You hear it from fans all across the state – "Why does Chicago have its own Top 25 high school teams?" "Why do the Peoria papers pick an All-Area team without using Chicago or the rest of the state?"
This past weekend in Chicago there was an exposure camp for the class of 2010. When the Peoria team went to participate they were told that all kids would be put on different teams. When the coach from the Peoria team got there he found out that some Chicago teams were allowed to play together, but his team wasn't. Why is that? Was it a fluke, or the talent level, or that they didn't want that group of kids to show what they could do?
For years people have argued where the best players in the state come from: Chicago, Peoria, Quad Cities, East St. Louis or down in the southern part of the state. Could it be that Chicago is just bigger and produce more DI players? Not better - but more? Peoria Richwoods' Mike Ellis had this to say about the topic. "I love the kids in Peoria. I wouldn't want to coach anyplace else but here. But to me it's the size of the media market; I mean, Chicago has the Sun-Times, Tribune, WGN and Comcast Sports, so naturally some of those kids will get their names out there more. Derrick Rose is a great athlete and player, so in his case it helps." From a coaching standpoint Ellis said he feels all coaches from the state just want to coach their kids and do the best they can with them.
One can only wonder when you generate an "All-State" team or Top 25 for the state, how do you leave off players from the rest of the state? I've seen enough basketball in my life to know that good players are just good players; it doesn't matter where they come from. I can easily see how some could feel the shaft. During this year's AA State tournament it became Peoria vs. Chicago again. Some Peoria fans leaving the building were making the comment, "They won, but what city owns four state titles in a row?" They were talking about current Illinois Assistant Coach Wayne McClain's Peoria Manual teams.
National Recruiting Director Dave Telep had this to say about the issue: "Because Illinois high school basketball is so important and valued by so many people, I think the entire state is key. Obviously you have your pockets of population (Chicago, etc.) that have more players per capita, but Peoria and some other areas aren't too shabby. Overall, because basketball is a treasure and valued within the state, I think it's a great resource for mid- and high-major programs. Kids are typically well equipped from the state to make the leap to college from a fundamentals and basketball IQ standpoint. Winning is celebrated in Illinois on the high school level that it's instilled in kids at a young age and I think kids from the area are highly competitive. No matter where you are in the state, there's a common bond of competitiveness and the other kids are fully aware who the best in the state are and strive to reach that status. It creates competition and a mindset to achieve and I think it makes the entire state attractive as far as prospects go. The climate for basketball in Illinois is outstanding."
Boy's basketball Coach Pat Richardson of Brother Rice High School had this to add: "I really don't see the state being divided, if anything, right now it's public vs. private. I really don't think coaches see it that way either. Now, maybe in a All-Star game the kids may feel that way in fun, but I just think it's good players playing the game. Sometimes because we have a common interest, because we play certain teams, we may root for them, but that's it," said Richardson.
Newly developed AAU Coach Marcus Fair is trying to do what he can to put Peoria AAU on the map. "Before the Peoria Irish, most of the better kids had to travel to Bloomington or Champaign to play AAU hoops. What happens is you get the Shaun Livingstons and Brandon Lees of the world, and the Chicago, Champaign and Bloomington teams trying to pluck the better players for their teams. What we're trying to do now is show the Peoria kids you can stay home and get exposure. Right now the Irish have two players that Fair and their parents are getting pressure everyday for them to leave the Irish. One is DJ Richardson, a freshman at Peoria High. The other is a 7th grader who many (after this weekend) said is clearly the best in the state and maybe one of the top 8th graders - Donivine Stewart. Kedric, I get calls on those kids everyday. What we need to do in Peoria is to help some of the other kids that can play and get them that same exposure. To me the state isn't divided; Chicago has more kids and they have structured and top notch AAU programs up there. I can't speak for the rest of the state, like the Quad Cites, but I know down here a lot of kids have been leaving for other areas."
Currently the Irish are building a great situation in Peoria. Right now they have one player from the Quad City area (which is about an hour and a half away) in order to give this kid the same opportunity – to play with some of the best in the state.
Fact is, there are good players throughout the state, and college coaches don't care what part they come from. The game of basketball has changed so much and kids are playing more and more these days, so naturally they become better. However having said that, referring back to what Coach Richardson stated, maybe to the players it's a big deal. Without a doubt, in the heat of the games, each kid would want to show which area is better. It's just the competitive juices that flow from their veins.
Former Illinois Coach Bill Self made this statement a few years back: "I love to recruit the State of Illinois. They have some of the toughest kids in the country and as college coaches we look for that edge."