Last week, the Sun-Times announced it's Player of the Year and All-Area Team. As is the case each year, some will like the selections, many won't. And now with Twitter, the prep editors making those selections, Michael O'Brien and Joe Henricksen, get to hear from all the dissenters. Despite the difference of opinion this year, there is no Player of the Year selection that will ever receive more attention than in 2000 when Cedrick Banks of Westinghouse was chosen over Dwayne Wade. Ten years later, do you really think D-Wade cared? Uh, yes he did.
In July of 2010, I walked into Lincoln Way Central High School gym and saw Wade, who was conducting a basketball camp there. During a break, I was able to speak with him a bit and the subject turned to high school basketball. I mentioned that my brother Dan, or D-Ruane for this story, covered prep sports for the Sun-Times for more than 30 years and tells a legendary story about D-Wade. Dan was part of the Sun-Times meeting each year to determine who would be on the All-Area Team and who would be the Sun-Times Player of the Year.
The bright smile on Wade's face dropped.
"Yeah, you know I didn't get that," he said, the frustration still evident after a decade of success at that time, as he referred to both the Sun-Times and Tribune selections for the best player in the State of Illinois. By that time, he had already won an NBA championship and was selected multiple times on the NBA All-Star Team, to go along with his many other distinctions as a professional player. I told him how my brother had been in a meeting of about 10 prep writers and was the only one to argue that Dwayne Wade should be Player of the Year and was the best and most talented player, who averaged 27 points and 11 rebounds. One overly-obnoxious writer in the meeting lashed back, "Dwayne Wade couldn't play in the Public League Red West!" The long-time Sun-Times Prep editor Taylor Bell and prep writer Steve Tucker were both in that meeting and didn't argue against Dan. But the others in the meeting went along with Mr. Obnoxious and Cedrick Banks of Westinghouse received the distinction as the best player in Illinois by the Sun-Times.
Years later, Dan ran into Mr. Obnoxious who admitted he was wrong and that he had never actually seen Wade play. Also, none of the other writers who backed him that day had seen Wade play. Nice.
But today, it is up to Michael O'Brien who travels all over the area, covering as many games as he can, with the intent of seeing all the great players, all those who should be considered. I give O'Brien and Mike Helfgot at the Chicago Tribune great credit for their efforts. It's a big effort, often traveling into dangerous neighborhoods to bring Chicagoans the latest news about the young high school stars, all the while tweeting like mad with updates to their 15K followers. They turn out a lot of copy. It's impressive to say the least and it keeps building readership for their newspapers, which is needed. I honestly don't know if there is another city in America where high school athletes receive this level of coverage. Also, it should be noted that the Tribune doesn't lay all the responsibility on their prep staff. They combine the votes of their prep staff with members of the Illinois Coaches Association to determine Illinois Mr. Basketball each year. Of course, that approach chose Darius Miles of East St. Louis over D-Wade in 2000, so there's that.
As for selecting the best player in Illinois each year, it's a no win situation. No matter who is selected, some will agree, more will disagree. A sports journalist covering high school basketball, who has never played sports at a highly competitive level, may argue that he or she sees more games than anyone in the city, and therefore is better prepared to make the decision. Conversely, if you are an athlete or former athlete, chances are you don't place a great deal of credibility with those sports journalists making the selections who never played basketball, or any sport for that matter. From the athlete's time and experience on the field of play, they know for certain that they have a much better perspective and understanding of what it takes to compete at a high level, the intricacies of the game, and which players really are the best.
The best players can't just be determined by stats, because each coach has their own specific system. If you play for Simeon, Whitney Young or Benet Academy, you share the ball, make the extra pass. You play to win, not for individual stats. Benet's tremendous shooting guard this year, Jack Nolan, was depended on to score. But if he didn't have an open look, he would pass off without blinking, because he plays in a winning team system with a really great coach, Gene Heidkamp. Some coaches in the area don't play that way and depend on their star to carry the offensive load, even allowing him to jack up three-point shots from NBA distance or further. For those players who take 70 percent of the shots and may average 26 points and maybe 7 rebounds per game, that doesn't make them better players.
It makes them a player in an offense focused on them. I recently watched one of those players do exactly that at a State Playoff game at Thornwood High School, even though he had really good teammates who could have scored more, spread the floor, and given their team a chance to win. They lost big and were knocked out of the IHSA playoffs, because the winning team defended hard against the star and shut down his offense. For anyone who saw Jabari Parker play, he could have dominated every high school game he played in, perhaps averaging 30-plus points per game. But he chose to play for a winning coach, Robert Smith, and a strict team-oriented program at Simeon and averaged about 20 points per game both his junior and senior year when he was named the Tribune's Illinois Mr. Basketball. The Sun-Times selected him Player of the Year his senior year.
Today, it's hard to imagine how D-Wade wasn't a clear-cut winner, like Parker. So the only consolation for my brother, Dwayne Wade and every player that isn't selected, is what happens after high school. Darius Miles was drafted right out of high school by the L.A. Clippers, the third pick in the NBA draft. He went on to make the NBA All Rookie Team in 2001. From there, he played on five NBA teams and was finished in 2009. Cedrick Banks had a good college career at the University of Illinois-Chicago before playing for the USBL Nebraska Cranes and then played overseas. Dwayne Wade did just a bit better.