Our earlier survey on the five best high school basketball players in Illinois history generated considerable debate. So it only figures that we'd ask several longtime observers to select the 10 best teams of all time.
Of course, each analyst is limited to teams which he saw. Some selections cover a period of 50 years, others no more than 15 or 20.
But, as I have argued many times, basketball is one sport that transcends decades, from the 1950s to today. For example, can anyone argue that the 1954 Du Sable team of Paxton Lumpkin, Sweet Charlie Brown and Shellie McMillon and the 1958 Marshall team of George Wilson, M.C. Thompson, Bobby Jones and Steve Thomas couldn't be competitive today?
With that in mind, here are my selections, dating to the 1950s:
1. Thornridge 1972: Quinn Buckner, Boyd Batts, Mike Bonczyk & Co. went 33-0 and never permitted an opponent to come within 14 points. They averaged 87 points per game while allowing 55. Their pressing defense was unmatched, before or since. In the state finals, they won by margins of 28, 29, 19 and 35 points. Their 104-69 victory over Quincy is regarded as the gold standard of all state championships.
2. Quincy 1981: Coach Jerry Leggett's 33-0 squad, led by Michael Payne, Bruce Douglas and Dennis Douglas, won by margins of 28, 25, 31 and 29 points in the state finals. They went on to win 64 games in a row, eclipsing Thornridge's 58-game streak.
3. Marshall 1958: Wilson, Thompson, Jones and Thomas led coach Spin Salario's team to a 31-0 record. Imagine, the Commandos weren't even rated in the Associated Press' final regular season poll of the top 16 teams in Illinois. But Marshall was the first Chicago Public League team to win a state title--the Commandos went on to win again in 1960--and nobody took city teams lightly from then on.
4. Collinsville 1961: Coach Vergil Fletcher always said his 1958 team, which lost to Herrin in the state final, was his best. But the 1961 squad of Bogie Redmon and Fred Riddle went 32-0 and won his first of two state titles. The Kahoks beat second-ranked Centralia 66-64 in the Salem supersectional in one of the most celebrated games in state tournament history.
5. King 1990: Coach Landon Cox won three state titles in eight years and always claimed that his 1986 squad of Marcus Liberty and Levertis Robinson was best of all. But his 1990 team was more dominant. Jamie Brandon, who scored over 3,000 points in his career, Johnny Selvie and Ahmad Shareef led King to a 32-0 record and a national championship. In the semifinals, they snapped East St. Louis Lincoln's bid for a fourth state title in a row.
6. Proviso East 1991: Coach Bill Hitt's team won back-to-back state titles in 1991 and 1992. His 1992 squad was unbeaten. But the 1991, which finished 32-1, is recognized as the best of four state championship teams produced by the Maywood school. The Pirates were led by Sherrell Ford, Michael Finley, Donnie Boyce, Jamal Robinson and Kenny Davis. Robinson and Davis were the ringleaders of the 1992 team.
7. Peoria Manual 1997: The last and best of Peoria Manual's four state championship teams in a row. Coach Wayne McClain's Rams featured Marcus Griffin, Sergio McClain and Frank Williams, each of whom went on to star at Illinois. Their state tournament matchups with Thornton were stuff of legend.
8. Simeon 2007: After playing and coaching under Bob Hambric, Robert Smith assumed control of the program after his mentor's retirement. His 2006 team barely got past Peoria Richwoods in overtime in the state final but his 2007 squad, led by Derrick Rose, Tim Flowers and Kevin Johnson, was dominant. The Wolverines beat O'Fallon 77-54 for the state crown.
9. Whitney Young 1998: In a year which produced the most outstanding crop of college prospects in 20 years, Whitney Young went 30-1 behind Quentin Richardson, Dennis Gates, Cordell Henry and Corey Harris and beat Galesburg and Joey Range 61-56 for the state title.
10. Evanston 1968: Talk about dominance. Few teams measure up to coach Jack Burmaster's Evanston team that lost only once in 31 games, to Jim Brewer and Proviso East, which went on to win the 1969 state title. The Wildkits were led by Bob Lackey and Farrel Jones up front and Ron Cooper and Walt Perrin in the backcourt. In the state finals, they won by margins of 12, 22, 16 and 19 points.
Honorable mention: King 1986, 1993; Thornton 1966, 1997; Lyons 1953, 1970; East St. Louis Lincoln 1987; Simeon 1984; Providence-St. Mel 1985; Phillips 1975; Lockport 1978; Manley 1980; Proviso East 1992.