Before I head for Maine and spend Christmas in the smoke-free state, I wanted to leave behind some basketball musings.
I say musings because I do not always regard the sport with passion and I should explain that I prefer football, the college and high school variety. So, I am somewhat prejudiced.
Bryan Bloodworth and I recently were discussing the better all-around athletes at the Intercity high schools between 1953 and 1988 when I was a full-time Pantagraph employee.
Normal West was just a figment of Unit 5's imagination at that time so I had just four schools to think about. However, that is for a later column.
Here are some of my observations about yesteryear.
Jim Crews, University High School guard, was the finest individual basketball player I saw during that period. He was also U High's best all-around athlete but for basketball alone, I would take Crews.
Crews was a big guard at 6-foot-5, could shoot, pass, and was very intelligent. Smart enough that when Will Robinson tried to recruit him at Illinois State, Crews demurred and explained, "I don't like your offense."
He went on to play for Indiana during the Hoosiers' domination of the Big 10 Conference, helping the Hoosiers win an NCAA championship. Crews is head coach at Army and is turning the program around. Army is winning games this year and playing teams with superior talent closely.
Best one-on-one playeron the high school level was Blaise Bugajski of Central Catholic. A member of Bob Donewald's Illinois State staff asked if Bugajski was good. I replied, "Good enough to start at Illinois State."
I was ignored, just as I was when I said Doug Lee, a guard from Washington who went on to play at Purdue, was good enough to be a Redbird. ISU was Lee's first choice. Donewald later explained that ISU had gone too far down the road in its recruitment of Kirk Francis of Kewanee to switch to Lee.
Francis, at 6-7, was two inches taller than Lee, but a pussycat when it came to matching Lee's combativeness.
Bugajski's name remains prominent in the Illinois Wesleyan record book although it has been 20 years since he was a Titan. Bugajski played as though he had been tutored on an inner-city playground.
Step out into the Pantagraph circulation area and Bobby Guy of Beason would be a close second to Bugajski. Beason's offense was to give the ball to Guy and tell the rest of the team to get out of the way and watch.
Bloomington watched while Guy scored 40 points against the Purple Raiders in a regional tournament championship game.
Finest defensive player on the high school level was Dana Dunson of Bloomington, who went on to an excellent career at Drake. Dunson seemed to be at his best when he went up against those good Illinois State teams circa 1980.
Could those high school and college basketball players of yesteryear have been as successful today? Yes, if they had specialized in one sport, spent their summers in basketball camps, played as many games, and received today's coaching.
You have to remember that the college players of the 1950s and 1960s did not have training tables, did not have tutors, had part-time jobs, did not watch game film, and graduated in four years, although some did get $100 off their tuition if they promised to teach in the state after graduation.
If the 3-point shot had been in effect when Dennis Bridges was playing at Wesleyan, he might be up there with Jack Sikma and Bugajski in the record book. Now in the autumn years of his Wesleyan coaching and athletic director career, Bridges could still hold his own in a game of horse.
However, one-time State Normal gunner Gene Jontry always claimed Bridges cheated on defense by holding on to an opponent's shorts.
Ex-Streator star launches Web site
Former Streator High School all-around athlete Kevin Missel was handed lemons and made lemonade.
Missel was a sports reporter for the Streator Times-Press but lost his position when the paper merged with Ottawa.
So, Missel initiated a sports Web site which will deal with Streator sports, past and present.