It is being argued in some quarters -- by those who think the Big 10 is relevant and others who think it is no better than the sixth best conference in college basketball -- that the Chicago Public League is overrated.
Overrated? Compared to who or what? Should the relative strength of a conference be based on the number of state championships it has won or the number of Division I or NBA players it has produced? Does tradition count for anything or does it only matter what Mo, Curly and Larry remember since the Internet was invented in 1988?
It makes as much common sense as the radio talk show hosts who claim Jon Scheyer is an overrated, non-talent because he isn't projected to be selected in the upcoming NBA draft. Forget that Scheyer is one of only five players in Illinois high school history to score more than 3,000 points, that he earned All-ACC recognition and was one of the leaders of Duke's newly crowned NCAA championship team.
What have we become if our criteria for stardom is the NBA lottery.
I wonder if Bill DeCorrevont must be considered an overrated running back because he never achieved greatness at the college or professional levels. Yet, the one-time Austin star attracted more than 120,000 people to Soldier Field for a high school football game in 1937, the largest crowd ever to witness a football game at any level, any time, anywhere.
Surely, Public League critics whose historical perspective began in 2000 aren't foolish enough to argue that the city didn't produce any talent in the 1950s or 1960s or 1970s or 1980s or 1990s.
Remember, we're talking about a league that didn't begin to regularly participate in the state tournament until 1953, a state tournament that hosted a separate tournament for all-black schools from southern Illinois in the 1940s. Since then, by anybody's standards, the Public League's record of achievement is nothing short of spectacular. Until recently, the league could only send one representative to the state finals.
1950s -- Marshall's unbeaten 1958 team became the first all-black state champion and continues to be ranked among the top five teams in state history. Paxton Lumpkin, Sweet Charlie Brown, Abe Booker, Tommy Hawkins, Art Day, Mel Davis, Frank Burks and Jim Robinson demonstrated the athleticism of today's players.
1960s -- Marshall and Carver won state titles. George Wilson, Cazzie Russell, Joe Allen, Eugene Ford, Rich Bradshaw, Mel Reddick, Ron Dunlap, Jerome Freeman and Billy Harris were headliners.
1970s -- Hirsch, Phillips and Morgan Park won state titles. Rickey Green, John Robinson, Bo Ellis, Billy Lewis, Sonny Parker, Mark Aguirre, Eddie Johnson, Ken Maxey, Donnie Von Moore, Terry Cummings, Teddy Grubbs, Maurice Cheeks, Darrell Walker, Kris Berymon, Levi Cobb, Nate Williams, Larry Williams, Ronnie Lester, Len Williams, Darius Clemons and James Jackson starred in a golden era. There are 10 NBA players in that group alone.
1980s -- Manley, Simeon and King won state titles. How about Hersey Hawkins, Tim Hardaway, Russell Cross, Marcus Liberty, Levertis Robinson, Ken Colliers Norman, Nick Anderson, Ben Wilson, Deon Thomas, Joe Stiffend, Efrem Winters, Wayne Montgomery, Ervin Small, Carl Golston, Voise Winters and Bernard Jackson?
1990s -- King (twice) and Whitney Young won state titles. Quentin Richardson, Bobby Simmons, Juwan Howard, Rashard Griffith, Jamie Brandon, Kiwane Garris, Kevin Garnett, Ronnie Fields, Nazr Mohammad, Leon Smith, Michael Hermon, Bryant Notree, Lance Williams, Michael Wright, Curtis Ganes, Kenny Pratt and Nick Irvin led the parade.
2000s -- Simeon (3), Marshall, Westinghouse, Whitney Young and North Lawndale have won state titles, six in the last five years in a new multi-class era in which Public League schools have more than one opportunity to qualify for the state finals.
But while city teams are more dominant in the state tournament, critics complain that the talent level has dipped in the past decade...a lot of gifted guards but no dominant big men, few Big 10 players and even fewer NBA prospects.
The list of individuals is headed by Derrick Rose, Sherron Collins, Luther Head, Darius Smith, Calvin Brock, Cedrick Banks, Sean Dockery, Imari Sawyer, Jamarcus Ellis, Jeremy Pargo, Ollie Bailey, Crandall Head, Mike Dunigan, Ahmad Starks, Will Bynum, Stefhon Hannah, Othyus Jeffers, Brandon Ewing, Anthony Johnson, Patrick Beverley, Jason Straight and Chris Singletary.
There are only three current NBA players in that group. But there are 11 Public League graduates currently playing on the NBA -- Rose, Bynum, Head, Kevin Garnett, Tony Allen, Juwan Howard, Bobby Simmons, Nazr Mohammad, Quentin Richardson, Jannero Pargo and James Singleton. And there will be more next year.
The truth is the Chicago Public League has produced more Division I and NBA players on a consistent basis than any region of the country outside of southern California over the last 60 years. And we're not even counting Nate "Sweetwater" Clifton, one of the first blacks to play in the NBA.
Look at the future...Wayne Blackshear, Sam Thompson and Mycheal Henry in the class of 2011 and Jabari Parker and Tom Hamilton in the class of 2013.
Overrated? Is the Public League best of all? Not every year. Every city from Los Angeles to Atlanta to Houston to Dallas to Detroit to New York to Miami to Chicago has its ups and downs, good cycles and bad cycles. But how many leagues are better? Is the West Suburban Silver better than the Red-West? Is the Catholic League better than the Red-South?
Overrated? Name another conference that has produced more state titles and more big-time players.