Big year for metro-east with IBCA Hall of Fame inductions

News-DemocratDecember 10, 2013 

Former East St. Louis Lincoln all-state players LaPhonso Ellis and Cuonzo Martin head the list of metro-east inductees for the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame Class of 2014.

Also being inducted during the April 26 ceremony at the Illinois State University Student Union ballroom in Normal are former Gibault all-state guard Josh Toal, former Venice High player and coach Rich Essington and Centralia High coach Lee Bennett.

In Bennett's first six seasons at Centralia, the Orphans were 137-48 and finished second at the Class 3A state tournament in 2011. He also coached Alton to a 100-27 record with two regional titles and a sectional title from 2003 to 2007.

Bennett also coaches at Avon, Carlinville and Dakota.

After starring as a player at Venice, Essington later played at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Essington coached Venice to the Class A state championship in 1975.

Toal starred at Gibault and Southwestern Illinois College and also played for Division I Idaho.

The 30-4 2006-07 Central High girls basketball state championship team coached by Nathan Rueter is also being inducted into the Hall of Fame. The team's top scorers were Katelin Wiegmann, Cassie Deiters and Lauren Budde.

Also being inducted are longtime area officials Kevin Wiggs from Belleville, Don Cobb is from Wood River, Kevin Pawlow (originally from Fairview Heights, now lives in Columbia) and Ray Wesley from Godfrey.

All four have officiated at various state tournaments and Wiggs, who has received two kidney transplants, was named Illinois Boys Basketball Official of the Year in 2003 by the National Federation Officials Association.

Martin and Ellis helped lead East St. Louis Lincoln High to two state championships during the Tigers' incredible run of three consecutive state titles,

Martin, 42, starred at Purdue as a player --he still has the school record with 179 3-pointers --and spent four years playing professional basketball before moving into the coaching ranks. He had stints with Milwaukee and Vancouver in the NBA and also played in the Continental Basketball Association and in Italy.

His first stop came as a Purdue assistant coach for eight seasons that included three NCAA Tournament appearances.

From there he moved on to become head coach of the Missouri State Bears for three straight seasons. His final two squads there averaged 25 wins per season and were 50-21.

Martin is now in his third season as the head coach at Tennessee. His first two teams were 19-15 and 20-13 and last season he was named the Southeastern Conference Co-Coach of the Year.

The 43-year-old Ellis was a 6-foot-8 power forward considered among the nation's top players while he was at East St. Louis Lincoln. He earned Parade and McDonald's All-American honors.

Other than two state championships at Lincoln, Ellis' biggest stage may have been the old 7UP Shootout at Kiel Auditorium, in St. Louis. Ellis and the Tigers were matched against future college and NBA star Alonzo Mourning's Indian River squad in Virginia.

Ellis outscored Mourning 26-20 and outrebounded him 19-10, though Mourning had eight blocked shots to Ellis' two.

After starring at Notre Dame and scoring 1,505 points (12th all-time), Ellis played in the NBA for 11 seasons. The fifth overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft, Ellis spent six seasons with the Denver Nuggets and also played for Atlanta, Minnesota and Miami before retiring after the 2002-03 season.

He averaged 11.9 points and 6.5 rebounds during his NBA career and now is a college basketball analyst for ESPN.

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