For a while, 2019 seemed to be the year that Simeon would take a step back, the year that the dynasty on Vincennes would cede the CPS spotlight to the Curies and Bogans of the world. Everyone from Ahamad Bynum to coach Robert Smith missed time and the team struggled to survive a 1-6 start, even dropping out of the Super 25 rankings at one point.
An ongoing four-year streak of advancing to at least the Super-Sectionals seemed doomed, but that was far from anyone’s mind. Simply righting the ship was, for a time, a more pressing concern.
But after Simeon scraped by Hillcrest in mid-January, leveling out the team’s record at 9-9, assistant coach Leonard Thomas — filling in for ill boss Robert Smith — offered a prediction: “We’re going to be a scary team in March.”
Thomas was right.
Friday night at Eisenhower, the No. 3 Wolverines (now 20-14) finished an incredible playoff gauntlet of Brother Rice, Marian Catholic and then Homewood-Flossmoor still intact, still alive, and headed to a Super-Sectional for the fifth straight season.
“The guys just don’t want to go home,” Smith said. “We had a lot of adversity earlier in the year … now we feel like we’re fully healthy. We feel like we have a shot at getting back downstate.”
They won Friday thanks to an absolutely dominant defensive performance, holding No. 13 Homewood-Flossmoor (23-9) to 28.6 percent shooting from the floor in a 58-43 victory.
Antonio Reeves scored 18 points; Bynum came alive in the second half and finished with 12, all on three-pointers; and ultra-athletic forwards AJ Casey Jr. (10 rebounds) and Sincere Callwood (11 rebounds) controlled the glass and shut down the Vikings’ offense entirely.
“I was just a little frustrated in the first half, again,” Bynum said. “We came in the locker room and the coaches talked to me, talked me out of the frustration, and I just started hitting shots.”
Homewood-Flossmoor stars Issac Stanback and RJ Ogom, who teamed up for 35 points in their OT upset of Bloom in Tuesday’s sectional semifinal, tallied just 13 combined points Friday.
With Simeon’s defense taking Stanback and Ogom effectively out of the game, the Vikings’ offensive responsibilities fell more on the likes of Maurion Scott (1-for-10) and Damen Trice (1-for-8), who both struggled mightily with efficiency.
“We wanted to rebound more — they were getting a lot of offensive rebounds — and get back on defense,” Reeves said.
Smith claims that no other team in Illinois has played a schedule as difficult as Simeon’s, and he may be right.
In the Wolverines’ much-discussed 1-6 start, two of the losses were to Curie and Bogan, and the other four were to out-of-state teams, three of which remain nationally ranked by MaxPreps. While the results didn’t go Simeon’s way in each of those contests, the experience gained by the team is aiding them come this time of year.
“Our schedule helped us out, playing some of the top 25 teams in the country with NBA guys on their team,” Smith said. “We always go back to those games and say, ‘Is this team as good as Rancho Christian? No? Well, we can play with them.”
Simeon will face No. 1-ranked Curie next Tuesday in the Super-Sectional at Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena.
It’s an extremely difficult matchup, no doubt. But it’s also barely more than par for the course for the Wolverines at this point.