Standing outside of the media room at the Peoria Civic Center after helping lead Belleville West to a second straight Class 4A state basketball title, Maroons senior EJ Liddell didn’t hesitate when asked if this championship meant more than the first.
“It does because we set out to repeat and that’s what we accomplished.’’ Liddell responded.
On Wednesday, Liddell repeated again by being named Illinois Mr. Basketball for the second straight season. The honor cements his place as one of the great players in Illinois high school basketball history
The 6-foot-7 Ohio State University recruit, joins former Chicago Simeon and Duke University standout Jabari Parker as the only players to earn the honor twice. Parker, who won Mr. Basketball in 2012 and 2013, is currently a member of the NBA’s Washington Wizards.
“To be mentioned in the same class with such a great player as Jabari Parker is an honor,” Liddell said. “He led his team (Simeon) to four straight state titles.
“I’m very happy that I had such a great team to play with in my career. If we hadn’t won so many games, I probably wouldn’t have won this award.’’
Liddell collected 95 first place votes and finished with 506 in the balloting. He averaged 20.2 points and 9.3 rebounds with 144 blocked shots this season for the Maroons who finished 34-4 and defeated Evanston in the state title game.
East St. Louis senior Terrence Hargrove was second with 107 points and two first place votes.
A four time all-Southwestern Conference first-team selection, Liddell is a three-time Illinois Basketball Coaches Association first team all-state selection and a two-time Associated Press first team all-state pick. He is the third player from the metro-east to earn the Mr. Basketball honor, joining former Edwardsville High School and current Missouri guard Mark Smith (2017) and former East St. Louis star and NBA player Darius Miles (2000)
West went 66-6 the past two years and won 100 of 128 games in Liddell’s four-year career..
Liddell’s Maroons career ended in typical fashion against Evanston, which built a 12-point lead late in the first half, only to see West storm back to a 71-59 victory. Liddell’s 15th double-double of the season (24 points, 10 rebounds) and Will Shumpert’s 20 second-half points led the way.
Liddell said Wednesday the Maroons’ accomplishments still haven’t sunk in.
“The last couple of weeks have been crazy with people at school coming up to congratulate me and us, phone calls and emails and all that’s going on with social media since we repeated,’’ Liddell said. “I really haven’t had time to really sit down and soak it all in.’’
The Maroons won the Washington Tournament of Champions and in December won the Centralia Holiday Tournament.
Liddell then brought the house down with his now famous off-the-bankboard dunk in the Maroons’ win over Vashon at the Highland Shootout. Maroons fans received a scare a few weeks later when he suffered an ankle injury in a win over Simeon at the O’Fallon Shootout.
That injury would cause Liddell to miss a game for the first time in his career as the Maroons fell to Collinsville.. That loss, one of three in a 15-day span which also featured setbacks to Alton and East St. Louis, cost the Maroons the Southwestern Conference championship. It also may have saved their season.
“We needed those losses to get us headed back on the right track, to get us playing the way we could and to get to work on parts of the game that we needed to do better,’’ Liddell said. “It really was a wakeup call for us. I’m just glad it happened in the regular season. If it happens in the postseason, one game, one night and your season is over.’’
Instead, West, Liddell and the rest of the Maroons righted the ship in time to run their postseason winning streak to 14 games and another title.
The tears began to fall as the game clock at Peoria Civic Center counted down the final seconds of the senior players’ high school careers. Muniz said Wednesday that student-athletes like EJ Liddell come along once in a coaching career, “if you are lucky.”
“Every coach dreams of having a player the caliber of EJ,’’ Muniz said. “I’ve said numerous times that as good of a basketball player that he is, he even a much better person. His mom and dad have raised a great young man. That makes this even more special.’’
Liddell in 2018-19
What opposing coaches say:
“EJ was a matchup nightmare. He could post up strong and finish above the rim and he could step outside and shoot it. Then if he missed, he would crash the boards hard. He has a great motor and is an underrated passer. He passed out of the post and set up his teammates for great shots. His greatest asset is the way he blocks shots. He is the best shot blocker I have ever seen. EJ was a team guy. He did not care if he scored 30 points or 2 points, as long as the team won. He was clearly the best player in the state the last two years and it was not even close.” - JEFF CREEK, BELLEVILLE EAST
“Our thought process was to try and stay between EJ and the basket as best we could and make him shoot over a hand from the outside. We sent a man to double team him if he caught it on the block. We sent the double team off a player outside the arc, usually not off (Lawrence Brazil III). All the West players are capable shooters, but we had to pick our poison and recover as quickly as possible on passes out of the post.
Illinois Mr. Basketball List
Following is a list of players who have won Illinois’ Mr. Basketball, thier schools and where they attended colllege.
2019 EJ Liddell Belleville West Ohio State
2018 EJ Liddell Belleville West Ohio State
2017 Mark Smith Edwardsville Missouri
2016 Charlie Moore Morgan Park Kansas
2015 Jalen Brunson Stevenson Villanova
2014 Jahill Okafor Whitney Young Duke
2013 Jabari Parker, Simeon Duke
2012 Jabari Parker Simeon Duke
2011 Ryan Boatright East Aurora Connecticut
2011 Chasson Randle Rock Island Stanford
2010 Jereme Richmond Waukegan Illinois
2009 Brandon Paul Gurnee Warren Illinois
2008 Kevin Dillard Homewood-Flossmoor Dayton
2007 Derrick Rose Simeon Memphis
2006 Jon Scheyer Glenbrook North Duke
2005 Julian Wright Homewood-Flossmoor Kansas
2004 Shaun Livingston Peoria Central NBA
2003 Shannon Brown Proviso East Michigan State
2002 Dee Brown Proviso East Illinois
2001 Eddy Curry Thornwood NBA
2000 Darius Miles East St. Louis NBA
1999 Brian Cook Lincoln Illinois
1998 Frankie Williams Peoria Manual Illinois
1997 Sergio McClain Peoria Manual Illinois
1996 Ronnie Fields Farragut DePaul
1995 Kevin Garnett Farragut NBA
1994 Jarrod Gee St, Martin de Porres Illinois
1993 Rashard Griffith King Wisconsin
1992 Chris Collins Glenbrook North Duke
1991 Howard Nathan Peoria Manual Nothwest Oklahoma JC
1990 Jamie Brandon King LSU
1989 Deon Thomas Simeon Illinois
1988 Eric Anderson St. Francis DeSales Indiana
1987 Marcus Liberty King Illinois
1986 Nick Anderson Simeon Illinois
1985 Ed Horton Springfield Lanphier Iowa
1984 Brian Sloan McLeansboro Indiana
1983 Marty Simmons Lawrenceville Evansville
1982 Bruce Douglas Quincy Illinois
1981 Walter Downing Providence Catholic Marquette