Levertis Robinson grew up thinking he would rather snare footballs than rebounds. Marcus Liberty preferred tossing rocks to shooting basketballs.
"When I was in grade school, all I wanted to do was play football," said Robinson, King High School's burly senior forward. "Quarterback, running back, end--anything at all."
Liberty, his brilliant junior teammate who is Robinson's friend off the court and alter ego on it, had to be dragged --almost kicking and screaming -- onto the backlot basketball courts by his older brothers. "When I was 9 or 10, all I wanted to do was go out with my friends and throw rocks," he said.
That was then. Now Robinson and Liberty, who have led King to the state quarterfinals for the first time, are two of the five first-team players selected to The Tribune's 1985-86 All-State team.
It's the first time two players from one school have made the first five and the first time a junior has made it. They share honors with another brilliant Public League product, Simeon's Nelison "Nick" Anderson, recently named the top player in Illinois by Scholastic Coach magazine. Anderson was the leading scorer for a team that was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 until its loss to King in Tuesday's city title game.
The first five is rounded out by guards Kendall Gill of Rich Central and Larry Smith of Alton. Gill's team, like King, has reached Champaign for the first time. Gill, a 6-foot-3-inch senior, leads Rich Central in points, rebounds, assists and steals. Smith, a spectacular backcourt player, averaged 22 points. He, Gill and third-team pick Phil Kunz of Carlyle are headed for the University of Illinois.
The wealth of talent extends deep into the top 15. Crete-Monee's Phil Henderson, a 6-4 do-it-all player, and Tony Freeman, the 5-7 wheelhorse for St. Joseph, lead the second five, which also includes Weber's Ken Redfield and Leo's Chris Henderson, two 6-6 inside men who were co-winners of the Tony Lawless Award in the Catholic League. Also on the second team is Danny Jones, Rockford Boylan's all-time leading scorer.
The third five comprises Rockton Hononegah's 6-10 Jim Shikenjanski, Argo's Joe Griffin, Quincy's Jack Kramer, Leo's Randy Doss, and Carlyle's Kunz.
As in past years, the team was selected on recommendations of prep coaches around the state.
Like Robinson, Liberty and Gill, Freeman and Jones will be performing in the state quarterfinals Friday in Champaign.
Robinson, who has signed with Cincinnati, has been a starter for three years and has been called the most intimidating player in the Public League since Efrem Winters played at King four years ago. "He is a man playing against boys," said Cincinnati assistant coach Jim Dudley, commenting on Robinson's 44-inch vertical leap.
Liberty's ability to pound the backboards and his 15- to 18-foot shooting range have already stamped him as one of the best around. After he scored 34 points in the Proviso West Tournament title game, Illinois coach Lou Henson said Liberty "has to be one of the top two or three juniors in the country right now." He also was named to the first team on Parade magazine's high school All-America squad.
Robinson is averaging 21.5 points and 14 rebounds a game, not bad for a 202-pounder who is listed at 6-7 but claims he's actually "6-5 1/2, maybe 6-6." The 6-8 Liberty, a King starter since his sophomore season, has a 21.4- point average.
When he went to Hearst grade school at 46th and Lamon, Robinson's first love was football. "I didn't even play basketball until the 6th or 7th grade. Football came first with me." But by the time he enrolled at King as a 6-2 freshman, football had taken a back seat.
"Coach Williams (Lonnie Williams, King's football coach) asked me if I wanted to play football, but I told him no way," said Robinson.
Liberty's first encounters with basketball left him bored. "There was a court in back of our building at 23d and Clark, and I remember playing there when I was around 9 or 10 years old, but I didn't like the sport."
Older brothers Edgar and Daryl tried to guide Marcus away from his rock-throwing escapades by forcing him to play basketball. It took time, but as Liberty began growing up, his interest heightened. "When I first saw him walk on the court, I knew he could be awesome," said Robinson. "Marcus could make any kind of shot he wanted to."
"They are the best of friends off the court, too," said King coach Landon "Sonny" Cox. "That's important, obviously. But I know that if one of them isn't having a good game, the other one will come through."
In King's 49-46 Public League title victory over Simeon Tuesday, Liberty's perimeter shooting (18 points) and Robinson's inside play (10 points, 6 rebounds) kept the Jaguars ahead most of the way, overcoming Anderson's 16 points and 10 rebounds.
"We've got one more thing to do," said Robinson. "We've got work to do Downstate. That's what we've got left."
FIRST TEAMNelison "Nick" Anderson, Simeon
Kendall Gill, Rich Central
Marcus Liberty, King
Levertis Robinson, King
Larry Smith, Alton
SECOND TEAMTony Freeman, St. Joseph
Chris Henderson, Leo
Phil Henderson, Crete-Monee
Dan Jones, Rockford Boylan
Ken Redfield, Weber
THIRD TEAMRandy Doss, Leo
Joe Griffin, Argo
Jack Kramer, Quincy
Phil Kunz, Carlyle
Jim Shikenjanski, Rockton Hononegah