What If Ben Wilson Had Lived – And Become A Flyin’ Illini?

Thursday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) In Chicago basketball lore, there’s no bigger “What if?” tale than that of Ben Wilson’s. And when it comes to Illinois basketball lore, the exact same question applies.

What if Wilson – the Simeon High School superstar whose tragic shooting death at age 17 was immortalized this week in “Benji,” the latest installation of ESPN Films’ “30 for 30” franchise – had lived and gone on to play basketball at the University of Illinois?

What if Wilson had still been in Champaign as a senior and played on the 1989 Flyin’ Illini? And what if the Illinois basketball program had been able to market the super-smooth Windy City baller as its trademark NBA superstar for the past two decades?

What if …

In November 1984, the 6-foot-8 Wilson was on top of the prep basketball world, as “Benji” captures in gripping detail. The previous spring, he had led Simeon to the first state championship in school history. That summer, he was tabbed as the nation’s No. 1 high school player. The following spring – likely after winning a second state title – he was planning to announce his college choice.

However, on the eve of the first game of his senior season, Wilson was involved in an exchange outside Simeon High School with two students from Calumet High, one of whom shot Wilson twice in the abdomen. Hours later, the budding hoops legend was dead.

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