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Thornton's Leslie Wilson looks to navigate through Bradley-Bourbonnais defenders. | Patrick Gleason/For Sun-Times Media

No. 1

Don’t go confusing this year’s Thornton team with any of coach Rocky Hill’s juggernaut teams of the mid-1990s or even the three teams current coach Troy Jackson led to Peoria in 2005, 2007 or 2009.

 

But after the past two difficult seasons — at least for Thornton standards, when the Wildcats finished a combined 27-28 — it’s a team worth getting excited about again. It’s also a team that may be developing into the No. 1 challenger to Marian Catholic in the south suburbs.

 

With a key SouthWest Suburban Red win over Bradley-Bourbonnais Friday night, Thornton improved to 12-4 on the season, with two of the losses coming to Springfield Lanphier, the top-ranked team in Class 3A, and Marian Catholic, who are a combined 37-2 on the season.

 

The senior tandem of three-year starter Justin Taylor and much-improved Jamani Pierce remain the backbone for Jackson’s Wildcats, but it’s the development of a junior class with a winning mentality throughout their careers that makes this team dangerous going forward. The junior group, led by Keondre Woods, Leslie Wilson and D’Quan Applewhite, were a perfect 24-0 last year as sophomores.

 

No. 2

There will always be some fun and friendly debate between years and generations, but it’s been awhile since Illinois could assemble a potential all-state team better than a projected one of Young’s Jahlil Okafor, Curie’s Cliff Alexander, Marian Catholic’s Tyler Ulis, Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson and Normal U-High’s Keita Bates-Diop when it comes to production, high-profile recruits and highly-ranked players.

 

No. 3

Though the topic has been beaten to death in recent years, it’s worth noting again: the biggest of Illinois prep basketball stars just aren’t staying home.

 

DePaul has signed seven in-state McDonald’s All-Americans, including Quentin Richardson (1998), Tom Kleinschmidt (1991) and Mark Aguirre (1978). The last was Leo’s Andre Brown in 2000.

 

Illinois has landed a dozen in-state McDonald’s All-Americans, highlighted by the 1982 tandem of Bruce Douglas and Efrem Winters, Marcus Liberty (1987) and Brian Cook (1999).

 

But of the 20 McDonald’s All-Americans from Illinois since 2001, including the 2014 trio of Young’s Jahlil Okafor, Curie’s Cliff Alexander and Marian Catholic’s Tyler Ulis, only two — Dee Brown of Proviso East in 2002 and Jereme Richmond of Waukegan in 2010 — have stayed home to play their college basketball.

 

By comparison, from 1978 to 2000 nearly 40 percent of Illinois’ 44 previous McDonald’s All-Americans chose to stay close to home and play at either DePaul or Illinois.

 

There are a plethora of reasons why loyalty to the local college programs has diminished over the years, including a shift in television exposure nationally and changes in recruiting rules. The one area, however, that remains in their control is on-court success and staying relevant in the big picture of college basketball.

 

From 1981 to 2007, Illinois reached the NCAA Tournament 22 out of 27 seasons. Now Illinois is on the verge of missing the tournament for the fourth time in the last seven years.

 

DePaul, meanwhile, has made just two NCAA Tournament appearances in 21 years, the last coming in 2004, after reaching 13 of 15 NCAA Tournaments from 1978 to 1992.

 

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