It is a sad commentary that many young sportswriters and high school basketball fans in today's slam-dunk generation don't know the history of the game, only how many points someone scored yesterday. That's a shame. Because they never got to know Sherrill Hanks.
Duncan Reid began coaching at Rock Island long after Hanks had moved from Quincy High School to Quincy College. But he had admired Hanks' handiwork while coaching at Lincoln.
So when I was researching my first book, "Sweet Charlie, Dike, Cazzie, and Bobby Joe: High School Basketball In Illinois," I asked Reid to comment on Hanks, as in how one successful coach views another.
"He built a great program and he wanted you to know it," Reid said.
Later, while interviewing Hanks, I got the impression that he was a bit irked by Reid's remark, that it was a cheap shot at his well-known ego.
But I assured him that I interpreted the comment as one of great respect. Reid knew that Hanks had built one of the most successful programs in the state, really first class from the suits he wore to the sold-out home games to the Greyhound bus rides to Galesburg and the Quad Cities, and if you didn't know it, you didn't know the difference between a basketball and a football.
Hanks died last Tuesday in a nursing home in Owen Cross Roads, Ala., near his son Mike. He was 85. In 15 years as head coach at Quincy, his teams were 354-89, including second-place finishes in the state tournament in 1965 and 1972 and third in 1962. He never won fewer than 20 games in a season.
He never won a state championship. But he was the architect of a program that was inherited by Jerry Leggett and Loren Wallace. It was a program that was the envy of every high school coach in Illinois. And, given an opportunity, he might have built a dynasty at the University of Illinois.
"He was the best coach I ever played for," said Jim Wisman, who played for Hanks in 1972-74, once was married to Hanks' daughter Krisna and also played for Bob Knight at Indiana.
"From setting principles to understanding how people operate to motivating you, he knew how to coach. He had a great ability to make the game enjoyable to you."
Former Thornridge coach and Bradley University athletic director Ron Ferguson described Hanks as a "giant" in the coaching profession.
"I idolized guys like Sherrill and Vergil Fletcher who had been so successful," Ferguson said. "He was a disciplinarian and wanted it down his way. But he was able to disguise it so kids felt they were playing the way they wanted to play. He had a way of motivating kids so they felt they did what they wanted to do. He was ahead of a lot of people."
When I interviewed Hanks in 2002, he explained his philosophy. "You must teach a kid to play within the organization or you will have chaos. Let them learn freedom to be themselves--rebounding, defense, passing, shooting," he said.
"I wasn't the smartest coach who ever lived. I prided myself that I could see all 10 players on the floor. That's a gift. I never carried a chalk board on the bench. My philosophy? Let your own players dictate the game. If a kid could shoot, let him shoot. Let the players player. I didn't hold them back from what they could do.
"You have to have five guys, one to pass the ball and four to catch it. You must play man-to-man and one-on-one and two-on-two and three-on-three or you can't play five-on-five. The most important aspect of the system is to work your ass off. The offensive philosophy was pass, then pass and cut, then pass and screen, then pick and roll, then pass and shoot."
In 1974, after Harv Schmidt was fired at Illinois' basketball coach, Hanks decided to apply for the job.
"Sherrill called me about a basketball camp and we to talking about the Illinois job," Ferguson recalled. "If we could put together a group to go to Illinois...he said. We met in Chicago and he outlined a plan for getting the job."
Ferguson, who was very popular and highly respected after coaching Thornridge to state championships in 1971 and 1972, would be Hanks' assistant. They asked me to help them find a black coach in Chicago who could recruit inner city players. Phillips' Herb Brown was my first choice but he turned down the offer because he had tenure in the Chicago Public Schools system and didn't want to take a pay cut. My second choice, Farragut's Wardell Vaughn, who had coached Billy Lewis and Sonny Parker, accepted the offer. Hanks was interviewed but he never felt he was given a fair shake.
"It was a longshot," Ferguson said. "College people feel it is a step down to hire a high school coach. Another argument was who would go outside the state to recruit players? At the time, however, we felt we had the support of the high school coaches in the state and they would send their best players to Illinois. If we could keep the best players in Illinois at home, we felt we could have a successful program."
Illinois hired Gene Bartow, who was 8-18 in his first and only season before leaving to succeed Johnny Wooden at UCLA. Bartow's successor was Lou Henson.
It was Hanks' idea to organize the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association in 1970. He persuaded Toluca coach Chuck Rolinski to buy into his idea and build an influential organization that paved the way for the two-class system in 1972.
"Sherrill belongs with the all-time greats in Illinois basketball," Ferguson said. "He was probably the most organized coach I ever met. There was no element of coaching that Sherrill failed to include in his planning. He had great presence and really is the man responsible for Quincy having one of the best high school programs in the country."
"It was the best show in town, not flashy but businesslike," Wisman concluded. "There was a commitment to the program, hugh interest in the community, a great atmosphere. There always were high expectations and pressure to win. Hanks loved pressure. There was a pride in wearing the Blue Devil uniform. It all added up to being part of something special. And you were motivated to live up to it."