It’s WAND’s “All-Time 5”! Which local high school has the best all-time, all-star lineup of basketball players from any era, together on one court in a tournament of 33 teams?
53 pages. 12,000 words (and counting). Countless conversations, messages, box scores, All-State lists and school records. Now that Gordon Voit’s research packet has been compiled, we begin the fun.
NUMBER 24: MONTICELLO SAGES
(6) Monticello vs. (3) TBA
G – Zach Fisher (Millikin) 6-3; 22 ppg senior; Best shooter in program history (.506?)
G/F – Calvin Fisher (Millikin) 6-6 unselfish (Led 22-1 season 2017-18)
F – Jeff Bailey (Boston College) 6-5 26.7 ppg senior 70s; 37 reb in one game, 7-2 rpg BC
F – Jim Williams (Eastern Illinois) 6-6, Four-year starter at EIU; 2nd scoring MHS; Late 70s
F – Tom Eller (Oakland) 6-6, AA at OU, 1,798 pts at MHS, 1,852 at OU; Area POY 1990
Player/Coach: Harry Combes (Illinois) All-Big Ten player; 4 Final Fours as coach
G – Thad Trimble 4th scoring 1,546
G – Aaron Thais 3rd scoring MHS 1,551; 2nd best shooter after Zach Fisher
Josh Clark, 1,471 points, Almost made All-Decade Team All-Area; Class of 2001.
G/F – Matt Bennett (Parkland) 6-5, 2x All-Okaw, teamed up with Jim Williams in 1977 supersectional team that went 22-7. 17.8 ppg senior with 231 rebounds; 36 in a win over Deland-Weldon; Class of 1977.
G – Shawn Fatheree, Ace 3-point shooter, 25+ ppg senior, IBCA All-Star; Class of 1991
Scott Dempsey (Earlham) IBCA All-Star, 20.6 ppg as a senior; Class of 1987
G/F – Isiah Florey (Millikin) 1 year at MU
Bob Miller, 1930s All-Star
F – Rich Gadbury, 6-2, Early 1950s
G – Craig Waldrup, 6-2, Single-game scoring record 51 points, averaged 25.6 ppg as a senior; Class of 1992
F – Cale Huisinga, 6-4, First Team All-Area 2010
G – Greg Dean, 6-1, 18+ ppg, 1,047 points in 66 varsity games. Named MVP as a junior. Led team to sectional final in 1982; Class of 1982
G – Corbin Sebens, 6-2, ace 3-point shooter, All-Area, All-Conference, went 12-of-12 on 3FG in a half of an AAU game per Jim Johnson; Class of 2008
(Did we miss a player? Email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can update the roster! Thanks for your help in making this special project complete. If you submit a name for consideration, please remember to include height, position, graduation year, college destination as well as a list of accolades.)
Overview: Sages basketball is all about being greater than the sum of your parts. That’s what you get when you have elite coaching for basically 75 years straight. From Wally Gregory in the 1940s and 50s (.714 winning percentage) to Tom Young in the 50s and 60s (.682) to Bob Trimble in the 70s and 80s (.656) to Randy Moss in the 90s (.577) to the first coach to make it to State, Kevin Roy (2017) the Sages have had incredible coaches that have helped develop that signature Sage style. Having All-Big Ten and three-time Final Four coach Harry Combes in the mix is this team’s ace in the hole.
Upside of roster: Size, passing and unselfishness. The Sages are basically a well-oiled machine that is 6-5 or taller across the board, full of parts that will share the ball and give up good shots to get great shots. It also doesn’t hurt to have 6-4 Zach Fisher stretching defenses with his virtually unlimited range.
Downside of roster: If there’s something holding the Sages from getting a higher seed it’s just that other programs have more Division-I parts to work with, plain and simple. Jeff Bailey (Boston College) and Combes (Illinois) are the standard bearers as far as reaching the highest level of the game, with this roster primarily composed of super sturdy Division-III and Division-II players (Oakland and Eastern Illinois hadn’t transitioned to full-fledged Division-I yet).
Highlights of bench: Pick a player. Trimble is Olde English for “bucket getter”. Aaron Thais, Josh Clark, Max Bennett, Shawn Fatheree, Scott Dempsey, on and on and on. Most teams have two or three players on the bench who were especially painful to leave out of the first five, then a big drop off. With this group there’s no dropoff, it’s just wave after wave of 1,000-point scorers ready to come in. Coach Combes might have to sub in entire groups of five!
Best season: The 2016-17 team was one of destiny, with Johnny Dawson hitting yet another clutch shot in the Super-Sectional to send the Sages to State for the first time ever. They would end up finishing fourth in 2A (four-class system). The 1976-77, 2002-03 and 2006-07 teams also won sectionals.
Enrollment: 511 (2020)
GOAT: It’s got to be Harry Combes, right? Players from the 1930s might not be as good as the modern athlete, but you have to reward achievement within the context of the era and he was All-Big Ten. Plus he is by far the most famous name on this list, given his three Final Four berths as coach of the Fighting Illini. In terms of overall ability? You might have to go with Jeff Bailey, who went to Chestnut Hill after averaging 26.7 points a game his senior season as a Sage. He also once ripped down 37 rebounds in a game.
Music: Stars and Stripes. This isn’t a basketball team, it’s a marching band. Crisp passes. Well-timed cuts. Unselfish. Team-oriented. Well-coached.
Controversial decision: I suppose you could criticize some of the selections if you think it should be solely based on career points, but as I’ve said before, this is about constructing a roster that will be competitive against other superteams. If you watched Thais or Trimble or Bennett with your own eyes and you’re convinced they’re better than some of the starters, so be it. That’s why this is a fun debate. There’s no right answer! Bench guys will get big minutes, too, remember. No shame in getting 25 minutes off the pine.
Bonus: This is by far the most stacked group of scribes/media members of any school. The triumvirate of Illinois PA/PR legend Mike Koon, Hall of Famer Art Sievers and even legendary News-Gazette writer Loren Tate is the gold standard.
ALL-TIME 5 OVERVIEW
WHAT: A competition to see who has the best all-time all-star squad of any high school basketball program in the 217 area code.
WHEN: February 5 – March 18 (Phase 1)
March 18 until the NCAA Final Four in April (Phase 2)
HOW: Gordon Voit will release four more teams every single Wednesday night, two during the 6 p.m. show and two during the 10 p.m. show. This is Phase 1. Phase 2 consists of a bracket challenge pitting the teams against each other in a simulated tournament.
RELEASING THE TEAMS
February 5: The 8 seeds
No. 33: Mt. Pulaski (Play-in game)
No. 32: Okaw Valley (Bethany-Findlay) (Play-in game)
No. 31: St. Joseph-Ogden
No. 30: Maroa-Forsyth
No. 29: Glenwood
February 12: The 7 seeds
No. 28: Warrensburg-Latham
No. 27: Lakeview
No. 26: Teutopolis
No. 25: Shelbyville
February 19: The 6 seeds
No. 24: Monticello
No. 23: Mahomet-Seymour
No. 22: Clinton
No. 21: Unity