Post-Peoria Three-Pointer

Belleville West's holds up the 4A state championship trophy at Peoria Civc Center in Peoria IL, Saturday 03-16-19. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.
Belleville West's holds up the 4A state championship trophy at Peoria Civc Center in Peoria IL, Saturday 03-16-19. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

The weekly City/Suburban Hoops Report Three-Pointer from Peoria touches on the state’s biggest star, Belleville West’s EJ Liddell, Evanston’s forward-thinking regarding it basketball program and the celebration of southern Illinois basketball.

No. 1

Following a second straight state championship, maybe the legacy of Belleville West’s EJ Liddell will be fully recognized, appreciated and remembered.

Liddell’s impact on the game has been unmatched the past two seasons. There is his versatile scoring, including range out to the three-point line and his advanced feel, footwork and soft hands around the basket. He’s a rebounding machine and an underrated passer. The 6-7, 225-pounder is a disruptive force defensively as blocking and altering shots is second nature.

The Ohio State recruit scored just over a whopping 2,500 career points also joined an illustrious short list of state greats.

Since the arrival of state player rankings decades ago, there have only been four players in Illinois history to be the top-ranked player in their respective class and win multiple state championships. Now there are five.

The list starts with LaPhonso Ellis of East St. Louis Lincoln, who won back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988. Peoria Central’s Shaun Livingston won a pair in 2003 and 2004. The Simeon duo of Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker won two and four titles, respectively.

Selfishly, the only downer from his fabulous career is that he wasn’t a regular attraction for all of us in the Chicago area to see.

But it’s also crazy to think how underrated and undervalued Liddell was early on in his high school career, both locally and nationally. I touched on that a little over a year ago as Belleville West was in the midst of making its trip to Peoria in this story last March.

There has always been so much substance to Liddell’s game, demeanor and makeup as a player.

No. 2

Lost in Evanston’s run to a state runner-up finish and all the success the Wildkits have enjoyed in recent years is the vision and commitment of the ETHS athletic program.

When the basketball job opened up nearly a decade ago, Evanston’s administration, including athletic director Chris Livatino, didn’t settle. The proud, tradition-rich basketball program was an attractive position, but the administration made a concerted effort at the time to fill the basketball coaching position with one of the best young coaches in the state.

Mike Ellis was part of a high school basketball hotbed in Peoria, where he led Peoria Richwoods to six regionals titles, three sectional championships and a pair of second-place state finishes in seven years. Evanston targeted the accomplished and respected Ellis and the hire has paid huge dividends.

Evanston has won four sectional titles since Ellis took over in 2010, including an average of 25 wins a year over the past six years. Plus, the Wildkits have third-place and second-place state hardware in the trophy case.

Simply put, Ellis has become the most successful coach in the storied history of Evanston basketball.

No. 3

The southern part of the state flexed its muscle this March.

A pair of St. Louis area Metro East teams from the same conference won state titles as Belleville West and East St. Louis captured Class 4A and 3A championships, respectively. This is the first time since the arrival of the four-class system where a Chicago area school didn’t win a state championship.

Plus, Nashville, which is 40 miles southeast of Belleville, finished second in the state in Class 2A.

Belleville Althoff and star Jordan Goodwin were a Class 3A monster in reaching the state championship game in 2015 and 2016, claiming a title in 2016. But there wasn’t a Class 4A running-mate from the southern part of the state to join them in Class 4A in either of those years.

And while Liddell has been a household name in Illinois prep hoops, Peoria was also a stage for one of the state’s overlooked stars to be seen — from southern Illinois. Terrence Hargrove, a physically gifted 6-7 forward from East St. Louis, was terrific. In two wins he scored 51 points, pulled down 22 rebounds and blocked nine shots.

Hargrove has been among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top five prospects in Illinois and is headed to Saint Louis next season.


  • texan

    Rose couldnt qualify for college until someone else passed has ACT test.
    Davi$ cost way too much.
    Parker wasnt going anywhere but Duke.
    Cliff Alexander was overrated, cost too much and wasnt interested in school.

    Loyola didnt have but 2 CPL players, yet they made it to Final Four.

    CPL is mere shell of the talent they used to produce due to various limitations for many top players.

  • Dr. K

    Great 1A -2A & 3A-4A tournaments. Great players from around Illinois. That being said, why don’t any of the players play in our universities. In don’t understand. They’re are 50 Illinois illinois h s players playing in the NCAA Tournament and many more in the NIT and the NCAA in general. Very few are playing in the tournament stayed in Illinois. 2 Illinois teams played , knocked out in the 1st round. No good players playing for Illinois schools. What a shame. What can be done to bring out players back home. I think Illinois not hiring Jimmie Collins after Henson left was a big mistake. Illini still suffering bad.

  • Ron S.

    Quality coaching is often underrated in high school sports. A great coach can do wonders with talent that is not always the best. ETHS is blessed to have a gem in Mike Ellis, who definitely makes the Kits better every year. With their talent base, combined with Ellis’ s coaching skills, they will be good for years to come.

  • shogun29ppg

    Lawrenceville really, class A ball, not even worth discussing. I Bull Simmons had played up north, he would have gotten used and abused. But then again he was physically more mature than the comp, was not very skilled, and was un-athletic. Caught him when he got to college, and he wasn’t bigger than everyone else, real talk.

  • shogun29ppg

    The reason Liddell is underappreciated nationally is that he’s not that good nationally speaking, sure he dominated the Il ranks, because he’s much more physically mature that the kids he was matched up against. He’s really not explosive, doesn’t really shoot it that great, and really not a good handle. I don’t see him making a tremendous impact immediately at OSU, when I saw him against national comp, he looked slow and un-athletic, would have been better off at Illinois. May turn out to be another Smith from Edwardsville, still the worst Mr. Basketball I have ever seen from Il, we or whomever picked him should not be able to vote anymore.

    • ShawnJ

      How does one “turn out” to be a bad Mr. Basketball? The criteria is based on what that player has done during that particular year, not what they’re going to do in college and thereafter. Liddell was an easy choice for Mr. Basketball. Mark Smith getting picked to win Mr. Basketball had to have been a more difficult decision because Talen Horton-Tucker also had a great season, but Smith’s season was outstanding as well and he was deserving of the honor.

  • reason

    Everyone has failed to talk about the fact that East St.Louis has 6 players on the court for the last 1.9 seconds in the Super sectional. I know it was a 4 point game but give Southeast 2 free throws for the technical and a chance to inbound the ball at half court with time on the clock and you never know and with a 3 ESL might loose. I know it is a stretch but how can the zebras miss 6 players on the court.

  • Will Bradford

    I don’t understand the idea that EJ Liddell is underappreciated. The guy is a top-30 national player who is going to Ohio State. He won states as a junior and a senior That’s about as big time as it gets. If you don’t understand what that all means, you shouldn’t be watching the sport.

    If the contention is he wasn’t respected by Chicago fans, Liddell never played a game in the Chicago area so why would we care about him? What are we supposed to do, drive 5 hours to Belleville to watch him play? I just don’t understand.

    • kennyb

      I agree with you for some reason it seems like the Chicago Media has an Dislike toward the Chicago Public League okay Downstate had it day this Year but a blind dog finds a bone sometimes, the Best Ball is played in the Chicago Area period

  • 618hoops

    As long as you’re giving a shout out to basketball in southern Illinois, let’s not forget about Lawrenceville’s historic 68 game win streak, two 1A state championships in the ‘82-83 seasons, and the state’s top player in Marty Simmons.

    • kennyb

      But Lawrenceville and Collinsville refused to play East St. Louis

      • Leegs1

        Collinsville split with E. St. Louis this year.

      • kennyb

        Yea in the Last few Years and that because they have too due the Class Breakdown , but I remember back (I am Old School) they would not play ESL

        • Dabugg

          You Chicago folks never cease to amaze me. Anything not Chicago is bad, or lucky. Considering the Public League alone has more than 100 schools, I would say, yeah, it is much stronger than the Southwestern Conference year in and year out. That doesn’t mean there aren’t outstanding teams from “Downstate” – such an annoying and condescending term, by the way – every now and then. And this year, the Southwestern Conference had four teams (Collinsville and Alton, in addition to East St. Louis and Belleville West) that could compete with anyone in the state. Note: Alton finished FOURTH in the conference this season, yet the Redbirds beat Evanston 80-68 in December! And, someone’s memory must be failing: it would be hard for Collinsville to refuse to play East St. Louis, since they have been together in the Southwestern Conference for about 90 years!

  • CBM

    He was referring to the to biggest classes. He acknowledged St. Mel and Orr last week for the accomplishments.

  • Jgm

    One question. Why, oh why, did EJ Liddell choose OSU?? Top four sports at OSU-1) football,2) football, 3) football and 4) spring football. He one year player? If so I guess it doesn’t matter, however, he not a one and done. Why a blue chipper from Illinois would not sign with that great University in state is a mystery to me. Chicago 2 hours away and would own it if brought championship to Champaign! Let’s direct the talent to its great public university high school coaches. Top 20 program, though gets no respect.

    • 43 Year Leyden Alum

      It would of been nice to see Liddell & Hargrove both at Illinois. To go with Dosunmo.

      • R Martin

        He’s smart 2 leave Illinois

      • kennyb

        Illinois has a Hard time keeping Homegrown Talent “Home” But why is that ? I believe it the coaches they hire when they had the Guy at Kansas (Bill Self) who could actually recruit they let him go, to me Illinois doesn’t put a lot of effort in recruiting in The City especially the Public League (They got lucky with the kid from Morgan Park) but the problem between Illinois and the Public League started years ago when they failed to hire an coach with connections to the City (Jimmy Collins) when that happen the Coach at Simeon (The Bob Hambric) refused to recommend Illinois to his Players with that let look on who they missed out on Derrick Rose Jabari Parker and other Public Schools followed suit Anthony Davis among others.

    • Mike R

      When EJ was young, he thought he was going to be an offensive lineman/tight end like his father, Eric Liddell, who played college football at Illinois State University.
      Coaching the linebackers at ISU during that time period, 1988-89, one Urban Meyer.
      Thus it probably led to the young Liddell to fall in love for the Buckeyes and hoping to play for them someday.
      When he realized his future was on the hardwood, his feelings for the Buckeyes did not change.
      Also, I believe Hargrove has been quoted as saying he wanted to stay close to home because his mother has health issues.
      Although, looking at his recruiting profile I don’t know if the Illini were even in on Hargrove.

    • Kenny B

      Illinois doesn’t recruit the State well, Basketball and/or Football plus if you are a Blue Chipper why go to a call that doesn’t get any media (TV, etc.) exposure, you want go someplace where you will be seen nationwide (Northwestern and Loyola) does a better job than Illinois.

    • PistolPete44

      He did not sign because he will only be at OSU for 2 years. Underwood is on the ropes at the UOf I ..why would you waste your time there, why would anyone waste their time there.

      • jgm

        Underwood has the talent coming. Ayo probably gone. Bill Self took his dream job. Illini had no say in that. Daughtery blew at UNC, Williams (at Kansas) took his dream job and Self went on to his dream job. Bad timing. U of I one of best schools in the country. Oh, and a little city to the north you would own if success at U of I. Not as big as Cincy, lol. Wasting time in Ohio. CPS coaches directing away from Uof I, irresponsible morons then. Jimmy Collins had no business landing that job. U of I should focus more on state, less on CPS. I mean really….see Wisconsin.

  • M. Renkes

    Lost in the shuffle is that fellow Southwestern Conference teams Alton and even Collinsville were probably top 10 teams in Class 4A.
    Alton went 1-3 against West, but the three losses were by a combined 21 points. It was 0-2 against ESL.
    Although, a first-team selection the Redbirds’ Donavan Clay might be on the the best players no one has ever heard about.
    Collinsville won at West when EJ was out with an injury. It lost by six at home to the Maroons when Liddell played. The Kahoks split with ESL and dropped 2 of 3 to Alton.
    Junior guard Rey’Sean Taylor can score with anyone in the state.
    Must be a pretty good league when four of its members could be among the state’s top 12 no matter the class.

  • Norm

    Coach Ellis and everyone involved with the Evanston program, from the feeder program on up, has done a fantastic job. It would be great if scheduling a couple games a year with a couple of the public league powers could be done.

  • Kenny B

    Hey Didn’t two Schools from the Chicago Area win in 1A an 2A, you stated no schools from the Chicago Area won an State Championship this year So I guess Providence ST Mel and Orr are from Mars, who does your fact checking Mickey Mouse and my apologies to Mickey

    • A Good Reader

      Kenny B you know how to read??? Guess Not? Before you shoot your mouth off reread it again. Pay attention to where it says 4A & 3A. Then maybe you can figure out he was talking about those 2. Not 1A & 2A. Then apologize to Joe & Mickey for being a idiot.

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