I received dozens of e-mails in response to my blog in which I argued that the caliber of high school basketball in Illinois isn't as good as it used to be.
Most of them agreed with me. But Chief Chalie had an opposing view. He wrote a very eloquent retort. Unfortunately, he didn't provide an e-mail address so I couldn't respond directly to him. So, in accordance with a policy that I established when my blog was introduced last October, I deleted his missive.
But I want to respond. We will probably agree to disagree on this point. But that's what debate is all about, well intentioned and intelligence conversation, not name-calling and back-biting.
Chief Chalie writes that Chicago continues to produce great college players who are represented in every conference, particularly point guards, "which is a position that requires fundamentals."
"I have lived all over the country and I have to say IHSA basketball is still the best I have seen regardless of the recent scandals," Chief Chalie e-mailed.
"You really sound like a bigger grandpa. The 1970s were almost 40 years ago. Yes, we should honor those teams and players alike. But come on, man. How many times will you blog about Buckner or the great Quincy teams of the past?
"I would be more understanding if you mentioned the Peoria teams of the 1990s or the (Thornton) team that featured Randle El, Ely and Napoleon Harris. Or even Chris Head's Westinghouse teams. Those were fundamental teams. Or even the St. Joseph team that beat King with Leon Smith and Imari Sawyer and East St. Louis with Darius Miles. Or even the Schaumburg team that beat Eddy Curry's team.
"Get a grip, man. The best high school basketball is played in Illinois right now. We don't have the corrupt prep schools with revolving doors."
So Chief Chalie had his say. Now I'll respond, point by point.
1. I didn't say high school basketball in Illinois today isn't of good quality. I said it isn't as good as it used to be. It may be as good or better than any other area of the country. But it isn't as good as it used to be in Illinois. There aren't as many elite teams or as many elite players being produced annually. The state tournament isn't what it used to be and I don't blame the four-class system for that.
2. Whenever I have mentioned the great teams in state history, Peoria Manual's 1997 team always in included on the list of the top 10. Thornton in the 1990s was good but never won a state title. If you are a rational and objective evaluator of state basketball, and you saw them play (otherwise, you don't qualify to cast a vote), you can't dismiss the fact that Thornridge 1972 and Quincy 1981 were the two best tams in state history. In fact, I rarely have a conversation with anyone who argues the point.
3. You're right. St. Joseph 1999 probably accomplished more and received less credit and props than any state champion this side of Schaumburg 2001. Neither team had star power, which is why I suppose neither one ever is ranked among the best of all time. Even St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore admits he produced at least four or five other teams that were better than 1999, including his Isiah Thomas teams of 1978 and 1979, but none ever won a state championship.
4. No corruption in Illinois high school basketball? What planet are you living on? Transfers -- legal, illegal, unethical or immoral -- have become a cottage industry since the 1950s. Remember Bumpy Nixon? The practice has become more widespread in the last two decades with the proliferation of AAU and summer competition. Some teams, even state finalists, have two or three players who list false addresses and live in other communities. And academics? Student-athletes? You must work for the NCAA. There were kids playing in Peoria who think X's and O's refer to their signatures.
Chief Chalie, I've been watching and covering high school basketball in Illinois since 1952. I've watched games in nearly every gym in the Chicago Public and Catholic League, the great gyms in the suburbs from Thornton to Lockport to Bloom to East Aurora to Hinsdale Central to Proviso West to Proviso East, and Downstate from Collinsville to Edwardsville to Quincy, Champaign, Springfield, Decatur, Galesburg and Pontiac and a lot of other places in between.
I still prefer shorts to skirts and I still think the great players of the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s...Sweet Charlie Brown, Paxton Lumpkin, Abe Booker, Bobby Joe Mason, George Wilson, Tom Hawkins, Cazzie Russell, Quinn Buckner, Rickey Green and others...could make the transition to whatever style they are playing today.
C'mon, Chief Chalie, did you ever experience more excitement than the Proviso West tournament during the Isiah Thomas/Mark Aguirre/Doc Rivers era in the late 1970s? Or Hebron's Cinderella team in 1952 and the state tournament in old Huff Gym? Or Anthony Smedley's steal and game-winning shot in 1963? Or Laird Smith's game-winning shot in 1976? Or underdog Maine South's drive to the state title in 1979? Or the triple overtime thriller in 1989?
Those were the good ole days. I haven't seen their like since. When I do, I'll be sure to let you know.