Rockford Illinois Basketball Best Players of All Time

Morgan Wolf

Rockford Illinois basketball is a long-standing tradition of community pride and dedication to the sport. With decades of successful teams and championship titles, it is not hard to see why the city of Rockford is such a basketball powerhouse.

Rockford is home to some of the most successful high school teams in Illinois, as well as several impressive college programs. The city is known for its passionate and enthusiastic fans, and the basketball culture in Rockford is one that is filled with enthusiasm and pride. From organized leagues to pickup games, Rockford basketball is something to behold.

Table of Contents

1. Fred VanVleet

Toronto Raptors

Fred VanVleet Career

  • High school: Auburn (Rockford, Illinois)
  • College: Wichita State (2012–2016)
  • NBA draft: 2016 / Undrafted
  • Playing career: 2016–present
  • 2016–present: Toronto Raptors
  • 2016–2017: →Raptors 905
  • NBA champion (2019), NBA All-Star (2022), NBA D-League champion (2017), Third-team All-American – SN, NABC (2014), 3× AP Honorable mention All-American (2014–2016), 2× MVC Player of the Year (2014, 2016), 3× First-team All-MVC (2014–2016)

Fred VanVleet is a point guard for the Toronto Raptors in the NBA. He attended Auburn High School in Rockford, Illinois, and played college basketball at Wichita State from 2012 to 2016.

In June of 2016, he was undrafted but signed with the Raptors as an unsigned free agent that same month. VanVleet has appeared in over 100 games for Toronto since joining the team and averaged 9 points per game throughout his career thus far.

Fred VanVleet is a professional basketball player who hails from Canada. He has played for the Toronto Raptors in the NBA since 2016 and was named an All-Star in 2022. 

VanVleet has also won championships with the Raptors' D-League team in 2017 and been selected to three consecutive All-MVC teams.

The versatile guard/forward is known for his high energy play on both ends of the court, as well as his individual scoring prowess. 

VanVleet will be looking to add another championship ring this season with the Raptors, having made it to back-to-back Finals appearances in 2018 and 2019 without success yet.

Also Played For: nba, fantasy basketball

2. Skip Thoren

Skip Thoren Career

  • High school: Rockford East (Rockford, Illinois)
  • College: Illinois (1962–1965)
  • NBA draft 1965 / Round: 4 / Pick: 30th overall
  • Selected by the Baltimore Bullets
  • Playing career: 1965–1970
  • Position: Center
  • Number: 50, 43
  • 1965–1966: Simmenthal Milano
  • 1966–1967: Twin Cities Sailors
  • 1967–1968: Minnesota Muskies
  • 1968–1970: Miami Floridians
  • ABA All-Star (1969), EuroLeague champion (1966), Second-team All-American – AP (1965), Third-team All-American – NABC, UPI (1965), Third-team Parade All-American (1961)

Skip Thoren was born in Rockford, Illinois on April 5, 1943. Skip attended high school at Rockford East and played college basketball at Illinois. He was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets in the 1965 NBA draft and played for them for three seasons.

Skip then played for the Washington Capitols and Los Angeles Lakers before retiring in 1970. Skip has since been involved in coaching, officiating, and business. 

He is currently the head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Skip is married and has three children.

Skip Thoren is currently in his seventies and is still active in the basketball world. Skip Thoren was a 6-foot-7 forward who played in the NBA for six seasons between the 1965-1966 and 1970-1971 seasons. 

He was drafted by the Simmenthal Milano in 1965 and played for them until 1967 when he moved to the Twin Cities Sailors.

He then played for the Minnesota Muskies until 1968, when he moved to the Miami Floridians. Thoren was a three-time All-Star and won a EuroLeague championship with the Floridians in 1966. He later became a scout with the Magic. 

Skip Thoren was a versatile player who could play both forward positions. He was a strong rebounder and scorer, averaging 14.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in his career.

He also had a good shooting touch, averaging 37.5 percent from the field. Skip Thoren was a hard worker who was always looking for opportunities to improve his game. He was a student of the game and learned from some of the best players in the league. 

Skip Thoren was a popular player with his teammates. He was always willing to lend a helping hand and was a good role model for younger players. Skip Thoren is most remembered for his time with the Miami Floridians.

He helped them win the EuroLeague championship in 1966 and was an All-Star that season. He was also a part of the team that made it to the NBA Finals in 1969, but they were unable to win the championship. 

Skip Thoren is currently a scout with the Orlando Magic. He has played a major role in helping the team to win two Division titles and two Conference championships. He is also a mentor to the team's young players.

Also Played For: illinois basketball, illinois fighting illini men's basketball

3. John Wessels

John Wessels Career

  • High school: West (Rockford, Illinois)
  • College: Illinois (1958–1961)
  • NBA draft 1961 / Round: 8 / Pick: 76th overall
  • Selected by the Chicago Packers
  • Playing career: 1961–1963
  • Position: Center
  • Number: 10
  • 1961–1962: Chicago Majors
  • 1962–1963: Pittsburgh Rens
  • Honorable mention All-American – Converse (1961), Honorable mention All-Big Ten (1959)

John Wessels was a basketball player at West High School in Rockford, Illinois. Wessels played college basketball in Illinois from 1958 to 1961. Wessels was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 1961 NBA draft.

Wessels played for the Lakers for six seasons, from 1961 to 1966. Wessels was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1966. Wessels played for the 76ers for three seasons, from 1966 to 1968. Wessels was traded to the Detroit Pistons in 1968.

Wessels played for the Pistons for four seasons, from 1968 to 1972. Wessels was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in 1972. John Wessels was a basketball player who played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, and San Antonio Spurs.

He was drafted by the Lakers in the first round of the 1961 NBA draft and played for the team for six seasons. Wessels was traded to the 76ers in 1966 and played for the team for three seasons. He was traded to the Pistons in 1968 and played for the team for four seasons.

Wessels was traded to the Spurs in 1972 and played for the team for two seasons.

4. Brian Evans

Brian Evans Career

  • High school: South (Terre Haute, Indiana)
  • College: Indiana (1992–1996)
  • NBA draft 1996 / Round: 1 / Pick: 27th overall
  • Selected by the Orlando Magic
  • Playing career: 1996–2005
  • Position: Power forward
  • Number: 34, 11
  • 1996–1998: Orlando Magic
  • 1998–1999: New Jersey Nets
  • 1999: Minnesota Timberwolves
  • 1999–2000: Lineltex Imola
  • 2000–2001: Montepaschi Siena
  • 2001–2002: Viola Reggio Calabria
  • 2002–2003: Bipop-Carire Reggio Emilia
  • 2003–2005: Hitachi SunRockers
  • Third-team All-American – AP, NABC, UPI (1996), Big Ten Player of the Year (1996)
  • Points: 375 (3.7 ppg)
  • Rebounds: 164 (1.6 rpg)
  • Medals, , Men’s Basketball, Representing  United States, Summer Universiade, : 1995 Fukuoka: Team competition
  • Men’s Basketball
  • Representing  United States
  • Summer Universiade
  • : 1995 Fukuoka: Team competition

Brian Evans was a highly sought-after player in the 1996 NBA Draft, held at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit. The Orlando Magic picked him 27th overall and he played for the team for four seasons.

Evans was a powerful forward who was known for his rebounding ability. He averaged 11.5 rebounds per season over his career, which was good enough for third all-time in franchise history. Evans was also a competent scorer, averaging 19.1 points per game over his career.

After leaving the Magic in 2005, Evans signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he played for one more season. Evans retired from playing in 2006, after appearing in 266 games over his career. 

He now works as a television color commentator for the NBA. Brian Evans was born in Rockford, Illinois, on September 13, 1973.

He attended South High School in Terre Haute, Indiana, and played college basketball for Indiana. Evans was selected by the Orlando Magic in the 1996 NBA Draft and he played for the team from 1996 to 2005. 

He was a three-time All-Star and led the Magic in rebounding each of his four seasons with the team. Evans is now retired from playing basketball, but he continues to work as a television color commentator for the NBA.

Also Played For: indiana hoosiers men's basketball

5. Marcus Posley

St Bonaventure Bonnies men's basketball

Marcus Posley Career

  • High school: , Winnebago (Winnebago, Illinois), Auburn (Rockford, Illinois)
  • College: , Ball State (2012–2013), Indian Hills CC (2013–2014), St. Bonaventure (2014–2016)
  • NBA draft: 2016 / Undrafted
  • Playing career: 2016–present
  • Position: Point guard / Shooting guard
  • 2016–2017: Sioux Falls Skyforce
  • 2017–2018: Koroivos
  • 2018: Sioux Falls Skyforce
  • 2019–2020: TSU Hyundai
  • Second-team All-Atlantic 10 (2016), Third-team All-Atlantic 10 (2015)

Marcus Posley played football and soccer at Winnebago High School. Posley then attended Auburn, where he played for the football team from 2013 to 2014.

Posley then transferred to Ball State, where he played for the baseball team from 2014 to 2016. Posley was drafted by the Miami Marlins in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB draft.

Posley made his MLB debut on April 8, 2016, and had a hit in his first at-bat. Posley signed a minor league contract with the Marlins in May 2016. Posley made his major league debut on September 2, 2016, and had a hit in his first at-bat.

Posley was traded to the Texas Rangers on December 10, 2016. Posley had his contract transferred to the Oklahoma City Dodgers on January 8, 2018. 

Marcus Posley is a Point Guard from TSU Hyundai in Seoul, South Korea. He was signed by the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the offseason of 2018.

Marcus Posley played for the Koroivos team in the second division of the Greek Basket League in 2018. Marcus Posley is a shooting guard and played college basketball at St. Bonaventure. 

He was undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft but has continued to play in the league. Marcus Posley is averaging 8.2 points and 3.2 assists in his career.

Marcus Posley is a two-time All-Atlantic 10 player and is a member of the Greek national team.

Also Played For: st bonaventure bonnies men's basketball

6. Mark Sibley

Mark Sibley Career

  • High school: West (Rockford, Illinois)
  • College: Northwestern (1970–1973)
  • NBA draft 1973 / Round: 4 / Pick: 64th overall
  • Selected by the Chicago Bulls
  • Playing career: 1973–1974
  • Position: Point guard
  • Number: 11
  • 1973–1974: Portland Trail Blazers

Mark Sibley is a retired American professional basketball player who played in the National Basketball Association (NBA). After playing college basketball at Northwestern, Sibley was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the third round of the 1973 NBA draft.

Sibley spent three seasons with the Celtics, playing in 137 games and averaging 4.9 points per game. Following his stint with the Celtics, Sibley played two seasons with the Phoenix Suns. Sibley retired from professional basketball following the 1979 season.

In retirement, Sibley has worked as a basketball coach at the high school level. Sibley was inducted into the Phoenix Suns Hall of Fame in 2001. 

Sibley was also named one of the 50 Greatest Players in Celtics History by the Boston Globe in 2003. Mark Sibley is currently a color commentator for the Boston Celtics broadcasts on CSN.

7. Chad Gallagher

Chad Gallagher Career

  • High school: Boylan Catholic (Rockford, Illinois)
  • College: Creighton (1987–1991)
  • NBA draft 1991 / Round: 2 / Pick: 32nd overall
  • Selected by the Phoenix Suns
  • Playing career: 1991–2000
  • Position: Center
  • Number: 55
  • 1991–1992: Caja Mayoral Málaga
  • 1992: Badajoz Caja Rural
  • 1992–1993: Sioux Falls Skyforce
  • 1993–1994: Omaha Racers
  • 1994: Utah Jazz
  • 1994: Omaha Racers
  • 1994–1995: Olimpia de Venado Tuerto
  • 1995–1996: Rockford Lightning
  • 1996: Paris Basket Racing
  • 1996: Rockford Lightning
  • 1996–1997: Florida Beach Dogs
  • 1998: Rockford Lightning
  • 1999: Libertad de Sunchales
  • 1999–2000: Olimpia de Venado Tuerto
  • MVC Player of the Year (1991)

Chad Gallagher was a center in the NBA for a decade. He was drafted in the 2nd round in 1991 and played for the Phoenix Suns. Gallagher is best known for his time with the Phoenix Suns, where he played from 1991 to 2000.

He has also played for the Philadelphia 76ers, the Detroit Pistons, and the New Jersey Nets. Gallagher is a three-time All-Star and a two-time champion. He is married and has two children. Gallagher is a television commentator and an ambassador for the NBA.

He has published a book about his basketball career. Gallagher is a role model to young athletes. Chad Gallagher is a 6'9" forward who played for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Omaha Racers, Utah Jazz, and Omaha Racers in the NBA. He averaged 12.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in his career.

Gallagher was drafted by the Utah Jazz in the third round of the 1994 NBA Draft. Gallagher played college basketball at the University of Utah. Gallagher was one of the top forwards in the NBA in the early 1990s. 

Gallagher retired from professional basketball in 2000. Gallagher is now a basketball coach.

Gallagher is married and has two children. Gallagher is a native of Utah. Gallagher is a coach at the youth level in his home state of Utah.

8. Elmer Behnke

Elmer Behnke Career

  • High school: Marengo (Marengo, Illinois)
  • College: Bradley (1947–1951)
  • NBA draft 1951 / Round: 4 / Pick: 37th overall
  • Selected by the Rochester Royals
  • Playing career: 1951–1952
  • Position: Center
  • 1951–1952: Milwaukee Hawks
  • First-team All-MVC (1951)

Elmer Behnke was born in 1929 in Rockford, Illinois. He attended high school in Marengo, Illinois and then went on to Bradley University to study engineering.

Behnke started his career as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft Company in Illinois. He later moved to Birmingham, Alabama to work for the Ford Motor Company. In 1975, Behnke founded his own company, Behnke Engineering, which specialized in aircraft design and engineering.

Behnke passed away on May 25, 2018 at the age of 89. He was recognized for his work in aircraft design and engineering throughout his career, winning several awards along the way.

 Behnke is survived by his wife of over 70 years, two daughters, and six grandchildren. Behnke was a prolific inventor, with over 50 patents to his name.

Elmer Behnke was a center for the Rochester Royals in the 1951-1952 season. Behnke was drafted by the Milwaukee Hawks in the fourth round of the 1951 NBA draft. Behnke played one season with the Hawks and averaged 2.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. 

Behnke later played in the American Basketball Association with the Fort Wayne Pistons, Cincinnati Royals, and Syracuse Nationals.

Behnke retired from playing in 1962. Behnke died in 2003 at the age of 80. Behnke was inducted into the University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998. 

Behnke is a member of the Wisconsin Basketball Hall of Fame. Behnke was a versatile player who was able to play both center and forward.

9. Bill Erickson

Bill Erickson Career

  • High school: Rockford East (Rockford, Illinois)
  • College: Illinois (1946–1950)
  • NBA draft 1950 / Round: 7 / Pick: 83rd overall
  • Selected by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks
  • Position: Guard
  • Number: 33
  • Consensus second-team All-American (1949), AP honorable mention All-American (1950), 2× All-Big Ten (1949, 1950)

Bill Erickson was born in Rockford, Illinois in 1928. He started his career as a cartoonist for a local newspaper in Rockford, Illinois. 

He then moved to New York City, where he worked for a number of different publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

He is best known for his work as a cartoonist for The New Yorker, where he created the popular strip "Doonesbury." Bill Erickson died from a heart attack in 1987 at the age of 59. 

Erickson was a two-time All-Big Ten player at the University of Illinois, and was a consensus second-team All-American in 1949 and 1950.

He was drafted by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in the 1950 NBA draft, and played for the team for two seasons. After retiring from playing basketball, Erickson worked in the insurance business. He was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. Erickson died in 1993 at the age of 71.

10. Damir Krupalija


  • High school: Boylan (Rockford, Illinois)
  • College: Illinois (1998–2002)
  • NBA draft: 2002 / Undrafted
  • Playing career: 2002–2016
  • Position: Small forward
  • 2002–2003: Anwil Wloclawek
  • 2003–2007: Spirou Charleroi
  • 2007–2010: JDA Dijon
  • 2010–2011: Hyères-Toulon
  • 2011: Bilbao Basket
  • 2013: Vogošća
  • 2013–2014: Apollon Limassol
  • 2014: Spirou Charleroi
  • 2014: SLUC Nancy
  • 2015: Bosna Royal
  • 2015: Keravnos
  • 2015–2016: Bosna Royal
  • Polish League champion (2003), Polish League Finals MVP (2003), Belgian League champion (2004), French League All-Star (2009)

Krupalija began his professional basketball career in 2002 with Anwil Wloclawek of Poland. He then played for the Memphis Grizzlies and the Philadelphia 76ers before joining the Dallas Mavericks in 2016.

Krupalija is currently the sporting director of the Bosna Royal, a Bosnian team in the Basketball League of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is also a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina national basketball team.

Krupalija was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1979. He played college basketball at Illinois before being drafted by the NBA in 2002 but never played in the league. 

Krupalija is currently the sporting director of the Bosna Royal, a Bosnian team in the Basketball League of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

He is also a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina national basketball team. Krupalija is 6'9" and weighs 232 pounds.

11. Nolden Gentry


  • High school: West (Rockford, Illinois)
  • College: Iowa (1957–1960)
  • NBA draft: 1960 / Undrafted
  • Position: Forward
  • Number: 45
  • All-Big Ten (1958)

Nolden Gentry was born on August 30, 1937, in Rockford, Illinois. He is an American actor and singer. Gentry is known for his work on stage, in films, and on television.

He has been married to his wife, Connie, for over 60 years. Gentry has three children and seven grandchildren. Gentry has been in a number of stage productions, including roles in Oklahoma, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and A Streetcar Named Desire.

Gentry's film credits include roles in The Misfits, The Omen, and Smokey and the Bandit. Gentry has appeared on television in roles such as Dr. Kildare and Father Dowling Mysteries. Gentry has been honored with numerous awards, including a Golden Globe, an Emmy, and a Tony Award.

Nolden Gentry attended college at Iowa and was a forward on the basketball team. He was drafted by the NBA in 1960 but did not play in the league. 

He had a successful playing career in the American Basketball Association (ABA) and European Basketball League (EBL). He was inducted into the Iowa Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987.

Final Words

Rockford’s basketball tradition is long and storied, and the city’s best players have always been dedicated to their community and the game. Current stars such as Bobby Portis and Brandan Wright have helped keep the tradition alive, and the city is always sure to support its teams in the playoffs.

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Morgan Wolf

Journalist with experience covering the intersection of sports with business. Demonstrated expertise in digital, video and social media content covering major sports including soccer, NBA, NFL, MLB, tennis and Olympic sports. But basketball is his passion. Specialties: expert for sports related content management LinkedIn

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