At the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Simeon coach Robert Smith stated that his primary goal was to finish 34-0, win the state and national championships and supplant Thornridge's 1972 powerhouse as the greatest high school basketball team in state history.
Close but no cigar.
Simeon finished 33-1, winning its third state title in a row and fifth in the last seven years, but a 75-50 loss to Fendlay Prep of Henderson, Nevada, on Jan. 16 cost the Wolverines their No. 1 national ranking and a national championship.
This was a very good but not great Simeon team, maybe the best Smith has produced. They didn't dominate all opponents, particularly Bloom and Proviso East in the state finals. Even 6-foot-8 junior Jabari Parker, the nation's top-rated player, struggled in the last two games.
But Thornridge 1972 set standards that never have been surpassed or even approached, before or since.
Check the records:
In a 33-0 season, no opponent came within 14 points.
The Falcons averaged 87.4 points per game while allowing 56.3.
In the state finals, they overwhelmed Lockport, Collinsville, Peoria Manual and Quincy by margins of 28, 29, 19 and 35 points.
They featured three All-Staters--Quinn Buckner, Boyd Batts and Mike Bonczyk. Another starter, junior Greg Rose, was an All-Stater the following year.
Four players averaged in double figures--Buckner (22.7), Batts (19.1), Rose (18.1) and senior Ernie Dunn (10.4). Bonczyk averaged 6.1 points and 8.2 assists per game.
In the state championship game, they overwhelmed Quincy 104-69, the most one-sided final in history and the gold standard by which all others are compared. In the second quarter, they outscored Quincy 32-11 to build a 57-26 halftime margin.
Coach Ron Ferguson's 1-2-1-1 zone press, often called "the Thornridge press," was devastating against all opponents. It separated the team from all others who ever hoped to be included in the "best ever" conversation.
According to a national survey published in 1994, Thornridge was ranked No. 4 among the greatest high school teams of all time--behind Baltimore Dunbar 1983, New York Power Memorial 1964 and Hyattsville, Maryland, DeMatha 1965. Oscar Robertson's Indianapolis Crispus Attucks team of 1955 was ranked No. 5 and Wilt Chamberlain's Philadelphia Overbrook team of 1955 ranked No. 6.
Other state championship teams that deserve consideration are Quincy 1981, La Grange 1953, Marshall 1958, King 1986 and 1990, East St. Louis Lincoln 1987, Collinsville 1961, Taylorville 1944, Peoria Manual 1997, Whitney Young 1998, Mount Vernon 1950, Proviso East 1991, Evanston 1967, Thornton 1966 and Simeon 2012.
Quincy's 1981 squad generally is regarded as the second best team in state history. Coach Jerry Leggett's team, led by Bruce Douglas, Michael Payne and Dennis Douglas, went 33-0 and was en route to fashioning a 64-game winning streak. The Blue Devils dominated in the state finals, winning by margins of 28, 25, 31 and 29 points.
La Grange was 29-0 in 1953 with Ted Caiazza and 31-0 in 1970 with Owen Brown and Marcus Washington. But coach Greg Sloan's 1953 squad commands most attention. The Lions ousted top-ranked Kankakee and Harv Schmidt in a memorable sectional game, then swept through the finals by margins of 17, 32, 13 and 12 points. No opponent came within nine points during the season.
George Wilson, Marshall's legendary three-time All-Stater, has always claimed that coach Spin Salario's 1960 state championship team was better than his 1958 team that historically has received more celebrity because it was unbeaten and the first all-black team and the first Chicago Public League representative ever to win a state title.
But it's hard to argue against the 1958 team led by Wilson, M.C. Thompson, Bobby Jones and Steve Thomas. They were unranked after the regular season (Public League teams weren't included in the Associated Press' weekly rankings in those days) but defeated Dunbar 68-59 for the city title, then eliminated Elgin 63-43 in the supersectional, third-rated Herrin 72-59 in the quarterfinals, West Aurora 74-62 in the semifinals and top-rated Rock Falls 70-64 in the state final to complete a 31-0 season.
Collinsville went 32-0 in 1961 with Bogie Redmon and Fred Riddle but coach Vergil Fletcher's best team had to escape a 66-64 decision over second-ranked Centralia in the supersectional. The Kahoks crushed Thornton 84-50 in the state final.
Taylorville went 45-0 in 1944, becoming the first unbeaten state champion. Coach Dolph Stanley's Tornadoes were led by Johnny Orr and Ron Bontemps. But they were tested in the semifinals, slipping past Champaign 40-36.
Mount Vernon swept state titles in 1949 and 1950, winning 46 games in a row. But coach Stan Changnon's 1950 squad was dominant. The Rams were 33-0 behind Max Hooper and Walt Moore. They overwhelmed second-ranked Danville 85-61 in the state final as Hooper scored a record 36 points.
King produced three state champions under coach Landon Cox in 1986, 1990 and 1993. Cox said his 1986 squad led by Marcus Liberty and Levertis Robinson was his best. But the 1990 team led by Jamie Brandon and Johnny Selvie was 32-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. And the 1993 team led by seven-footers Rashard Griffith and Thomas Hamilton also was 32-0.
East St. Louis Lincoln's 1987 team has been rated as the best of coach Bennie Lewis' four state championship teams of the 1980s. Led by LaPhonso Ellis, Chris Rodgers and James Harris, Lincoln went 28-1 and defeated defending Class AA champion King and Marcus Liberty by a convincing 79-62 margin in the state final despite Liberty's record 41 points.
Whitney Young's 1998 team, led by Quentin Richardson, Dennis Gates, Cordell Henry and Corey Harris, finished 30-1 and defeated Galesburg and Joey Range 61-56 for the state title. Coach George Stanton's Dolphins were dominant in a season which produced one of the most talented classes in state history.
Thornton was ranked behind two unbeaten teams, Benton and York, at the end of the regular season. But first-year coach Bob Anderson's Wildcats, led by LaMarr Thomas, Jim Ard, Rich Rateree, Paul Gilliam and Bob Landowski, finished 30-2 to win the state title. They defeated Galesburg and Dale Kelley 74-60 in the final.
Evanston finished 30-1, losing only to Proviso East and Jim Brewer, which went on to win the state title in 1969. Coach Jack Burmaster's team, led by Bob Lackey, Farrel Jones and Ron Cooper, got past second-ranked Lockport and Jeff Hickman 70-58 in the supersectional, Peoria Central and Rhea Taylor 70-48 in the quarterfinals, Crane and Jerome Freeman 70-54 in the semifinals and Galesburg and Ruben Triplett 70-51 in the state final.
Proviso East was 32-1 with Sherrell Ford, Donnie Boyce and Michael Finley in 1991 and 33-0 with Kenny Davis and Jamal Robinson in 1992. So which of coach Bill Hitt's two state champions was better? Or was Tom Millikin's 1969 team better? Or Glenn Whittenberg's 1974 state champion that featured Joe Ponsetto?
The consensus leans to 1991 with the more celebrated lineup. The Pirates dispatched a Thornwood team that featured future major league baseball star Cliff Floyd in the supersectional, ousted Carbondale in the quarterfinals and Libertyville in the semifinals, then beat highly rated Peoria Manual and Mr. Basketball Howard Nathan 68-61 in the state final.
Are any of coach Robert Smith's five state championship teams better than the late Bob Hambric's 1984 state champion that was led by Ben Wilson, Tim Bankston, Rodney Hull, Kenny Allen and Bobby Tribble, the team that defeated unbeaten and top-ranked Evanston and Everette Stephens 53-47 for the state title?
How about the 2007 team that went 33-2 with Derrick Rose and Tim Flowers and overwhelmed O'Fallon 77-54 in the state final? Or this year's 33-1 squad led by Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor and Kendrick Nunn that edged second-ranked Proviso East 50-48 for its third state title in a row.
All of the above belong in the "Who's No. 1?" conversation. Maybe a few others, including the 29-2 Hirsch team of 1973 that featured Rickey Green and John Robinson. And what about the Class A powers, including Providence-St. Mel in 1985 and the unbeaten Lawrenceville teams of 1982 and 1983 featuring Marty Simmons?
In one man's opinion, they all fall short of Thornridge 1972. If you saw them, you know why. If you didn't, you wish you had. Then you'd know why they were the best there ever was.