High school hoops: South side vs. West side

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High school hoops: South side vs. West side

A documentarian came to see me the other day. He is doing a study on high school basketball in Chicago, specifically the heated competition between the West Side and the South Side, and he wanted to get my impressions dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.

The subject raises several questions about how the game was played and who played it, how the game has changed in the city over the last 60 years, before the demographics changed, before blacks began to immigrate from the south to Chicago in the 1950s.

Prior to 1953, when Al Willis, then the executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association, desegregated the state basketball tournament, the Chicago Public League was rarely represented. Most of the star players in the city were white. There was one significant exception, Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton of Du Sable.

In fact, there were so few opportunities for blacks in the 1920s and 1930s that some of the elite players opted to compete on semipro or traveling teams. One of them eventually evolved into the Harlem Globetrotters.

Until Willis forever changed the complexion of the state's signature event, the all-black schools in southern Illinois had formed their own conference and conducted their own state tournament. The championship game was played between the IHSA's semifinals and finals on Saturday afternoon in Huff Gym. Hardly anyone noticed.

But all of that changed in 1953. The 1950s were a breakout decade for city schools. Du Sable finished second in the 1954 state tournament with three All-Stater players, Sweet Charlie Brown, Paxton Lumpkin and Shellie McMillon. The Public League also produced Abe Booker, Tommy Hawkins, Art Day, Mel Davis, Frank Burks and Bernie Mills. And Marshall, led by sophomore George Wilson, became the first all-black team to win the state title in
1958.

CraneMarshall was the most exciting rivalry on the West Side. On the South Side, it was DunbarDu Sable. Carver, which was a state runner-up in 1962 with Cazzie Russell and won a state title in 1963, also emerged as a power.

In later years, Westinghouse, Collins, Farragut, Whitney Young and Manley emerged as powers on the West Side. Westinghouse featured Mark Aguirre and Eddie Johnson. Manley, led by 6-foot-10 Russell Cross, won a state title in 1980. Whitney Young, behind Quentin Richardson, won a state title in 1998.

On the South Side, Hirsch, Phillips and Morgan Park won state titles in the 1970s. Harlan won three city titles. CVS also was a factor. SimeonKing dominated the 1980s and King extended its mastery into the 1990s while Simeon has been the state's premier program over the last 10 years.

There were great players, to be sure, but they were molded by great coaches who were able to blend talent and egos and create winning teams. Tony Maffia, Eddie O'Farrell and Bill Postl got the ball rolling in the 1940s. Jim Brown and Spin Salario followed in the 1950s.

Larry Hawkins came along in the 1960s and Herb Brown, Lee Umbles, Wardell Vaughn, Harvey Hartenstein, Charles Stimpson, Willie Little, Jim Foreman, Frank Lollino and Bill Warden made their mark in the 1970s.

The 1980s were dominated by Bob Hambric and Landon Cox, who turned the SimeonKing rivalry on the South Side into a high school version of LakersCeltics. Roy Condotti and Luther Bedford did the same for WestinghouseMarshall on the West Side.

Today, Simeon's Robert Smith, who played and coached under Hambric, has turned the Public League into his own private fiefdom. The Wolverines, with Derrick Rose and now Jabari Parker, have won four state championships in the last six years and are heavily favored to win again this season.

What happened to King? It was converted into one of eight selective enrollment schools in the CPS, which means its 900 students must apply for acceptance based on academic achievement and test scores. It no longer is a basketball power.

The same thing happened to Westinghouse, which was converted into a selective college preparatory school with a college to careers program. Like King, it no longer is a basketball power.

On the West Side, Whitney Young has emerged as the pre-eminent program under former coaches George Stanton and Lamont Bryant and current coach Tyrone Slaughter. Stanton produced a state champion in 1998, Slaughter in 2009.

Young is a highly selective public school that opened in 1975 as the city's first public magnet high school. Admission is based on an entrance exam and elementary school grades and is open to all residents of Chicago. Each year, 10,000 apply for 450 freshman openings.

Marshall and Crane, two of the oldest and most storied programs in the city, are seeking to restore their old glory under coaches Henry Cotton and Chris Head, who won a state title at Westinghouse in 2002.

In fact, until Simeon's recent domination, Westinghouse enjoyed the most success of any Public League program until its reconstitution. From 1992 to 2005, Westinghouse won seven city titles.

While Simeon and Whitney Young have emerged as the city's strongest programs in recent years, they haven't become a rivalry a la MarshallCrane and SimeonKing or even KingWestinghouse.

From 1984 to 1990, King won four city titles, Simeon three. From 1955 to 1982, Marshall won four city titles, Crane three. In the 1980s, King beat Simeon twice and lost once. In the 1990s, King beat Westinghouse twice and lost once.

It isn't like it was for many reasons. In the old days, kids shoveled snow off the playgrounds to play at Gladstone, Murray Park, Davis Park, Meyerling, Beasley, LeClaire, South Park, Garfield Park and Altgeld Gardens. Today, they play on AAU teams that travel from coast to coast and are subsidized and sponsored by shoe companies.

"Teams in Illinois aren't half as good as they used to be...not the players, either," said veteran girls coach Derril Kipp of Maine West, who has won more than 600 games and a state championship in 1988.

"There isn't as much interest in basketball as before. There are too many other things for kids to do. For many of them, it is too much hard work. Schools aren't pushing basketball as they once did. There aren't as many good players or teams as before. It isn't as competitive."

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Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

MESA, Ariz. — Now what? Ryan Dempster believes these Cubs are young enough, hungry enough and talented enough to become the first group to win back-to-back World Series since the three-peat New York Yankees built a dynasty with titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

But Dempster already understands the expectations at Wrigley Field this season, especially after pitching on disappointing Cubs teams that got swept out of the playoffs and working as a special assistant in Theo Epstein's front office.

"Nothing can top it," Dempster said. "You can win 162 games and sweep everybody in the playoffs and it won't be as exciting for people, other than maybe the guys playing it."

That's why Jon Lester isn't putting up the "Mission Accomplished" banner at his locker, even though the Cubs had the parade down Michigan Avenue in mind when they gave him the biggest contract in franchise history at the time. Dempster — who also earned a World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox — had given Lester a scouting report as the Cubs went all-out in their pursuit of the big-game lefty.

There are still four years left on Lester's $155 million megadeal. It has been less than five months since the Cubs finally won the World Series and unleashed an epic celebration.

"Now the hard part is you don't get complacent," Lester said Wednesday after throwing six innings against an Oakland A's minor-league squad at the Sloan Park complex. "I talk about these young guys — that's where that helps. Even though you've accomplished things personally, you still want these guys to accomplish things.

"That's where that drive still gets you. You don't want to let your teammates down. You still want to be accountable for what you do. And that means showing up and doing your work in between starts and in the offseason."

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Lester believed so much in Epstein's vision, the pipeline of talent about to burst and the lure of Chicago that he signed with a last-place team. The Cubs needed a symbol to show they were serious about winning, a clubhouse tone-setter and an anchor for their rotation.

A new comfort level in Year 2 of that contract helped explain how Lester performed as an All Star, a Cy Young Award finalist and the National League Championship Series co-MVP. But Lester wants to make sure that the Cubs don't get too comfortable — or feel like they're playing with house money.

"You enjoy that, you learn from it," Lester said. "The biggest thing is not getting complacent with yourself and with your teammates. That's what drives me, making sure I'm prepared to pitch.

"I'm called upon every five days, and I have to be there. That's where that goal of 30 starts and 200 innings comes into play. I feel like if I do that, then I've done my job, for my teammates and this organization.

"The championships and the World Series — that's stuff you can't predict. It's stuff you strive to do every single year. So that's all we're going to focus on again. Our team goal again is to win a World Series."