When the class of 2016 started high school, Simeon’s Ben Coupet was the top-ranked player in the state. He was tall and skilled and ready to take over for Jabari Parker as the best player in Chicago.
Then everything totally fell apart. Coupet was never a bad player, but he didn’t come close to living up to the massive expectations that had been thrust on him. The college attention went away, and last season people started wondering if he should even be starting for the Wolverines.
When this season began Coupet was an afterthought. Simeon had new stars and the 6-7 senior was rarely even discussed.
On Friday at Quest Multisport Coupet showed the city that all that initial promise still exists. He scored a career-high 24 points to lead the Wolverines to a 74-72 win over Morgan Park in the semifinals of the Public League playoffs.
“I know a lot of people have really doubted me, they didn’t know I could play like that,” Coupet said. “It felt good to show what I could do.”
It wasn’t just the point total that was impressive. Coupet showcased his skills on the perimeter and in the paint. He shot 4-for-6 from three point range and grabbed a team-high seven boards. He even threw down a tip-dunk in the first quarter.
“He’s been putting in the work the last month or so,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “His games have been getting better and better. He’s been in early, he’s been the last to leave. He’s been working on his jump shot and been talking to the coaches.”
Simeon senior Zach Norvell drained a three-pointer with 1:35 to play to put the Wolverines ahead 73-70. Morgan Park’s Charlie Moore made a pair of free-throws to trim the lead to one point and then Josh Thomas made one of two free throws to extend Simeon’s lead to 74-72.
The final 20 seconds were totally wild. Simeon junior Evan Gilyard had a chance to put the game away, but missed a wide-open layup. Simeon senior Josh Thomas grabbed the rebound and then missed a point-blank put-back.
That gave Morgan Park one last chance. Moore streaked down the court and attempted a shot in the lane, but it fell short. Coupet grabbed the rebound as the final few seconds ticked off the clock.
“First we couldn’t make free throws and now we can’t make layups,” Smith said.
Thomas had 15 points and five rebounds for the Wolverines (22-3) and Norvell added 16 points and five rebounds. Sophomore Talen Horton-Tucker scored nine.
Moore led the Mustangs (22-3) with 26 points. This was the rubber match for this season’s Battle of Vincennes series. Morgan Park won the first game and Simeon won the second.
“They hate to lose to each other,” Smith said. “People made it something bigger than what it was, it is just about basketball and we both want to win.”
Kenwood beat Curie 52-51 in the first semifinal. Broncos senior Nick Robinson led the way with 12 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
Kenwood and Simeon will play for the city title on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at Chicago State.