Commentary

California, Illinois boast impressive résumés

Originally Published: March 8, 2009
By Mark Tennis and Doug Huff | ESPNRISE.com

It's hard to determine if there is a favorite in this week's ESPN RISE Great State Debate between No. 2 seed Illinois and No. 3 seed California.

Illinois is home, of course, to Chicago, which SportsNation voted as America's No. 1 basketball city last summer. As an entire state, however, California has such a strong population base that it should be tough to beat in any contest such as this one, where raw voting numbers are all that matters.

Ground zero for this week's debate about which is the best state for high school boys basketball could be the roster of the world champion Boston Celtics. The Celtics have multiple players on their roster from both states. The Cali contingent is led by Paul Pierce (Inglewood) and includes Eddie House (Hayward) and Leon Powe (Oakland Tech). Illinois counters Pierce with Kevin Garnett (Chicago/Farragut) and also has Tony Allen (Chicago/Crane).

The metropolitan area for the Windy City has been a fertile breeding ground for numerous high school basketball players, and teams, who have made their marks beyond the playgrounds of Chicago and the growing suburbs.

But downstate Illinois also gets into the Great State Debate act because it's home to three of the nation's four all-time winningest high school programs -- Centralia, Collinsville and Quincy. Centralia is one of only two schools -- the other is Dobyns-Bennett of Kingsport, Tenn. -- with over 2,000 victories. Collinsville is closing in on 2,000 and Quincy nearing 1,900.

Illinois is much more than the Chicago area when it comes to high school hoops and has a rabid fan base which turns out for postseason and state tournament play.

California's state playoffs don't attract the same attendance, partly because of the sheer size of the state. At the section level, separate tournaments are held at venues such as the L.A. Sports Arena, the Honda Center, ARCO Arena and many other college arenas, that combined together, do draw attendance numbers comparable to any state.

This week's Great State Debate will conclude Wednesday night, with the winner going up against Michigan in next week's final. Michigan knocked off top-seeded New York in last week's first semifinal.

California's case

California's all-time best players
Gilbert Arenas (Grant, Van Nuys)
Bill Cartwright (Elk Grove)
Tyson Chandler
AP Photo/James A. FinleyCan former Dominguez star Tyson Chandler lead California to the finals?
Tyson Chandler (Dominguez, Compton)
Baron Davis (Crossroads, Santa Monica)
Gail Goodrich (Poly, Sun Valley)
Dennis Johnson (Dominguez, Compton)
Kevin Johnson (Sacramento)
Marques Johnson (Crenshaw, Los Angeles)
K.C. Jones (Commerce, San Francisco)
Jason Kidd (St. Joseph, Alameda)
Bill Laimbeer (Palos Verdes, PV Estates)
Hank Luisetti (Galileo, San Francisco)
Andre Miller (Verbum Dei, L.A.)
Reggie Miller (Poly, Riverside)
Gary Payton (Skyline, Oakland)
Paul Pierce (Inglewood)
Jim Pollard (Technical, Oakland)
Tayshaun Prince (Dominguez, Compton)
Bill Russell (McClymonds, Oakland)
Byron Scott (Morningside, Inglewood)
Paul Silas (McClymonds, Oakland)
Reggie Theus (Inglewood)
Kiki Vandeweghe (Palisades, Pacific Palisades)
Bill Walton (Helix, La Mesa)
Paul Westphal (Aviation, Redondo Beach)
Jamaal Wilkes (Santa Barbara)
[+] EnlargeTayshaun Prince
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesTayshaun Prince is welcomed warmly when he returns to Dominguez High School.
John Williams (Crenshaw, Los Angeles)
George Yardley (Newport Harbor, Newport Beach)
Note: Doug Gottlieb (Tustin), Jay Bilas (Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates) and Steve Lavin (Drake, San Anselmo) are ESPN on-air personalities who all starred as high school basketball players in California.

California's all-time winningest coach: From 1971 to 2003, coach Mike Phelps was almost automatic in guiding his teams to 30-win seasons. Phelps coached at St. Joseph of Alameda from 1971 to 1978, then moved over to archrival Bishop O'Dowd of Oakland in 1979. His final record of 843 wins and 196 losses has stood up for six years. Phelps' record may be surpassed next season by Gary McKnight from Mater Dei of Santa Ana. McKnight won his 800th game earlier this season.

California's all-time best team:
McClymonds (Oakland) 1960
This was the third straight unbeaten season for the Warriors, and it was the senior year of one of the state's all-time best players, rebounding machine Paul Silas. McClymonds also is listed as the National Sports News Service No. 1 team for the years of 1958, 1959 and 1960. Mack eventually pushed its win streak to 65 games before it ended during the 1961 season. In 1975, it looked like Verbum Dei of Los Angeles was on its way to completing perhaps the greatest season in state history. The Eagles, who were led at the time by future NBA players David Greenwood and Roy Hamilton, were unbeaten and were on a roll toward a fifth straight CIF Southern Section title. They were upset in the playoff semifinals, however, by Palos Verdes of Palos Verdes Estates, which was led by senior center Bill Laimbeer.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty ImagesCalifornia native Paul Pierce won an NBA title with the Celtics.

California's best current NBA players 1. Paul Pierce (Inglewood): Led Celtics to 2008 NBA title.
2. Jason Kidd (St. Joseph, Alameda): Still one of the best point guards in the world.
3. Andre Miller (Verbum Dei, Los Angeles): Getting nearly 17 ppg for the 76ers.
4. Baron Davis (Crossroads, Santa Monica): Showed how good he can be when Warriors upset Mavs in playoffs two years ago; now plays for Clippers.
5. Tayshaun Prince (Dominguez, Compton): Shot block in NBA Finals will be replayed forever.

California's best current college players
1. James Harden (Artesia, Lakewood): Leads top team at Arizona State.
2. Darren Collison (Etiwanda, Rancho Cucamonga): UCLA senior is one of nation's best point guards.
3. Chase Budinger (La Costa Canyon, Carlsbad): University of Arizona standout was just as talented in high school as a volleyball player.

Illinois' case

Illinois' all-time best players
Mark Aguirre (Westinghouse, Chicago)
Quinn Buckner (Thornridge, Dolton)
Maurice Cheeks (DuSable, Chicago)
[+] EnlargeKevin Garnett
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Garnett leads a star-studded All-Illinois team.
Doug Collins (Benton)
Terry Cummings (Carver, Chicago)
Eddie Curry (Thornwood, South Holland)
Michael Finley (Proviso East, Maywood)
Kevin Garnett (Farragut, Chicago)
Tim Hardaway (Carver, Chicago)
Juwan Howard (Vocational, Chicago)
Dan Issel (Batavia)
Corey Maggette (Fenwick, Oak Park)
Darius Miles (East St. Louis)
Glenn "Doc" Rivers (Proviso East, Maywood)
Derrick Rose (Simeon, Chicago)
Cazzie Russell (Carver, Chicago)
Isiah Thomas (St. Joseph, Westchester)
Dwyane Wade (Richards, Oak Lawn)
Antoine Walker (Mt. Carmel, Chicago)

Illinois' all-time winningest coach:
Gene Pingatore has been at St. Joseph in Westchester since 1970 and became the state's all-time winningest coach earlier this season. He enters this weekend with 835 wins and 271 losses and passed two other legendary state coaches with more than 800 wins -- Dick Van Scyoc, who retired from Peoria Manual in 1994 with an 826-329 record, and Arthur Trout, who led the state's all-time winningest program at Centralia from 1912-50 with a 810-330 record. Pingatore, who was selected the EA Sports National Coach of the Year in 1999, was the high school coach for NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas as well as Ohio State's top current player, Evan Turner. He also was featured prominently in the legendary documentary film "Hoop Dreams."

[+] EnlargeDwyane Wade
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty ImagesDwyane Wade is one of many great players from the Greater Chicago area.

Illinois' all-time best team:
Thornridge (Dolton) 1972
The Falcons not only rolled to a 33-0 record and state title but also were crowned mythical national champion by the National Sports News Service. They won by an average margin of 32 points and allowed only three teams closer than 20 points, with the nearest margin 14 points. They won the title game 104-69 over Quincy as 6-foot-7 Boyd Batts scored 37, National Player of Year Quinn Buckner 28 and 6-3 Greg Rose 26. They won a record 58 straight games over two seasons. The 6-foot-3 Buckner also played on an unbeaten NCAA title team at Indiana (1976), on a winning U.S. Olympic Team (1976) and NBA title team with the Boston Celtics (1984).

Illinois' best current NBA players
1. Kevin Garnett (Farragut, Chicago): Helped Celtics win 2008 NBA title.
2. Dwyane Wade (Richards, Oak Lawn): NBA All-Star guard with Miami Heat.
3. Derrick Rose (Simeon, Chicago): No. 1 NBA draft choice and Rookie of Year candidate in 2009.

Illinois' best current college players
1. Evan Turner (St. Joseph, Westchester) All-Big Ten player and top Ohio State scorer.
2. Sherron Collins (Crane, Chicago) Kansas point guard all-star honoree.
3. Iman Shumpert (Oak Park-River Forest, Oak Park) Georgia Tech freshman starter may be NBA-bound.

Mark Tennis is the deputy sports editor for ESPNRISE.com. Doug Huff is a senior editor for ESPNRISE.com.