COMMENTARY: You DO NOT have to play basketball in Illinois to succeed in pro basketball

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Lanphier High School alumni Andre Iguodala is among shining examples of basketball players doing well beyond high school and collegiate basketball in Illinois. Iguodala currently plays for the Golden State Warriors. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images photo)

I usually like reading sports commentaries from the Decatur Herald & Review‘s Mark Tupper. The most recent piece, titled “Illinois’ value could soar with some success“, goes through the struggles the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has had under basketball coach Brad Underwood.

In two years with Underwood at the helm, the Fighting Illini are 26-39 and 11-27 in Big Ten Conference action (as of publication). Combined with the final three years of John Groce, the team is 80-87 and 33-59 in conference action.

It is no secret that things in Champaign have gone downhill for quite some time. It has been 14 years since the Illini won a conference championship, which was won under Bruce Weber. Following that championship, the team may have finished strongly, but they never advanced very far in the NCAA tournament.

So let’s go to Facebook and focus on the primary reason for this commentary, coming from a John Ridley of Decatur:

Figure out how to keep the in-state athletes in-state. Chicago is the Mecca of youth basketball in the United States. Champaign-Urbana should be first choice. Figure it out, ideas welcome. Let’s get back to greatness.

Well, here’s the jest of the issue: you cannot force anyone to attend college in a state they do not want to be in.

You do not have to attend and play basketball at an Illinois state college or university to succeed in professional basketball. There are many examples that back up this claim:

  • Derrick Rose was born and raised in Chicago. Upon graduating from Simeon Academy in Chicago in 2007, he played one year at the University of Memphis before entering the NBA Draft. He played eight years for the Chicago Bulls before moving on to the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and his current team, the Minnesota Timberwolves. Rose is a three-time NBA All-Star Game selection
  • Anthony Davis was born and raised in Chicago. Davis played basketball for one season at the University of Kentucky upon graduating from Chicago’s Perspectives Charter before entering the draft in 2012. He currently plays for the New Orleans Pelicans. Davis is a six-time NBA All-Star Game selection.
  • Dwyane Wade was born and raised in Chicago. After graduating from Oak Lawn’s Harold L. Richards High School in 2001, he played ball at Marquette University before entering the 2003 NBA Draft. He played 13 seasons with the Miami Heat, with brief stints with the Bulls and Cavaliers before rejoining the team for the 2018-19 season. Wade has won three NBA championship rings, all three from Heat championship wins in 2006, 2012 and 2013. He is also a 13-time NBA All-Star Game selection.
  • Andre Iguodala was born and raised in Springfield. A 2002 graduate of Lanphier High School, Iguodala played two seasons for the University of Arizona before entering the 2004 draft. He previously played eight seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers and a season with the Denver Nuggets before joining the Golden State Warriors in 2013. Iguodala has won three NBA championship rings, all three from Warrior championship wins in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and was a 2012 NBA All-Star Game selection.
  • Fred VanVleet was born and raised in Rockford. A 2012 graduate of Rockford’s Auburn High School, VanVleet became a graduate of Wichita State University, entering the draft in 2016. He went undrafted, but was called by the Toronto Raptors to play in the NBA Summer League in 2016. He became a full member of the team’s roster later that summer.
  • Tony Allen was born and raised in Chicago. A 2000 graduate of Chicago’s Crane High School, Allen played two years in junior college before transferring to Oklahoma State University. A 2004 graduate, he moved on to enter the NBA Draft in 2004. Allen currently is a teammate of Anthony Davis on the New Orleans Pelicans and has previously played for the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies. Allen won a championship ring while with the Celtics in their 2008 championship run.
  • Waukegan’s Shawn Marion graduated from Clarksville High School in Clarksville, Tenn., but was born and raised in Waukegan until high school. Originally a student at Vincennes University, he transferred to the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). Potentially entering a senior year at UNLV, he chose to enter the NBA Draft in 1999. Marion has played for the Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors (albeit brief), Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers before his retirement in 2015. He won one NBA Championship ring while with the Mavericks and was a four-time NBA All-Star Game selection.

I could go on and on….

  • Isiah Thomas (born in Chicago, St. Joe graduate, played at Indiana University, played his entire career for the Detroit Pistons and coached college and pro basketball for 12 years, 2-time NBA champion, 12-time NBA All-Star Game selection)
  • Tim Hardaway Sr. (born in Chicago, Carver High graduate, played at University of Texas El Paso (UTEP), played for the Warriors, Heat, Mavericks, Nuggets and Pacers and was an assistant coach for the Pistons for four seasons; his son Tim Jr., a 2013 draft pick, is a player for the Dallas Mavericks)
  • Michael Finley (born in Melrose Park, 1991 graduate of Maywood’s Proviso East, 1995 University of Wisconsin graduate, played for the Suns, Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Celtics, one NBA championship with the Spurs in 2007)
  • Corey Maggette (born in Melrose Park, 1998 graduate of Fenwick High in Oak Park, played one season at Duke University, played for the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Clippers, Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Charlotte Bobcats and Pistons)
  • Doc Rivers (born in Chicago, 1980 graduate of Maywood’s Proviso East, played three years at Marquette University, played for the Atlanta Hawks, Clippers, New York Knicks and Spurs, has coached for the Magic and Celtics and currently coaches the Clippers)
  • Jeff Hornacek (born in Elmhurst, 1982 graduate of Lyons Township High School, 1986 graduate of Iowa State University, played for the Suns, 76ers and Utah Jazz and has coached the Jazz, Suns and Knicks)
  • Darius Miles (born in Belleville, 2000 graduate of East St. Louis High School, entered the NBA Draft out of high school, played nine seasons between the Clippers, Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers and Grizzlies)
  • LaPhonso Ellis (born in East St. Louis, 1988 graduate of Lincoln High School in East St. Louis, 1992 graduate of University of Notre Dame, played 11 seasons between the Nuggets, Hawks, Timberwolves and Heat)

Yes, there may be some sad tales in the background of the retirees, but the abovementioned rose above and beyond life in Illinois and rose to stardom in the NBA and perhaps within the league after retiring as a player.

Jake Leonard is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed and GM/program director of the Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network and Podcast Network. Leonard is also general manager of Heartland Internet Media Networks, an active contributor to four newspapers for Pana News Group and a contributing writer to My Sports Vote.

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