Here's a message to the rest of the world. The "Phonz" is catching up to you, too.
Liberty was the first underclassman to accomplish that feat, and he has lived up to expectations as a senior this season, making the elite five again along with Ellis, Joe Cook of Lincoln, Jesse Hall of Venice and Mark Baugh of Elgin.
How good can Ellis become next season? College coaches seem to think there may be no limit to his potential. Last fall, for example, a flood drove the Ellis family out of their home in East St. Louis. The "Phonz" had barely enough time to grab two prized possessions: a set of barbells and a suitcase stuffed with 50 pounds of recruiting letters and brochures.
The relationship among the top five extends beyond the lines of the basketball court. Ellis' distant cousin is Hall, a 6-3 1/2 senior who averaged 25 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5 steals and 5 assists a game in leading Venice to the Class A state title.
Baugh is averaging more than 24 points a game for the Maroons, who have reached the Elite Eight for the first time since 1983. A spectacular outside shooter, the 6-5 senior can distort opponents' defenses with his offensive talents. "He's one of the biggest secrets in the state," said Elgin coach Jim Harrington early in the season. He's no secret anymore.
Cook has played on the Lincoln varsity for four years. The 6-2 guard averaged 18 points and 7 rebounds a game for a balanced team that reached the sectional semifinals before losing a close game to No. 1-ranked Peoria Manual. Like the other members of the Lincoln starting five, Cook's ability extends beyond the point column. "When Joe can handle the ball for us," said Railsplitter coach Loren Wallace, "something good always seems to happen."
And what more needs to be said about Liberty? Many consider him the best all-around player in the nation. Liberty is averaging 27 points and 13 rebounds a game. In the city championship game against Crane, he scored 41 points with smoothness and style.
"He looks like he's not playing hard, but that's only because he's so good," says King coach Landon Cox. "What else does he have to do to impress someone? I think he could be drafted for the pros right now."
Two of the four first-team seniors have chosen colleges. Liberty has signed with Illinois; Hall has picked Michigan State. Liberty, Baugh and Ellis will be on display in the Class AA state tournament Friday and Saturday.
The second unit is almost as impressive as the first five. It also has an outstanding junior in 6-8 Eric Anderson of St. Francis de Sales, a two-year starter. It includes Leo's Darryl Arnold, the MVP in the Catholic League, St. Joseph's outstanding and underrated Brian Molis, Rich Central's Bobby Smith and Peoria Manual's Curtis Stuckey.
Stuckey is averaging 18 points a game for the Rams. In Tuesday's supersectionals, he poured in 28 points against Rock Island. A complete player with excellent quickness, Stuckey is one of the two seniors on a Manual team that may be even better next season.
Anderson, who averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds a game, has already been drawing some of the country's best-known college coaches to his games. Molis, the best player in the East Suburban Catholic Conference, averages 18 points a game and is a big reason the Chargers are in the Elite Eight for the fifth time in six years. Smith was a tremendous leader at point guard, averaging 22 points a game.
Molis has committed to Colorado, Stuckey to Drake and Smith to Oral Roberts.
Jacksonville's Andy Kaufmann, the state's top scorer though only a junior, is on the third unit. He averaged more than 30 points a game and was a 29-point scorer as a sophomore. He joins Mark Anglavar of La Salle-Peru, Walter Bond of Chicago Collins, Larry Gorman of Oak Forest and Albert Jones of Providence-St. Mel on the third team.
Anglavar has signed with Marquette, Gorman with Northwestern and Jones with Akron.
FIRST TEAMPlayer, school Ht. Class
Mark Baugh, Elgin 6-5 Sr.