Playgrounds to the Pros

Legends of Peoria Basketball
Author: Jeff Karzen
A generation of hardwood dominance in River City
Paper – $19.95
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 02/07/2023
Series: 3 Fields Books
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About the Book

Howard Nathan. A. J. Guyton. Sergio McClain. Marcus Griffin. Frank Williams. Shaun Livingston. This dazzling constellation of talent helped make Peoria a prep basketball hotbed from the 1980s to the 2000s. Jeff Karzen takes readers inside the lives of the players, coaches, and others who defined an era that produced six state titles and four Illinois Mr. Basketball winners.

Drawing on dozens of in-depth interviews, Karzen tells the stories behind the on-court triumphs while providing a panorama of the entire Peoria scene--the rivalries and relationships, the families and friendships, the hopes and hard work. Karzen also follows the players into their Division 1 and NBA careers and pays special attention to the pipeline that, by connecting Peoria to Champaign-Urbana, powered one of the most successful periods in Fighting Illini basketball history.

Intense and intimate, Playgrounds to the Pros chronicles a basketball golden age in America’s quintessential blue-collar town.

About the Author

Jeff Karzen is a sportswriter who has covered basketball recruiting for twenty years. He is the author of Homer: The Small-Town Baseball Odyssey.


"Author Jeff Karzen has captured the spirit — the drama and the fun — of the River City during one of its great roundball runs. Now the legacies come to life through this incredibly well-sourced book that leaps past the scores and stats. It plunges into the inside tracks of some of the back stories intertwined in the high school roots that led to some historic hoops from the late 1980s to well into the 21st century." --Community Word


“You can’t tell the story of basketball in Illinois without telling the story of Peoria basketball. Jeff Karzen’s history is full of colorful characters, with deep backstories of their own, and the book does a terrific job of both uncovering these stories and telling them in an entertaining fashion. Heading into this book, I knew a little about Peoria basketball. Now I feel connected to it.”--Will Leitch, author of How Lucky: A Novel

“It's hard to explain how dominant Peoria basketball came to be during that period in the 1990s and 2000s. With a population around 100,000, Peoria produced one of the most overpowering high school basketball teams in U.S. history--and Manual High was not the city's only elite team. Once you read about the manic competition that surrounded former player Tom Wilson's transfer from one school to another, you'll be hooked through to the final chapter about the often heartbreaking but ultimately triumphant story of NBA champion Shaun Livingston. The idea for this book was wonderful, but the execution beats it by double-digits.”--Mike DeCourcy, Big Ten Network and senior writer, The Sporting News