The City Game: Chicago Tribune Makes Surprising Pick for Best 21st Century High School Team

File/The State Journal-Register
Andre Iguodala at Springfield’s Lanphier High School in December 2000.

The City Game focuses coverage on the game of basketball at the amateur levels in and around the city of Chicago; Justin Dukes is a contributor to 

With the Illinois high school playoffs having decided half its state champions with two more underway, the Chicago Tribune has released a list ranking the greatest teams in Illinois high school basketball history. From the vaunted King High School teams of the early 1990’s coached by coach Sonny Cox to the Jahlil Okafor-lead Whitney Young Dolphins in 2014, there was definitely a deep dive into Chicago’s rich high school basketball history on this list.

Ranking the undefeated 1958 Marshall Commandos as the greatest high school team in Illinois history, the Tribune made a subtle statement with it’s ranking of the 21st century teams.

Being able to witness the run of the ’07 Simeon Wolverines, headlined by new Minnesota Timberwolves guard and former NBA MVP Derrick Rose, as a player myself, my money is on that team being this state’s best.

Coming in as the highest ranked team of the 21st century according to the Tribune was the 2002 Westinghouse Warriors, who finished their season 30-5, but with the first state title in program history.

With respect to the names on their roster like Darius Glover, Jamaal Brown and Richard Russell, the ranking of this team comes from how somewhat unexpected their state title run was. The team took down a tough Farragut High School team to claim the city championship. At the time that would have thought to be Westinghouse’s peak as their claiming the state championship wasn’t seen as a given moving forward.

Walking off the court in Peoria as champions in a 76-72 win over the Lanphier (Springfield) Lions, there was a feeling of magic in the air for the Wolverines, especially as they utilized their role as underdogs to knock off a two-loss team from the state’s capital that was lead by future NBA champion and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who would score 29 points in that state title game.

“We made history tonight,” Warriors forward Richard Russell told the Tribune. “We are the first team at Westinghouse to win a state championship. It feels so good.”

File photo
Darius Glover (44) during Westinghouse High School’s surprise state title run in 2002.

Iguodala would have much better luck with Warriors in the NBA, but back in ’02, the only Warriors that mattered were from the West Side of Chicago. 

“We weren’t prepared for the aggressiveness they came out with,” said Iguodala. “It was a rude awakening, that run they put on us.”

The House went up by 18 at its greatest point during the game, but eventually blew the lead, allowing doubt to seep into its constituents who made the trip downstate. All ended well, however, as the Warriors managed to pull out the win with big contributions from Glover with 28 points and 10 rebounds and Richard Russell with 15 points.

Possibly the line of thinking with the Tribune ranking the Warriors so high is in the fact that the team concept Westinghouse promoted made up for their lack of A-list talent on the high school level. No future stars emerged from their roster, which can make it harder to remember a team like theirs, even one that won it all at state.

Regardless, this team definitely deserves its recognition, and unlike many unsung teams of the past, this team has their names not only printed in the history books but engraved in a trophy.

Orr Makes Good On “Shot”

Westinghouse’s against all odds situation from 16 years ago could be mirrored in the current tales coming from another West Side power in Orr High School, who collected its second straight 2A state title last weekend, a historical achievement on its own that’s amplified as it comes from a school in the heart of the city that deals with real city problems.

An emotional investment in the trials and victories of Orr is impossible to deny after looking at features like the NBC News video above, along with writing like Rick Telander’s in the Sun-Times, but nothing has comprehensively detailed and humanized the Orr program and the special young men it produces each year than the documentary “A Shot in The Dark,” which released to much acclaim on the Fox Network in February.

We reported early on “Shot in The Dark,” which was initially developed by three Chicagoans — director Dustin Nakao Haider, cinematographer Ben Vogel and producer Daniel Poneman — and gained greater publicity with the involvement of celebrity Chicagoans Chance the Rapper and Dwayne Wade as producers. As a part of Fox Sports’ “Magnify” documentary series it also came across the attention of LeBron James, who is helping produce the larger series.

If you’ve yet to see “Shot in the Dark” you can catch it this Sunday as part of the JCC Chicago Film Festival at Arclight Theaters in Chicago.

It’s certainly a special time in the history of Orr High School, its boys basketball team and the community that supports it. This is a program that has dealt with gun violence and death first-hand, the kind of things that we in a better world should be completely shielding student-athletes from, but seeing as we still can’t we can at least take solace in knowing that men like coach Lou Adams are still out their doing their best to create more young men who can follow his example.

And to that end, lets also salute Marshall High School’s amazing girls basketball program. Another stellar institution sprung out the soil of the West Side, Dorothy Gaters’ Lady Commandos secured the 2A title in Peoria, the ninth state title for the school and for the winningest girls basketball coach in Illinois history.

As attention remains on our city and what reforms need to be taken in it, we can never forget about the reformers, the ones with the most at stake, the ones like Adams and Gaters who invest so much of themselves into our schools and our kids just to make things a little better. Winning state titles are an obvious victory for programs like this, but they are far from the only goals schools like Marshall and Orr try to hit. So often to win means just surviving another day.

— Kyle Means

Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio; Justin Dukes is a Chicago-based sports writer, follow him on Twitter @1kingzdream

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