The All-State rosters are riddled with football and basketball players who were projected for stardom in college and beyond but, for one reason or another, never fulfilled their potential or expectations.
In football, the list includes Fenwick's Jim DiLullo, Maine South's Tom Spotts, Evanston's Carlos Matthews, Lane Tech's Ken Ferguson, Tilden's Dempsey Norman, St. Rita's John Foley, Lane Tech's Alex Rodriguez, Naperville Central's Tim Lavery, New Trier's Mark Floersch, Proviso East's Philip Macklin, Naperville Central's Ryan Clifford, Maine South's Sean Price and Charlie Goro.
In basketball, remember Bloom's Raymond McCoy, Farragut's Ronnie Fields and LaKeith Henderson, King's Jamie Brandon, Imari Sawyer, Thomas Hamilton and Leon Smith, Peoria Manual's Howard Nathan, Collins' Antoine Davison, Westinghouse's DeAndre Thomas, Providence's Michael Thompson, Farragut's Curtis Ganes, Downers Grove South's Adam Schafer, Crystal Lake South's Bill Heppner, St. Martin de Porres' Tyrone Triplett, Crane's Lorenzo Thompson, Proviso West's Michael Ingram, Phillips' Bernard Jackson, East Leyden's Glen Grunwald? And how about Waukegan's Jereme Richmond?
Nearly all of them received Player of the Year recognition. Some were touted as the No. 1 player in the nation. All were accorded can't-miss accolades by college coaches, recruiting analysts and media observers.
But none of them made it.
Some, like Grunwald, DiLullo and Foley, were injured. Some, like Macklin, Nathan, Fields and Richmond, were strapped with personal or academic issues. Some, like McCoy, peaked in high school. Others weren't big enough or fast enough or simply not good enough to succeed at the next level.
But what they achieved in high school can never be taken away from them. They were dominant players, blue chippers, recruited by the nation's leading college programs, record-setters, leaders of state championship teams, first-round selections in the NBA draft.
Raymond McCoy was a two-time All-Stater at Bloom during a time when coach Wes Mason had built one of the most successful high school programs in Illinois. He took his team to the Sweet Sixteen in 1978 and 1979 and esteemed Chicago sportswriter Bill Gleason said he was better than Isiah Thomas, then a standout at St. Joseph.
McCoy was a McDonald's All-American. Mason invited North Carolina coach Dean Smith to evaluate his star player. Smith wasn't impressed, saying that he could stay home in North Carolina and recruit players who were just as good or better.
To Mason, it was a crushing blow. In his view, McCoy was the best player he ever produced. Whether he ever told McCoy isn't certain. What is certain is McCoy went to San Francisco, transferred to DePaul after his freshman year and never was more than a role player for the Blue Demons. He averages two points per game in 1981-82.
Everybody makes mistakes. Farragut assistant coach Ron Eskridge, who also was involved in Fields' decline, insisted to one and all that Ganes was the No. 1 player in the state and one of the top 10 in the nation. Some people believed him.
Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports, generally recognized as the leading talent evaluator in the nation since the late 1970s, once rated Heppner as a top 30 player nationally and a McDonald's All-America candidate. At DePaul, he sat out his sophomore season with a knee injury, then was ordered to end his career as a junior when doctors discovered a congenital neck injury.
Schafer, a 6-foot-5 forward who was recruited by Wisconsin, was ranked No. 20 nationally as a freshman by longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman and Clark Francis of Hoop Scoop. Bob Gibbons jumped on board later. Chicago-based Roy and Harv Schmidt rated him in the top 10 as a sophomore. But Schafer never wanted to embrace the stardom.
"His parents pressured him beyond belief," the Schmidt brothers said. "The kid did not like the hoopla, all the attention. He did not want to make basketball his whole life. It got to him. He did not work hard and he didn't play hard."
Fields probably is the most unsettling and disappointing and tragic case of all. Arguably the most exciting and most athletic basketball player ever produced in Illinois, he was a teammate of Kevin Garnett in 1994-95 and Player of the Year in 1995-96. He was a three-time Parade All-America and a McDonald's All-America as a senior.
But he suffered a broken neck in a car accident on Feb. 26, 1996. He left high school as the third all-time leading scorer in Chicago Public League history with 2,619 points. He signed a letter-of-intent at DePaul but later was ruled academically ineligible. He declared for the 1998 NBA draft but wasn't chosen.
He played in the Philippines, Venezuela, Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. In 2008, he returned to the United States to play in the CBA for the Minot (North Dakota) SkyRockets. For the last four years, he played with the Rockford (Illinois) Lightning. He is the only player in the history of the CBA to lead the league in scoring and steals in two consecutive seasons.
Hardly the recognition that was projected for him in high school.