These ‘Big Three’ stand out from the rest

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There are three state powers — Whitney Young, Simeon and Morgan Park — and everyone else. And when it comes to talent and passing the eye test, no team in Illinois comes close to the Chicago Public League’s three-headed monster.

When dissecting the “Big Three” from the city, Whitney Young stands out. Right now the Dolphins are anchored by the most dominating presence in high school basketball in 6-11 Jahlil Okafor. But there is also tremendous balance surrounding Okafor, and the Dolphins have the most impressive up-to-date résumé this season.

Coach Tyrone Slaughter has the right mix of talent and pieces that fit at every position. It is rare to see a team have so many talented pieces that fit together so well.

While the additions of L.J. Peak, an athletic 6-4 junior wing, and Ausar Madison, a much-needed point guard presence, have been huge, the maturity and growth of juniors Paul White and Miles Reynolds have put this team at another level.

Probably the most interesting note in regard to Whitney Young is this: Has there ever been a No. 1 ranked team in Illinois in January so few people in the state have seen play?

Whitney Young opened the season in front of a nice crowd at the UIC Pavilion in the inaugural Chicago Elite Classic, where it easily handled DeMatha Catholic out of Maryland. Since then, the only in-state opponents have been Westinghouse, Powerhouse and Douglass. Even the avid Chicago hoop fans aren’t gearing up for those games, which were decided by 57, 49 and 67 points, respectively. Thus, very few eyes have taken in the state’s best team.

The Dolphins have played eight power-packed national games outside the state lines — three in Florida, four in South Carolina and one in West Virginia — with a few more to come. With the Red-West as down as it’s been in years, the only regular-season in-state matchups of intrigue for Whitney Young appear to be Orr and Simeon.

If there were odds available to wager on or stock to be bought on teams reaching Peoria, Morgan Park is the one to gamble on.

First, because Morgan Park is in 3A, while Whitney Young and Simeon are in 4A. Second, have you looked at the St. Laurence Sectional, where Morgan Park will be the No. 1 seed this March?

The team that destroyed last year’s 4A runner-up Proviso East by 25, last year’s 2A runner-up Normal U-High by 30 and rolled through the Proviso West Holiday Tournament is going to get a challenge from …

Evergreen Park? No.

Julian? No.

Robeson, Phillips or Corliss? No, no and no.

Perspectives, any of the three Noble Street Charter schools or either Urban Preps? No.

How about Catalyst Charter/Maria (yes, it exists)?

Wait, Solorio Academy is 13-1! But only three of you reading this right now have heard of Solorio, the school located on the city’s Southwest Side. I wonder if Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin has ever heard of Solorio?

The point is this: No team in the St. Laurence Sectional will beat Morgan Park. In fact, Morgan Parks’s second team would be the No. 2 seed in this sectional.

Although a team like Hillcrest won’t roll over in a potential supersectional matchup, the Hoops Report will be flabbergasted if Morgan Park isn’t making its first trip to state since coach Herbert Ray led the Mustangs to a third-place finish in 2001.

And what about the three-time defending state champs with the ballyhooed Jabari Parker?

Simeon may be nationally-ranked and still has Simeon across that uniform, but you can feel that the belief in them has waned since the preseason. The Wolverines were handled on national television twice, losing to DeSoto (Tex.) and Montverde Academy (Fla.). Is it time to worry about Simeon?

While it’s true this stock-filled talented Simeon team has yet to fully click and play at the level everyone expected, there was bound to be some growing pains early on. They learned to play without their star, Parker, who is now rounding into the JP of old and should be close to 100 percent by the end of the month.

While national competition is relevant and somewhat of a barometer, this is what I know about Simeon’s two out-of-state losses:

1) The loss to DeSoto came with Simeon’s top player, Parker, the shell of himself and playing at about 20 percent. The the loss came in Texas, to a team that had played 13 games compared to Simeon’s one game and after a 12-day layoff. If coach Robert Smith could go back in time, you better believe there would be some tweaks in Simeon’s early-season schedule.

2) The loss to Montverde Academy came to a prep school powerhouse that fields an all-star team. I hate it when prep schools and high schools mix.

There are certainly concerns surrounding Simeon and issues to address, including the loss to Montverde; this is a Montverde team, after all, that waxed Simeon by 29 points but barely beat Whitney Young in overtime.

However, if Simeon were to go on and win a fourth straight state championship, do you think anyone this March — or 12 months from now or seven years down the road — will be talking about or looking back on Simeon’s loss to Montverde? A loss to an out-of-state team is a little like an AAU team winning any tournament title: no one really cares or remembers at the end of the day. There just isn’t a reference point.

Until Simeon loses to an in-state team I will stay away from the ledge when talking about any Simeon demise. With the rise of Whitney Young, it’s certainly no longer Simeon’s title to lose anymore. But make no mistake: Simeon is every bit the state title contender it was when the season started.

There are a couple of huge January dates looming, with Simeon facing Morgan Park Jan. 16 and taking on Whitney Young at the end of the month. Then there is the Chicago Public League playoffs in February, where these three will raise the stakes when it comes to city bragging rights.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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