The 56-point outburst from Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson in Friday’s Class 4A state semifinal loss to Young was one for the ages. The fact no player in state history has ever scored that many points in the state finals tournament sets it apart and a stand-alone moment.
What also was so energizing about Brunson’s performance is it got people talking about the state tournament. There were state finals regulars — from coaches to media to fans — bringing up and discussing the memorable individual efforts they’ve witnessed in the past.
Brunson’s night was reminiscent of some other electrifying, easy-to-remember to star performances. But they’ve been hard to come by in recent years.
In 1987, when the IHSA played the state semifinal and championship game on the same day, Marcus Liberty of King electrified fans in twoSaturdaygames. Liberty scored 38 in the semifinal and then 41 in a 79-62 title game loss to East St. Louis Lincoln.
Little-known Mike Lipnisky of Rolling Meadows left fans in 1990 wanting more after he put on a show by scoring 42 points with nine rebounds and five assists in a losing effort against Gordon Tech and Tom Kleinschmidt in the state quarterfinals.
Legendary Jay Shidler poured in 48 points for Lawrenceville, without the three-point line, in a Class A semifinal game in 1976.
In Class A, Spring Valley Hall’s Shawn Jeppson scored 51 in a Class A title game loss to Warsaw in 1997, Westmont’s Pierre Pierce scored 48 in a third-place game loss in 2001 and Lawrencville’s Marty Simmons had 43 points and 17 rebounds in a quarterfinal win over Providence-St. Mel in 1983.
But when you consider the stage it was on, the opponent Stevenson played, and the stakesFridaynight, Brunson’s performance was arguably the greatest.
Young and Benet had more losses coming into Peoria than their state semifinal opponents, but an underrated value both teams had was their respective strength of schedule.
No two teams in Illinois played a more challenging schedule than Young or Benet.
Coach Tyrone Slaughter’s Dolphins traveled the country and played eight opponents ranked among the top 25 in the country, including five top 10 teams. Benet, meanwhile, played 17 opponents in the regular season that won 20-plus games.
“There is no question our schedule prepared and helped us get to this point,” said Benet coach Gene Heidkamp on Thursday, prior to his team finishing second in the state.
As a result, warts are exposed and can be corrected, players are put in situations and environments that make them better, and the benefits of playing the tough schedule show in state tournament play.
“What you do on the front side definitely pays dividends on the back side,” Slaughter said.
With a state championship added to his résumé, Young’s Jahlil Okafor can now be included on the short list of the most decorated prep players the state of Illinois has ever produced.
The Duke-bound Okafor is the No. 1 ranked player in the country, a McDonald’s All-American, the 2012-2013 Sun-Times Player of the Year and a Public League champ in 2013. He was also part of two gold medal-winning USA teams in the FIBA world championships.
But this state title now puts Okafor in the same company with Thornridge’s Quinn Buckner, Quincy’s Bruce Douglas, King’s Marcus Liberty, Simeon’s Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker when it comes to elite, highly-ranked players with unmatched winning pedigrees.