Simeon’s freshman phenom: AJ Casey’s bucket in OT beats Brother Rice

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Brother Rice’s Marquise Kennedy (24) tries to put a shot up over Simeon’s Andre Casey Jr. (23), Friday 03-01-19. Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times

AJ Casey arrived at Simeon this year with massive expectations on his back. The 6-8 forward wasn’t just an eighth grade superstar. His invite to USA Basketball’s prestigious summer camp amped things up a notch. And then he began the season as a starter, joining an elite group of players to start as a freshman for the Wolverines.

Casey has had his ups and downs throughout the season. He made the game-winning free throw earlier this season against Homewood-Flossmoor but also had some games where he wasn’t able to make a major impact.

No one knows exactly what the future holds for Casey. A high-major college scholarship seems nearly guaranteed and even the NBA is possible. One thing that is now certain is his story will begin with an instantly-legendary rebound and put back at the buzzer in overtime to give Simeon a 75-73 win against Brother Rice in a Class 4A regional final.

Casey elevated for the rebound of a missed free throw. All in one motion he caught the ball and shot it back in, breaking the hearts of the Crusader Crazies and the rest of Brother Rice’s sold-out gym on Friday.

“He won the game for us,” Simeon senior Antonio Reeves said. “I just gave him a big hug. I almost gave him a kiss.”

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Reeves scored 26 and grabbed seven rebounds for the Wolverines (18-14). Casey had eight points and 11 boards. Senior Kejuan Clements added 15.

“I just had to go up and get it,” Casey said. “[The seniors] don’t want to lose. It is their last year and we have to do everything for them. Everyone wants to go out with a ring.”

Sophomore Ahamad Bynum, who missed most of the season with an injury, scored 20 for the Wolverines, 14 in the second half.

“[Bynum, Reeves and Clements] did a great job of taking turns getting baskets and making plays,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “It was one of the best high school games I’ve been involved in.”

Brother Rice (22-9) led 36-30 at halftime. Simeon seemed to adjust to the lively crowd and the cramped gym in the third quarter. The Wolverines also ramped up the defensive intensity.

“[The atmosphere] was actually incredible,” Casey said. “The fans were so into it and there was so much hype. It gave me an energy boost.”

Crusaders senior Marquise Kennedy displayed all the abilities that made him a Sun-Times All-City first team selection. The Loyola recruit finished with 27 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks. He made a three-pointer with 55 seconds left in regulation to pull Brother Rice within one point and then made a long three to tie the game with 18 seconds left in regulation.

“He just hit three after three and we couldn’t do much about it,” Reeves said. “We were contesting them. We just had to keep coming back.”

Junior Deandre Hagan scored 18 for Brother Rice and senior Jimmy Gavin added 15.

“They put so much energy and so many hours into this and then it just ends,” Brother Rice coach Bobby Frasor said. “It is not a fun feeling. I told them how much of a fun ride it was and how much I loved coaching them. Hopefully they have good memories of it for the rest of their lives.”

Simeon will face Marian Catholic in the Eisenhower Sectional semifinal on Wednesday.

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