Roy and Harv Schmidt, the energetic and prolific proprietors of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye, have been observing and scouting and evaluating high school basketball talent in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois since 1985.
Here are their choices as the top 10 teams they have seen:
1. Peoria Manual 1997: The best of Manual's four consecutive Class AA state champions. Sergio McClain sealed his legacy as perhaps the biggest winner in the history of Illinois prep basketball by playing on all four state winners. Frankie Williams and Marcus Griffin also were high major talents. Maybe not the most talented team we have seen but, in our opinion, they were the best.
2. Whitney Young 1998: If Najeeb Echols doesn't commit a crucial turnover in the waning moments against Lexington (Ky.) Catholic, they go undefeated. They had the ultimate leader and warrior in Quentin Richardson, who simply put the team on his back game after game. Cordell Henry was the quintessential floor leader and Dennis Gates was a superb perimeter shooter. Echols and Corey Harris provided rebounding and interior defense.
3. Proviso East 1991: This team, which featured the famed Three Amigos (Sherrell Ford, Michael Finley, Donnie Boyce), was considerably more talented than the undefeated Proviso East squad which won the state championship the following year. We said from the get-go that Finley would play in the NBA. Overall, they had great quickness, athleticism and defensive tenacity.
4. King 1993: All of King's three state championship teams were terrific but, in our opinion, this squad was the best. The twin tower combination of Rashard Griffith and Tommy Hamilton dominated every game and proved to be unstoppable. The guards, DeWarren Stewart and Ronald Minter, weren't stars but they did their jobs.
5. East St. Louis Lincoln 1987: It is difficult to single out any of East St. Louis Lincoln's three consecutive state championship teams as being the best but in a close call we give the nod to the first one. LaPhonso Ellis established himself as not only one of the premier prospects in the state as a junior but also one of the best in the nation. The team also featured an All-State forward in Chris Rodgers.
6. King 1986: The only high school to be listed twice in our top 10, this King team was truly special. The talk all season long was whether they could get by Simeon but they did in the Public League championship game behind the dynamic duo of Marcus Liberty and Levertis Robinson. We thought that Liberty was the No. 1 player in the nation in his class with Robinson being no worse than top 20 nationally.
7. Providence-St. Mel 1985: The only Class A team to make our list. We have not seen a more thoroughly entertaining team in all of our years of covering high school basketball in Illinois. They were a highlight reel in every game they played. Whether it would be Lowell Hamilton dunking on the receiving end of an alley-oop, Fernando Bunch ringing up jumpers from just inside the half-court stripe or Joe Jackson and Terry Miles showing off their high-flying athletic ability, they excited fans in gyms throughout the state.
8. Simeon 2007: Clearly the best of Simeon's two consecutive state championship teams which featured Derrick Rose. Simply put, Rose grew up that season as he matured tremendously and became the dominant player that everybody knew he was always capable of becoming. Tim Flowers was a dominant post presence and Kevin Johnson, Brandon Hall and Bryant Orange were team-oriented players who did a great job of buying into coach Robert Smith's philosophy.
9. Thornton 1997: The only team not to win a state championship to make our list. Their three-year battle with Peoria Manual fro 1995-1997 was the best Triple Crown rivalry since the thoroughbred races in 1978 between Affirmed and Alydar. Unfortunately for Thornton, they were Alydar. Thornton's 1997 team was ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season and went into the state tournament undefeated. They seemingly had it all--a future pro in Melvin Ely, strong perimeter shooting with Erik Herring, a quality point guard in Antwaan Randle El and a world-class athlete in Napoleon Harris. But it wasn't enough to beat Peoria Manual in the Class AA semifinals that year.
10. Peoria Central 2003: In our opinion, the best of Peoria Central's two straight state championship teams which featured Shaun Livingston. He finally settled in at Peoria Central after transferring from Peoria Richwoods and firmly established himself as a household name not only in Illinois but also nationally. It led to him becoming an NBA lottery pick out of high school. This team also had a very underrated guard in Dan Ruffin.