MIKE NIETO: T.F. North hoops coach on ESPN film about Ben Wilson

2012-10-18T18:00:00Z 2014-04-05T20:50:30Z MIKE NIETO: T.F. North hoops coach on ESPN film about Ben WilsonMike Nieto Prep Beat nwitimes.com
October 18, 2012 6:00 pm  • 

ESPN's "30 for 30" series debuts "Benji" on Tuesday which looks back at the murder of Simeon basketball star Ben Wilson in November of 1984.

One of those in the film is T.F. North boys basketball coach Tim Bankston, who was a teammate of Wilson's at Simeon when they led the Wolverines to the 1984 Illinois Class AA state title. It has always been tough for Bankston to talk about "Benji," but he said the film actually gave him some closure albeit nearly 28 years later.

He also takes a look at what has or hasn't changed on the streets. Bankston, who likes to tell stories, lit up when talking about his childhood friend who was gunned down on South Vincennes Avenue. Bankston was a freshman at Bradley University when Wilson was shot.

With no cell phones, tweeting or instant communication, Bankston did not know about Wilson when he showed up to practice at the Robertson Fieldhouse.

"There were reporters there and I wondered what for?" Bankston recalled. "Then Coach (Dick) Versace and (assistant) Tony Barone called me into a room and told me. They would not let me leave practice. I was in shock."

Bankston stayed in Peoria, but recalls the next morning when Wilson died.

"About 5 o'clock in the morning, the next day, a light flash came into my bedroom," Banskton said. "I didn't have any windows, so I wondered what was going on. Then the phone rang and a friend of mine was hysterical and told me Benji died. ... I didn't know what to do. The only other time a light flashed like that was when my grandfather died."

Wilson was considered the top player in the nation.

"Benji, he was at Mr. Head's, a little restaurant by school and we never were there alone, so I don't understand why he went alone," Bankston said. "We had hung out (there) since was were little."

Bankston said the basketball team used to walk to 79th Street to avoid the gangs on 83rd and 87th streets. Sometimes they would take a bus, or if they spent their money at Mr. Head's they would walk, together, home.

Bankston still laughs when he remembers the good times he, Wilson, Rodney Hull and his Simeon teammates had. He also gets serious when he thinks about how the violence is still in the streets. In 1984, there were petitions to ban the sale of handguns in the city of Chicago. Much like what has been going on recently.

"Nothing was really done, because there are more guns on the streets now," Bankston said. "Look in the paper, watch the TV news and 'Five killed, 25 shot, 15 shot' and that is every day on the news.

"You know, we ourselves are doing a pretty good job of killing off the black race. The kiiling is black-on-black. We are doing this to ourselves."

Bankston said when Wilson was murdered, it was not an everyday occurrence.

"The kids aren't making right decisions; they do not realize what impact they are having and it is a negative one," Banskton said. "You can't blame the parents for everything, but they have to take charge."

Bankston agrees that curfew is when the parent says it is. He will not forget his friend.

"His momma got a brand new Lincoln Continental and she was working nights," Banskton said. "He came to my house and said 'Shakedown, Shakedown,' -- that was my nickname -- 'I got the keys.' So went to the football game at Gately Stadium. Coming home, someone had parked in his momma's parking spot. Benji went up and down the street knocking on doors and got the lady to move her car so he could park the Lincoln."

Bankston said Wilson couldn't pull a fast one.

"His mom came home said hello to me and said: 'Benji, we'll talk about in the morning about you taking my car out.' That was Benji. he just smiled."

 

This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at mike.nieto@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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