The selection committee for the Pinckneyville-based Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum gathered in Champaign last week to begin preliminary discussions and initiate the difficult task of narrowing the list of nominees for the class of 2013.
Ten male players from the pre-1960s era. Ten male players from the post-1960s era. Five female players.
It wasn't easy to select 30 players from the pre-1960s era, 20 from the post-1960s era and 10 females for the inaugural class in 2011.
It wasn't any easier to chose 10, 10 and five last year.
So it doesn't figure to be any easier this year.
The trick is to select players who stood out in their high school careers while not putting undue emphasis on what they may have accomplished at the college and/or professional levels and still maintain the elite status of the process.
A good measuring stick: If you have to ask who, then you have to ask why.
In other words, you shouldn't have to ask why a player is being nominated. A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer. You know who they are. If you have to ask who he is, then you have to wonder why he is being nominated in the first place.
Of course, it is important for selectors to have a knowledge of high school basketball in Illinois. Start with the 1940s and 1950s and work your way to the modern era. Be acquainted with the history of the game in Chicago and its suburbs, the Deep South, the Quad Cities and southwestern and central Illinois.
Have you ever been to a basketball game in Quincy, Mount Vernon or Collinsville? Spent a day or two at the Centralia Holiday Tournament? Attended a game at Wharton Field House in Moline? Thomas Gym in Pinckneyville? The City/Suburban Showcase in Chicago? Evanston/New Trier? Peoria Manual/Peoria Central? East Aurora/West Aurora?
Armed with plenty of information and statistics and nominations from fans throughout the state, the selection committee met last week in Champaign to being the process of narrowing the list of candidates for the induction class of 2013. Other meetings will follow before the final 25 inductees are chosen.
Who are the leading candidates in the pre-1960s era?
Perry Barclift is largely overlooked when historians recall the all-time best players at Quincy. He led the Blue Devils to a 39-27 upset of defending state champion Thornton and Lou Boudreau in 1934. He scored 22 points, a state final record that stood for 16 years.
"Barclift's performance in the state title game caused University of Illinois coach Craig Ruby to tell reporters: 'That's the greatest high school basketball team I have ever seen and that Perry Barclift is the headiest and best player--that boy is to high school basketball what (St. Louis Cardinals standout) Pepper Martin was to baseball.' Barclift, who went on to play at Western Illinois, was the first person inducted into the Quincy Sports Hall of Fame and a member of the charter class in 1987," said Quincy historian Tom Oakley.
Walter "Junior" Kirk was one of six individuals in 2005 to be enshrined in the inaugural class of the Mount Vernon Athletic Hall of Fame. A three-sport athlete, he played in the shadow of Centralia's Dike Eddleman. He led the Rams to a 29-5 record as a senior, including two South Seven victories over eventual state champion Centralia. He scored 829 points in his career.
Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, a Du Sable graduate of 1942, was a 6-foot-7, 235-pounder who played for the Harlem Globetrotters before becoming one of the first three African-Americans to compete in the NBA. In the semifinals of the city playoff, he scored a record 45 points. He was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame in 1978.
Hiles Stout, who later played quarterback at Illinois, was a three-sport All-Stater at Peoria Central. A member of the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame, he scored 1,546 points in his career and led Peoria Central to a 29-4 record and second place in the 1953 state tournament.
Jack Stephens was a standout football and basketball player at Mount Carmel and later played both sports at Notre Dame. As a senior at Notre Dame, he averaged 20.9 points per game and earned All-America recognition. Longtime Chicago basketball scout Shelly Stark rated Stephens among the five best players he ever saw.
Ted Beach and Rod Fletcher, two of the outstanding players who were instrumental in Champaign's great run of success in the 1940s under coach Harry Combes, already have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. But Beach argues that perhaps the best player of that era was Jesse Clements.
Clements was a three-year starter and two-time All-Stater at Champaign. As a sophomore, his 25-6 team lost to Salem in overtime in the state quarterfinals. As a junior, he was his team's leading scorer and an all-tournament selection as Champaign finished fourth in the state with a 31-6 record. As a senior, he captained a 34-2 team that lost to Decatur in the state final.
Hales Franciscan's Sam Puckett always has been a favorite of mine. Probably the best undersized player in state history, the 5-foot-9 point guard scored over 2,600 points in his career and made Hales Franciscan a national player in Catholic basketball.
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Mike Duff's promising basketball career ended tragically when he was killed with other members of his Evansville University team in a plane crash. At Eldorado, he scored 1,097 points in one season and 2,558 in his career. He also had 1,287 rebounds in his career, 515 in one season.
Shane Hawkins, arguably the best player in the stories history of Pinckneyville basketball, led coach Dick Corn's 1994 team to the Class A championship. A two-time All-Stater, he scored 2,429 points in his career. He was a three-time MVP of the Carbondale Holiday Tournament.
What about three-time All-Staters Ronnie Fields of Farragut, Thomas Wyatt of East Aurora, Rashard Griffith of King and Kiwane Garris of Westinghouse?
What about Deon Thomas of Simeon, who went on to become the leading scorer in University of Illinois history, and Andy Kaufmann of Jacksonville, one of only five players in state history to score more than 3,000 points?
Not to mention 14 players who went on to have stellar careers in college and the NBA--Richards' Dwyane Wade, Westinghouse's Eddie Johnson and Hersey Hawkins, Du Sable's Maurice Cheeks, Benton's Doug Collins, De Paul's Terry Cummings, Thornwood's Eddy Curry, Fenwick's Corey Maggette, Dunbar's Ronnie Lester, St. Francis de Sales' Eric Anderson, Hirsch's Rickey Green, Carver's Tim Hardaway, Mount Carmel's Antoine Walker and Vocational's Juwan Howard.
Frontrunners are Carla McGhee of Peoria Manual, Tangela Smith of Chicago Washington, Nancy Kennelly Olson of Maine West, Michelle Savage of Immaculate Heart of Mary and Jackie Joyner Kersee of East St. Louis Lincoln.
McGhee led Peoria Manual to the 1986 Class AA championship. She averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds for a 27-3 team. At Tennessee, she played on two NCAA championship teams and was a member of the 1996 gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic team. She also was inducted into the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame.
Smith was an All-America selection at Chicago Washington in 1994 and participated in the WBCA High School All-America Game. At Iowa, she was the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1988. She was picked as the No. 12 player in the 1998 WNBA draft by the Sacramento Monarchs and currently is playing with the San Antonio Silver Stars.
Kennelly Olson was a three-time All-Stater at Maine West, played in four state tournaments and was Illinois' Ms. Basketball in 1988. She led her team to third place in the 1987 Class AA tournament and to a 35-0 record and the state championship in 1988. She played on teams that won 65 games in a row. Later, she played at Northwestern.
Savage was a two-time All-Stater who led Immaculate Heart of Mary to a 32-2 record and the 1987 Class AA championship. As a junior, she led her team in scoring and rebounding in the state finals. At Northwestern, she was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and a three-time All-American. She currently is head coach at Davidson College.
Joyner Kersee, who became one of the all-time greatest women athletes as a three-time gold medalist in the women's heptathlon and long jump in the Olympics, made her reputation as a basketball player.
She was the leading scorer and rebounder on East St. Louis Lincoln's 32-2 team that finished second in the 1979 state tournament and was the leading scorer on the 31-0 team that won the Class AA title in 1980. She scored 20 points as East St. Louis Lincoln defeated Chicago Marshall 64-47. She earned a basketball scholarship to UCLA, where she stood out in basketball and also began her career in track and field.