryland, DeMatha 1965 (the team that snapped Power Memorial's 71-game winning streak).
How good was that? Rated behind Thornridge was Indianapolis Crispus Attucks 1955 (Oscar Robertson) and Philadelphia Overbrook 1955 (Wilt Chamberlain).
Thornridge was noted for its 1-2-1-1 zone press, a suffocating defense that UCLA's John Wooden later picked up. With Greg Rose pressuring the in-bounds pass, Buckner playing center field and the 6-7 Batts defending the hoop, it intimidated all opponents.
Bloom coach Wes Mason used to say Thornridge's press was so good that even the players without the ball had trouble getting across mid-court.
Ferguson employed it only once a game, usually early in the second quarter. But opponents never knew when it was coming. And when it did, the Falcons would score 10-12 points in a row within a minute or two to break open a game. Then it would be put away for another game.
It was unleashed for all its glory in the 1972 state championship game, which is to the Illinois tournament what the 1985 Bears were to the Super Bowl, the signature performance, the Mona Lisa.
Thornridge beat Quincy 104-69. Leading 25-15 after the first quarter, the Falcons shocked Quincy with the press early in the second period, outscored the Blue Devils 32-11 and built an astonishing 57-26 halftime lead. Nobody has seen anything like it before or since.
In the state finals, Thornridge won by margins of 28, 29, 19 and 35 points.
Simeon 2007 was a very good team, maybe one of the 10 best of all time. And Derrick Rose is an all-timer. As a senior, he was one of the best players I have seen in 50 years--with Buckner, Cazzie Russell, George Wilson, Kevin Garnett and Isiah Thomas. Who would you drop from that group to form a starting lineup?
But better than Thornridge? No.
Simeon finished 33-2, beating Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Va., but losing to Farragut 62-54 and New York Rice 53-51 within 10 days in January.
Simeon averaged 73.1 points while allowing 49.9.
Four players averaged in double figures --Derrick Rose (18.4), Tim Flowers (17.2), Kevin Johnson (15.2) and Bryant Orange (10.2).
In the state finals, they won by margins of 14, 22, 12 and 23 points. They crushed O'Fallon 77-54 for their second state title in a row.
Derrick Rose was great but Buckner was better as a senior, bigger and stronger and every bit the consummate team leader that he later would demonstrate as the leader of the gold-medal winning Olympic team, Indiana's unbeaten 1976 NCAA championship team and an NBA championship team with the Boston Celtics.
Flowers was no match for Batts, who was taller and much quicker and more athletic and could shoot from the perimeter. And Simeon had no answer for Greg Rose, then a junior and a multi-dimensional player who reminded of Doc Rivers.
They don't make teams like that anymore.