LeBron James and Derrick Rose have dominated the headlines with their game-winning shots the past two games of the NBA’s Eastern Conference semifinals between the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.
But the riveting series also offers a dash of Oak Park flavor. As you probably know, Cavs guard Iman Shumpert played high school hoops at Oak Park and River Forest High School. The other end of the rapidly developing rivalry, however, is less well known: Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin currently resides in Oak Park.
The Wichita native, who essentially serves as head coach Tom Thibodeau’s aide-de-camp, has been with the Bulls since 2010. Griffin’s sons, Alan and Adrian Jr., are burgeoning basketball stars at OPRF and Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, respectively.
With the Bulls and Cavs have both been hampered by injuries, Shumpert has played well in the series, averaging 9.8 points and 4.4 rebounds. He was particularly effective in the first two games by sinking 8 of 17 three-pointers, although the rangy 6-5 guard strained his groin in the third quarter of Game 2.
Shumpert, 24, a fifth-year pro in the NBA with stops in New York and Cleveland has never forgotten his roots.
“When I host my camp [in Oak Park] every summer, I tell the kids: When people ask me where I’m from, I say Oak Park not Chicago,” he said. “I always love coming back home to Oak Park, seeing my friends and family, and working with the kids at my camp.”
Despite the demands of his job, Griffin attends his sons’ basketball games as often as possible. His wife, Audrey, and daughters, Vanessa and Aubrey, compose the rest of the Griffin clan.
Although Oak Park will never be mistaken for Springfield, Massachusetts (home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame), it possesses plenty of pro hoops cachet in addition to its reputation as a town full of cultural, architectural and literary history.
Corey Maggette starred at Fenwick and was a 1998 McDonald’s All-American before playing at Duke and then six NBA teams. Maggette was in town last week for his induction into the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame. In 1998, he led the Friars to a 28-3 record and an Elite 8 appearance in the state playoffs. Fenwick Athletic Director Scott Thies (a high school teammate of Maggette) attended the CCL Hall of Fame induction ceremony on May 7, when Maggette said during his acceptance speech, “Fenwick changed my life.”
Meanwhile, Tricia Liston, a River Forest native and another former Friar-turned-pro, visited her alma mater, Saturday, to teach an offensive skills clinic to young girls. Liston, along with former Fenwick teammate Devereaux Peters, play for the Minnesota Lynx which won WNBA titles in 2013 and 2011.
A couple other Fenwick grads are involved with the NBA behind the scenes. Peter Flowers, a former Friar basketball standout, works for the Chicago Bulls in Ticket Sales and sits right next to Bulls analyst Stacey King during every broadcast (as well as the NBA playoffs) for game day operations. Joe Rogowski, who graduated from Fenwick in 1996, was the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Houston Rockets until a mid-season promotion named him “Director of Science and Research” for Houston.
OPRF has other alums indirectly related to the Bulls-Cavs series. Evan Turner, who played at Brooks with Shumpert, is a starting guard for the Boston Celtics. Khirey Floyd, who also attended Brooks with Shumpert and Turner, played at OPRF and Providence-St. Mel, Concordia University and now is pursuing his hoop dreams professionally overseas. Adam Taylor, who played hoops with Shumpert at OPRF, has helped train college players for the NBA combine at IMG Academy in Florida.
Phil Gary, the freshman boys basketball coach at OPRF, is good friends with Rose. They attended the same grade school, played on the same AAU team and still work out together. Gary also played college basketball at Florida International for coach and NBA legend Isiah Thomas. All the aforementioned players remain close and typically reunite at Shumpert’s summer basketball camp at OPRF.
Former Bulls players Randy Brown and Mickey Johnson each had a child who was a standout student-athlete that attended OPRF. Justin Brown played quarterback at OPRF and ran track while Monica Johnson excelled in basketball. One of the best players in Bulls history, Norm Van Lier, lived in Oak Park.
Even Oak Park’s most famous football stars, Johnny Lattner (Fenwick) and Eric Kumerow (OPRF) were prolific high school hoopsters back in the day.
Bryan Bracey, another former OPRF star, was selected by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2001 NBA Draft. He went on to play professional basketball overseas for over a decade. His brother, Chris, is an assistant coach on the OPRF varsity basketball team.
Speaking of coaches, if you’re looking for a few bench vets to round out our Oak Park dream team, how does Jim Cleamons and Johnny Bach sound? Both former assistants under Phil Jackson are big fans of Oak Park. Cleamons is a former resident and Bach volunteered his extensive coaching experience to help out at Fenwick when John Quinn (the brother of Pat Quinn, the former Governor of Illinois) was the boys basketball coach.
While the majority of Chicagoans are rooting for the Bulls to take down the Cavs, Oak Park comes out a winner either way with Shumpert and Griffin upholding its basketball tradition.