Cream of the draft crop coming from Chicago
Line up today's NBA players geographically and Chicago probably doesn't have as many players in the league as New York, Los Angeles or Baltimore/DC.
But Chicago has set the pace when it comes to No. 1 overall picks.
When Kentucky center Anthony Davis is chosen Thursday night by the New Orleans Hornets, he will become the fifth Chicago native to be chosen first in the NBA draft — joining Derrick Rose (2008), Mark Aguirre ('81), LaRue Martin ('72) and Cazzie Russell ('66).
Davis was in his hometown earlier this month for the predraft camp and talked about what it means to join the legacy of Chicago basketball greats.
"Chicago is one of the greatest basketball cities; a lot of great players," Davis said. "You've got to be tough and have a strong mind. Most guys from Chicago are very tough and enjoy the game and just go out there and play. They don't let nothing distract them."
Davis grew up in Englewood on the city's South Side, just like Rose. But his experience was unusual because he attended tiny Perspectives Charter, a school without a gymnasium, instead of one of the traditional Public League powers.
Asked how many times people told him he needed to transfer to Simeon, Davis estimated somewhere between a hundred and a million.
One reason Davis ended up at Perspectives is he wasn't a highly touted player until experiencing a growth spurt during his high school years.
"When people think of Chicago, they think of the public school leagues," he said. "Guys really get after it. I played with some of those guys in AAU and the summer."
What's interesting is another Chicago top draft pick is on the horizon. Simeon's Jabari Parker, headed into his senior year of high school, is already drawing comparisons to LeBron James and is an early favorite to go No. 1 in the 2014 draft. That would give Chicago three top draft picks in seven years, an unprecedented feat in the NBA.
The Norfolk, Va., area produced the top pick in consecutive years with Joe Smith in 1995 and Allen Iverson in '96. Detroit had the No. 1 pick twice in four years with Derrick Coleman ('90) and Chris Webber ('93).
The only real challenge to Chicago's legacy would be if you count eastern North Carolina, which churned out David Thompson ('75), James Worthy ('82) and Brad Daugherty ('86).
Here's the strange thing about Chicago's recent run of top picks: Overall, the city is producing fewer NBA players than it has during the last 40 years.
The heyday was clearly 1981, when Aguirre and Isiah Thomas went 1-2 in the draft, then Terry Cummings was chosen No. 2 in 1982.
The great run seemed to begin in 1977, when the Chicago area produced Rickey Green, Dave Corzine (Hersey), Maurice Cheeks, Ronnie Lester, Eddie Johnson and Doc Rivers — not to mention Aguirre, Thomas and Cummings — over a seven-year stretch.
Randy Brown, the longtime NBA guard, now a Bulls special assistant to the general manager, remembers being a wide-eyed young fan during those years.
"That's where I got my passion, from watching those guys," Brown said. "The Public League back then, it was a fight every night. Those guys paved the way.
"If you wanted to see a good game, you went to the Marillac House. It's closed now. It's right down the street from the United Center (at Monroe and Francisco). That was one of the most famous basketball courts in the city. The majority of the players came there."
One of Chicago's best years for producing NBA talent was 1989, when the city had four first-round picks — Nick Anderson, Tim Hardaway, Byron Irvin and Kenny Battle (West Aurora). Ben Wilson, who was tragically killed in a shooting, could have been another No. 1 pick.
The 1990s brought more area NBA stalwarts such as Michael Finley, Antoine Walker, Anthony Parker (Naperville Central), Corey Maggette and Nazr Mohammed.
Recently, though, despite the success at No. 1, the numbers have dwindled. Between Rose in 2008 and Davis this year, there were just two Chicago natives drafted in the first round — Evan Turner and Iman Shumpert. Barring a major surprise, Davis will be the only Chicagoan drafted Thursday night.
Why so few? Have the streets become too dangerous, keeping kids off the playground? Did the era of suspicious super-programs in the Public League help spoil a good thing?
Brown, who grew up on the West Side and attended Collins High School, doesn't think crime is keeping players off the basketball court.
"I grew up around gangs and drugs, and basically I was given an out because I was a sports fanatic," he said. "I was basically kept away from gangs and drugs throughout my childhood."
Maybe Rose, Davis and Parker will inspire more kids to get serious about basketball and the numbers will increase in the coming years. Brown believes it can happen.
"I've always thought Chicago basketball was filled with a bunch of kids who are always known as grinders, who make it through hard work and determination on the playgrounds," he said.
"That's what I used to tell Derrick all the time. He came from the streets, basically, playing basketball on the playground. That's where they get their toughness and competitiveness."
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