Kevin Garnett. Tony Allen. Javale McGee. Derrick Rose. Anthony Davis. Jabari Parker. Jahlil Okafor.
What do they all have in common? They all played high school basketball in Chicago. What else do they have in common? They all departed Chicago and took their talents elsewhere for college — and not to South Beach like our favorite King James did.
Chicago boasts some of the strongest high school basketball programs in the country. For instance, Simeon Career Academy, a high school located in Chicago’s South Side where Loyola’s own Donte Ingram hails from, was at the top of the rankings in ESPNHS’s 2011 preseason rankings and has remained near the top for the past several years.
Simeon is also the home of two top-ranked high school players, Bulls superstar Derrick Rose and promising young Bucks forward Jabari Parker.
But even with all these promising high school programs, Chicago’s college basketball scene is one of the worse in the nation.
It seems like just yesterday that Loyola was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, but, in reality, that was two years ago. It remains the only championship title held in Illinois, and it sure seems like it’s going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
Our attention turns to Northwestern and DePaul, two Chicago teams that come from powerhouse basketball conferences: the Big Ten and the Big East, respectively. Northwestern has failed to even make it to the NCAA basketball tournament, making the team irrelevant in a very relevant conference. DePaul has been highly represented in the NCAA tournament historically (emphasis on historically). The Blue Demons have been to the Final Four twice, but the last time they made it was back in 1979.
Why have these universities been unable to replenish their win columns from this Chicago pipeline just dripping with high school talent? After all, true winners need to be able to extract talent from their own area codes.
The obvious answer is a lack in competitive advantage. The last time Northwestern stood tall as Big Ten champs was in 1933. The Wildcats consistently finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten. DePaul hasn’t been to the dance in 11 years. The Blue Demons haven’t had a winning record in eight years. Recruits simply do not want to go to a school that does not compete on a national level.
Like John Calipari’s thriving Kentucky program, Chicago college basketball teams need to have an innovative marketing strategy that will snag recruits from their own backyards. This starts with having an extensive fan base and a nationally recognized hype around the basketball program. Wins upon wins are the driving forces behind this hype. But where do these wins come from? Well DePaul certainly knows they do not come from having to play 15 miles northwest of its campus at Allstate Arena.
Teams need sleek practice facilities and coaching staffs that merge the fiery passion of Bob Knight and the reserved composition of Mike Krzyzewski to attract true talent and more ticks in the win column.
Chicago natives have a habit of being picked in the top two in NBA drafts; just take a look at Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and Jabari Parker.
Jahlil Okafor is obviously next in line to play this role of prodigy-turned-superstar.
Chicago universities, let’s keep this basketball talent pool within the city limits instead of letting the Jabaris and Jahlils move out of town to achieve greatness.