By Joe Henricksen
With Simeon capturing its second straight state championship in Peoria over the weekend, the basketball mind goes straight toward the idea the Wolverines will be favored and expected to win a third consecutive title a year from now.
The Wolverines have now put up some staggering win totals under coach Robert Smith in the last six years. Under Smith, Simeon is an eye-popping 197-36 with four state championships and a runner-up finish. With five state championships in school history, Simeon is now tied with Peoria Manual for the most state titles in state history.
And next year’s team, which will feature older and better versions of Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor and Kendrick Nunn, could rival the 2007 Derrick Rose-led state championship team. A sixth state title next year would move the Simeon program into a different stratosphere as far as premier prep basketball programs in the state of Illinois.
Overall, state finals lacking
When you look at the state tournament that was played in Peoria this past weekend, there was a lack of excitement and buzz in Carver Arena over the two days of action.
In fact, there were just two games that were filled with any drama — and really only one game that went down to the wire and was played at a high level.
While the Centralia-Rock Island Class 3A final was filled with drama and tense moments down the stretch, for three-plus quarters the game hardly resembled a state title game. But with any double overtime game, especially when it’s for all the marbles, there are dramatic moments that will always make this particular title game memorable.
The best game of the weekend was the Glenbard East-Simeon matchup in a Class 4A semifinal Friday night. There was the comeback — Glenbard East rallied from an early 15-0 hole — there was excitement, clutch plays and shots made and, overall, a high level of basketball played. When Johnny Hill of Glenbard East converted an “And One” with just over five minutes to play in the game, the Rams had fans on the edge of their seat with a 41-40 lead.
“It was a great semifinal game, probably one of the best I’ve been involved with since coming down here,” said Simeon coach Robert Smith following the game.
But Simeon did what it needed to down the stretch, most notably making free throws at an alarming rate. The Wolverines went 17 of 18 from the charity stripe to secure a 56-53 win. A night later, Simeon missed 11 free throws (20 of 31) in the title game but still beat Warren 48-39.
Classy, tradition-rich programs
When it comes to a top 10 list of high school basketball programs in the state of Illinois, it would be difficult to leave off either Rock Island or Centralia when it comes to history, tradition, wins and just what their respective programs mean to their communities. The latter was evident in Peoria, with Centralia and Rock Island providing two of the biggest and most spirited fan bases the Hoops Report has seen in Peoria in years.
The Centralia fans formed a human tunnel from the Peré Marquette Hotel, where all the teams stay, to Carver Arena for the players to walk through prior to their state title game appearance. And the size and roar of the Rock Island fans in the closing minutes of the title game victory over Centralia was something we haven’t seen at the state tournament in Peoria in quite some time.
The Class 3A state title matchup between Rock Island and Centralia was the first big school state title game since 1994 that didn’t feature at least one Chicagoland area school. Peoria Manual beat Carbondale to win the 1994 Class AA state championship.
Sigel makes coaching history
Rock Island coach Thom Sigel became the first coach in state history to win both a small school and big school state championship since class expansion in 1972. Sigel led Rock Falls to a Class 1A title in 1999. Congratulations to one of the classiest coaches in the business.
• Rashawn McElrath, Simeon
His overall game may not be the prettiest, but Rashawn McElrath of Simeon has been an unsung hero for too long. The 6-6 senior, who has not received nearly enough attention from college recruiters, has been such a key cog in Simeon’s back-to-back state title run.
Normally, it’s McElrath’s defense, rebounding and energy plays that spark Simeon. In the 56-53 semifinal win over Glenbard East, McElrath did it on the offensive end. After Glenbard East took a 41-40 lead with five minutes to play, it was McElrath who answered. McElrath, who was huge in the fourth quarter, gave Simeon the lead for good with a 10-foot jumper. He was 5-of-6 from the field and hit clutch free throw after clutch free throw down the stretch (7-of-7 overall) and finished with a team-high 17 points.
State Tournament MVP
(Including supersectional and state tournament games in Peoria)
• Johnny Hill, Glenbard East
In the three games (supersectional and state finals in Peoria) there wasn’t a player who did more for his team than the 6-3 guard. He led all players in scoring in those three games with 70 total points. He poured in 32 in the supersectional win over Rockford Auburn and a game-high 22 points in the semifinal loss to Simeon, shooting a sizzling 8-of-10 from beyond the 3-point line in the three games. The Illinois State recruit also averaged 7 rebounds and made play after play when the Rams needed it most.
• Denzel McCauley, Rock Island
The 6-8 junior was the Hoops Report’s breakout junior during holiday tournament time over two months ago. He again showed his promise as a college prospect in Rock Island’s run to a state championship. McCauley was magnificent in a semifinal win over Brooks, scoring a game-high 14 points (6-of-6 from the line) with 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists. In the title game, McCauley scored 9 points and hauled down a whopping 17 rebounds. McCauley continues to show why the Hoops Report elevated the big man into the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2013.
• Anthony Beane, Jr., Normal
Although the 6-2 athletic junior guard struggled in the third-place loss to Glenbard East on Saturday, he was sensational in Normal’s semifinal loss to Warren Friday night. In that loss to Warren, Beane played as well as the Hoops Report has seen him play, especially in the first half, scoring 21 points and making numerous athletic plays. Iowa and Oklahoma State have been the two biggest schools in on Beane, with numerous mid-major programs involved.
• Dante Bailey, Glenbard East
There is a lot of potential in this 6-6 junior, who played a key role for the third-place Rams all season long. Bailey is known for his shooting stroke, which he displayed in Peoria with three big 3-pointers in the semifinal loss to Simeon. But his all-around game against Normal in the third-place game was equally impressive. Bailey scored 16 points in a variety of ways and pulled down six rebounds.
• R.J. Kwiatkowski, Centralia
The Hoops Report had never seen Kwiatkowski during the season, but two games was enough to know the 6-2 senior scorer would be a terrific small college prospect at the NAIA or Division II level. The Hoops Report loved this kid. In two games, Kwiatkowski scored 38 points and made 5-of-7 three-pointers in two games and looked awfully good doing it.
Team gets it done
What may be most impressive about Rock Island’s two wins in Peoria is that the Rocks got it done with star Chasson Randle struggling. The Stanford-bound Randle, who averages 22 points a game, scored a total of 25 points in the two wins. He shot 11-of-28 from the field, including just 1-of-11 from the three-point line. Nonetheless, the Gatorade State Player of the Year has his state championship
Although Brooks bounced back on Saturday with a win over North Chicago in the Class 3A third-place game, coach Bobby Locke and the Eagles had to be wondering what it would take for a ball to go through the net after Friday’s debacle against Rock Island.
First, Brooks scored one point in the opening quarter of its semifinal game against Rock Island. At halftime the Eagles trailed 23-11 and were shooting 13 percent from the field. And by the time the horn sounded to end the game, the Eagles were an atrocious 13-of-50 from the field, including 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. The star backcourt of George Marshall and Michael Powell, who have been playing at such a high level over the past month, simply couldn’t find the range. The guard tandem shot a combined 2-of-26 from the field in the loss to the Rocks.