This has been the year of the guard in Illinois high school boys basketball.
Westmont's Pierre Pierce set a Class A state-tournament-scoring record in leading the Sentinels to fourth place.
Julian's Sean Dockery had the best all-around game of any player in the state with 53 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and eight steals in a Public League quarterfinal loss to Crane.
Certainly, 6-foot-11-inch, 290-pound Eddy Curry cast a large shadow over the landscape. But it was another guard, Mark Pancratz, who sparked Schaumburg's upset of No. 1-ranked Thornwood and Curry in the Class AA title game last Saturday.
Pierce, Dockery and Crane's Will Bynum head the 2001 Tribune All-State Basketball Team. All three played point guard. On defense, Pierce played more of a forward position, which allowed him to lead his team in rebounds.
Pierce, who could earn a starting spot at Iowa next season, was as close as it gets to a one-man team. The 6-4 leaper with superb court vision averaged 36.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.5 steals per game. Numerous times, his teammates had difficulty converting his sharp, no-look passes.
"To be considered one of the top-five players in the state is a great honor for me," Pierce said. "I know a lot of people weren't sure about me because I was a Class A player. But I proved myself last summer at all the high-profile camps, playing against the best players in the nation."
Pierce put on quite a show in Peoria, and Class A Elite Eight fans at Carver Arena and those watching on television admitted he was even better than advertised. He averaged nearly 44 points in the three biggest games of his career.
"I heard there were other coaches and players praising me, and I was thankful for that," Pierce said. "It was a rewarding feeling. People down there were a little shocked, like, `You do all this?"'
The 6-3 Dockery, rated among the nation's top juniors, averaged 21 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and five steals.
"Great players want to play with a great point guard," his coach, Loren Jackson, said. "Sean is such an unselfish kid that a lot of the better players want to play with him. They know if they get open, Sean will deliver the ball. He's not worried about scoring 30 points.
"He makes the other players around him better, just like Isiah Thomas did at St. Joseph and Glenn Rivers at Proviso East. He is also part of this new breed of point guards who can score if needed. But above all else, he has this passion to win.
"I firmly believe Sean is the best junior in the country. If anyone thinks there's somebody better, bring him here. I'll bet my mortgage on Sean--and win."
Bynum added an in-your-face dunk to his repertoire of flashy moves and is ready to begin taking his place next season in Arizona's backcourt legacy.
"He's a shade under 5-11, but with his quickness and 40-inch vertical leap, he can get to the rack anytime he wants to and dunk on anybody," Crane coach Anthony Longstreet said. "He has the body strength of [Miami Heat guard and former Carver star] Tim Hardaway, only he's a better ballhandler than Tim [was at this stage]."
Averaging 22 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals, Bynum led a sophomore-oriented team to the Public League final.
"His presence alone meant a lot to those younger players," Longstreet said. "He was the difference between us being a good team and a great team. I think he has the talent to go all the way to the top level."
That might be Curry's next step. After averaging 22 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in leading Thornwood to the state-title game, the two-time All-State center could be among the top-10 picks in the NBA draft.
"We have to remember that Eddy accomplished all this with two and three defenders literally hanging on his arms on almost every play," Thornwood coach Kevin Hayhurst said. "One of Eddy's biggest attributes is that he kept his poise when guys were beating on him."
After losing to Curry and Thornwood in last week's quarterfinals, Peoria Richwoods coach Bob Darling talked about the widely used, anti-Curry strategy.
"We were hoping we could hang on him, but the refs were not going to let us," Darling said after Curry hit Richwoods with 24 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
Curry averaged 25.3 points and 10 rebounds in Peoria, shooting 68 percent from the floor and nearly 80 percent from the foul line.
"I had to step up my game because it was the state finals," said Curry, who will play in the McDonald's All-American Game on Wednesday at Duke (8 p.m., ESPN). "Losing to Schaumburg was just a heartbreaker. I wasn't expecting it to end like that."
After Lincoln-Way ended Roger Powell Jr.'s season in the sectional finals, the 6-6 All-State forward began to set his sights on Champaign.
"Not only is he an excellent basketball player, but what a super person," said former Illinois assistant Rob Judson, the new Northern Illinois coach. "He is a perfect fit for Illinois because Roger has great character."
Along with averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds, Powell is a National Honor Society student, was homecoming king, starred in the school musical the last two years and is a youth leader at his church.
"I see him competing for Sergio McClain's starting position with Lucas Johnson and Brett Melton," Judson said. "Roger is an athletic small forward who plays similar to one of our former stars, Jerry Hester."
If this high school dream team needed a sixth man, it would be another guard--of course: Powell's future Illinois teammate, 6-3 Luther Head, who averaged 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Manley.
"He's just as good as Sean Dockery and Will Bynum," Dunbar point guard Jason Straight said.
Julian, 6-3, guard, jr.
Most unselfish All-State selection, he averaged 21 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, five steals and elevated the performances of his teammates.
Lived up to billing as nation's top junior with 53 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 8 steals in triple-overtime playoff loss to Crane.
Crane, 5-11, guard, sr.
Explosive scorer who punctuated whirling-dervish drives with ESPN "SportsCenter" highlight-reel dunks averaged 22 points, five rebounds, five assists, four steals per game.
Arizona coach Lute Olson expects him to perpetuate the Wildcats' tradition of dominant backcourt players.
Thornwood, 6-11, center, sr.
McDonald's All-American was an unstoppable force, dominating the Class AA finals with a repertoire of power dunks and post-up moves. On the season, averaged 22 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 64.6 shooting percentage.
DePaul or NBA draft.
Northern Illinois coach Rob Judson: "What can you say about Eddy? You feel the earth move when he plays."
Westmont, 6-4, forward/guard, sr.
Averaged 36.3 points, nine rebounds, five assists, 3.5 steals per game. Scored nearly 44 points a game in Class A finals and for the season shot 73 percent from the free-throw line.
Momence coach Tom Cirks: "There's nobody as talented as he is. He may be the Big Ten's freshman of the year next season."
Roger Powell Jr.
Joliet, 6-6, forward, sr.
Despite knee problems that hampered him in the second half of the season, he averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 71 percent from the line.
Expected to compete with Lucas Johnson and Brett Melton for Sergio McClain's spot in the starting lineup.
Marcellus Sommerville, Peoria Central, sr., 6-6, forward
Elliott Poole, Farragut, jr., 6-7, forward
Kelly Whitney, Marshall, Sr., 6-8, center
Luther Head, Manley, sr., 6-3, guard
Mark Pancratz, Schaumburg, sr., 6-3, guard
Tim Bauersachs, Pinckneyville; Dusty Bensko, Pleasant Plains; Damien Bracy, Holy Trinity; Quinnel Brown, Morgan Park; Melvin Buckley, Thornwood; Chris Burras, Leo; Chris Carter, Centralia; Joe Chapman, Bloom; Justin Diedrich, DeKalb; Teran Lee, Carver; Jim Maley, Lyons Township; Kevin Menard, Lincoln-Way; Reuben Slock, Bureau Valley; Jamaal Thompson, West Aurora.
Bryan Boerjan, Rock Falls; Ricky Cornett, Homewood Christian; Marcus Jackson, Peoria Richwoods; Brandon Krug, Dwight; Eric Ottens, Fulton; Jake Sams, Mt. Zion; Michael Stockard, Alton; Michael Thompson, Providence; Marcus White, Young.