Thornwood's Eddy Curry

Thornwood's Eddy Curry, pictured on Nov. 16, 2000. (WARREN SKALSKI / CHICAGO TRIBUNE / November 16, 2000)

If this was to be the end of innocence, the last time Eddy Curry would manhandle a rim without an endorsement, then let a child ease the rite of passage.

What people forgot all winter as they watched Curry dominate the high school basketball scene was that inside the 6-foot-11-inch, 290-pound body that tossed aside defenders with a casual forearm sweep was the heart and soul of a little kid. He gets up early some Saturday mornings to watch cartoons. He can never end a phone conversation with his mother without telling her, "I love you." He still sleeps with a night light on.

And there he was on St. Patrick's Day, towel over his head to cover up the tears of anguish that had him doubled over after top-ranked Thornwood was upset by Schaumburg for the Class AA championship in Peoria.

His eyes were still red and a little swollen an hour later.

Finally, two hours after the most disappointing moment in his 18 years, Curry began walking slowly back to his hotel. He hadn't gone very far when a 7-year-old girl asked him for an autograph.

Curry signed his size-17 gym shoes and handed them over.

"That was one of the first things that got me out of the sadness," Curry said. "That little girl had waited two hours to see somebody she looked up to. Even though I had lost, it didn't matter to her."

His mom, Gayle Curry, stood nearby and watched.

"It was precious," she said. "He was really crushed, and that little girl will never know what she did for my little boy."

The youngest of Eddy Sr. and Gayle's two children sat recently in their Calumet City apartment operating his NBA PlayStation game and reflecting on his senior season.

"I came in with two main goals--win a state championship and become Mr. Basketball," Curry said.

Curry just missed on his first goal, but nailed the second: Curry has been selected Mr. Basketball of Illinois in statewide balloting of coaches and media. Along with Ms. Basketball--Cappie Pondexter of Marshall--he will receive his award at the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Banquet on April 28 at Illinois State.

He joins an illustrious group of recent winners that includes Kevin Garnett, Ronnie Fields, Sergio McClain, Frank Williams, Brian Cook and Darius Miles.

"This means almost everything to me," said Curry, who won by a wide margin over All-State guard Pierre Pierce of Westmont. "My first goal was to win state. When that didn't happen, well, winning Mr. Basketball takes away some of that emptiness. There's only one state champion, and only one Mr. Basketball."

After finishing second in last year's balloting to Miles, who was talented enough to make the leap from the East St. Louis Flyers to the Los Angeles Clippers, it seemed almost preordained that Curry would succeed him.

Now many believe Curry will follow his friend Miles' lead and go directly from the SICA East to the NBA.

"After I play in the all-star games, my family and I will interview some people [about the NBA draft lottery]," said Curry, who has signed a letter of intent with DePaul. "My family let me know it's my decision, and I'll try to do what's best for me.

"If I'm [going to be] a top-five pick, it would be pretty hard to say no. The Bulls? I'd love to try and help them out. The reason I chose DePaul was to stay around home. If I can go to the Bulls and help make them a winner, that would be even better."

The Bulls have scouted Curry at practically every game, and even brought along strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil for a closer evaluation.