Joe Ruklick left his mark as the greatest player in the history of Princeton High School basketball. Next month, he will be recognized as one of the best to ever play the game in Illinois.
The Tiger great will be among 25 players to be inducted into the second Hall of Fame Class in the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum. Hall of Fame ceremonies will take place today at the I Hotel Conference Center in Champaign.
Ruklick came to Princeton to live at the Covenant Children's Home in January 1950 at age 9 when his mother was hospitalized in the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium in Chicago. She was to be released in four months, but his stay at the children’s home lasted through high school.
At PHS, he was cut from the freshman basketball team but had the good fortune of passing Tiger varsity coach Don Sheffer in the school hallway later that day. Sheffer told him if he wanted to become a basketball player, to come back the next morning at 7 o’clock, and he’d teach him the hook shot.
Under the tutelage of Sheffer, who passed away Oct. 2 at age 88, Ruklick developed that hook shot and became a prep All-American at PHS, leading the Tigers to back-to-back state tournament berths. They placed fourth the second time in 1955 in the old one-class system with Ruklick, the tournament’s top scorer with 104 points (26 ppg) in four games.
Ruklick, who went on to become an All-American at Northwestern and play in the NBA, refers to PHS as the greatest days of his life.
“Some people say they never look back. I love to look back at my PHS days. I worked hard every day trying to learn to shoot the ball with my left as well as right hand, and I worked hard because I wanted to become a Princeton Tiger,” he said.
“Don Sheffer, Princeton’s townspeople and the school’s teachers and staff represent what’s best in American life, and I wanted to be like them. Making the basketball team would turn out to be miraculous for a kid living in the Children’s Home. So I gave my best to the opportunity Don Sheffer gave me.”
Ruklick adds, “In a real sense, it was Sheffer who delivers me to the Hall of Fame.”
Among other notable players to be inducted include Johnny “Red” Kerr (Tilden Tech), Darius Miles (East St. Louis), Jack Sikma (St. Anne), Quentin Richardson (Whitney Young), Lloyd Batts (Thornton), Russell Cross (Manley) Michael Payne (Quincy) and Sergio McClain (Peoria Manual). The Class of 2012 also includes five female players, including Cappie Poindexter (Chicago Marshall).
The Hall of Fame and Museum is to be built in Pinckneyville. Executive Director Dick Corn, the former Pinckneyville coach, said the HOFM has received a $375 thousand grant to use toward construction and has set a goal to raise the necessary capital so construction can start in early 2014.
“We just hired an architect who is working toward the final design rendering and a firm cost estimate to construct and to design the exhibit areas and equipment,” Corn said.
There were 60 players inducted in the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2011, including legends like Glenn “Doc” Rivers, Isaiah Thomas, Cazzie Russell, Marcus Liberty, Kevin Garnett, Marty the Mule Simmons, Jay Shidler, Quinn Buckner, Jerry Sloan, Paul Judson, Dike Eddleman, Lou Boudreau and female stars Cathy Boswell, Dominque Canty and Tamika Catchings.
Visit illinoishoops.org for more information about the Hall of Fame and inductees.
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