Our exercise on the 10 best high school basketball teams in Illinois history certainly created a firestorm of debate, which it was intended and expected to do. If basketball fans can be counted upon for anything, it is to offer an opinion. And many fans came armed with facts and figures to support their argument.
As I mentioned at the outset, if you are old enough to have seen Thornridge 1972 in person, there is no debate. Quinn Buckner, Boyd Batts, Mike Bonczyk & Co. is the No. 1 team in state history. No one argued that point.
Then the fun begins. If you didn't see Thornridge 1972, who was the best? Curiously, a lot of conversation centered around King coach Landon Cox's three state championship teams--1986, 1990 and 1993. Which of those was the best?
One prolific reader/respondent, Kosi Walker, insists the 1993 team is in a class by itself...two seven-footers in Rashard Griffith and Thomas Hamilton, an outstanding supporting cast with Michael Hermon, Jerrad Billingsley, DeWarren Stewart, Leonard Myles, Larry Allaway, Toporis Nash and Eddie Washington, a 61-game winning streak and an overwhelming points for/points against margin in the state finals.
Yes, a 61-game winning streak. It isn't even noted in the IHSA record book. But King went 32-0 in 1993 and won its first 29 games in a row in 1994 before losing to Westinghouse 59-58 in the Public League championship game.
In the state finals in 1993, King dismantled Westinghouse 77-52 for the city title, two-time defending state champion Proviso East 82-64 in the quarterfinals, Danville and Keon Clark 69-38 in the semifinals and Rockford Guilford 79-42 for the state crown.
Walker's argument is that no team dominated its opponents as King did in 1993, that no team in history had two such dominating players as Griffith and Hamilton, that it was better than King's 1986 and 1990 state champions.
But there are other arguments.
"I don't know how the King team of 1990 could not be among the top few teams," said Joe Henricksen of City/Suburban Hoops Report. "If I'm not mistaken, didn't that team win the mythical national championship? They had the most dominating player we've seen at the high school level in the last two decades in Jamie Brandon along with a Big East player in Ahmad Shareef, a monster high school player in Johnny Selvie and a budding freshman in Rashard Griffith. Wow."
Henricksen also points out that 1990 was a terrific year for high school basketball in Illinois with a senior class that included Brandon, Townsend Orr, Tracy Webster, Brandon Cole and Thomas Wyatt.
"The 1993 King team was obviously a dominant-type team with Hamilton and Griffith," Henricksen said, "but the state was brutal that year, maybe the weakest it has been. Just look at the Elite Eight that included Rockton Hononegah, Edwardsville, Bradley, Danville, Fremd and Rockford Guilford. The Final Four teams were awful."
While Henricksen rated King's 1990 team as the No. 1 team he has seen, Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye rated King's 1993 team ahead of the 1986 team. But they leave room for more consideration.
"The more we think about it, we agree with Cox that the 1986 team may have been his best," they said. "As you can see, there is very little separation between where we rank the 1993 and 1986 teams. However, we are going to stand by our list as it is.
"Here is the thing--maybe we are having a memory lapse, but there is nothing about the 1990 team that immediately stands out in our mind. Yes, we know they had Jamie Brandon and they went undefeated. But the 1993 team had perhaps the most unstoppable front court duo in the history of Illinois high school basketball. And they also went undefeated. Will the state ever again see a high school team that starts a pair of seven-footers? We are inclined to say no."
The Schmidt brothers concede that King's 1986 team with Marcus Liberty and Levertis Robinson was special "because everyone was saying that they couldn't beat Simeon for the Public League title. But they did it and, in so doing, got Cox over the hump. From there, everything was gravy. During that time several Public League teams would experience letdowns after winning the city championship. But not King."
A final few words from Kosi Walker, who is adamant on the subject.
He reminds that King's 1993 team ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Simon Gratz of Philadelphia, which was led by Rasheed Wallace.
"No one had as much talent," Walker said. "Simeon with Derrick Rose wouldn't have stood a chance. Could he penetrate King's zone? Could Tim Flowers score on Rashard Griffith? Hamilton wasn't overrated. He never played to his potential. That team had 12 Division I prospects. They smashed Westinghouse, Carver, Peoria Manual, Danville, New York LaSalle, St. Louis Vashon, Carmel, Ind., and Farragut. At worst, this is a top five pick."