This is quite a fresh and mixed bag of teams Champaign will welcome for the Class 3A State Finals on Friday.
Yes, there is perennial power Simeon, the mega-program in search of its eighth state championship. So there is obvious familiarity across the state with coach Robert Smith’s program.
But Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin? Metamora? St. Ignatius? The only team with a single state basketball trophy of any kind is mighty Simeon.
Here is a quick rundown of what to watch this weekend in Class 3A.
How big of a favorite is Simeon?
The good news for the Class 3A field is this isn’t one of Simeon’s greatest teams. That should be a sigh of relief for the other three teams in Champaign.
But the Wolverines are clearly the favorite — and still a pretty big one as it makes the dip down from Class 4A to Class 3A this year.
Coach Robert Smith’s team will come at you defensively, starting with the quick and pesky guard trio on the perimeter in tone-setter Aviyon Morris, Jalen Griffith and Jaylen Drane. Plus, there is some rim protection on the back end with 6-8 Miles Rubin and 6-8 Wesley Rubin.
This team won’t be confused with some of the legendary Simeon teams of the past, but it’s one that can accomplish the very same thing those teams did: win a state championship.
A year too soon?
Metamora and Sacred Heart-Griffin were expected to be loaded –– next year.
But these two somewhat surprising entrants in the Class 3A field are here and poised to gain a whole lot of experience in what looks to be the beginning of a potentially terrific two-year run.
Metamora starts three juniors and a sophomore, including leading scorer Tyson Swanson and its best prospect, Ethan Kizer. Metamora is getting a taste of a successful basketball run in this football town.
With five junior starters, Sacred Heart-Griffin will obviously be a Class 3A state title contender again next season.
Best 3A player playing in Champaign
Simeon’s Jaylen Drane was recently named to the Class 3A all-state team and is a Chicago Sun-Times all-area selection after leading the Wolverines in scoring. The 6-2 guard has been a big name since entering high school as one of the prized freshmen in the state three years ago. He’s still uncommitted.
Best 3A prospect playing in Champaign
Right there with Drane –– and even better college prospects –– are the Rubin brothers from Simeon. Both Miles Rubin and Wesley Rubin, a pair of 6-8 big men who have made significant strides over the course of the season, are among the top 15 prospects in the junior class in Illinois.
The two twins really do bring different strengths and attributes to the table for coach Robert Smith. More importantly for Simeon, they’ve both become more productive and impactful as the season has gone on.
Other top prospects to watch
Richard Barron, St. Ignatius
Another prospect in the junior class with Division I offers and interest. The big-bodied 6-5 wing leads the Wolfpack with 15.2 points a game and is a game-changer when he gets hot from the three-point line.
Don’t let his body fool you as he’s a lethal threat from three (77 made three-pointers on the year). Barron can change the complexion of a game with his shooting capability.
Ethan Kizer, Metamora
This is a fun player and prospect to watch. Kizer is a 6-6 junior who is a legitimate space-the-floor 4-man and an exciting player who plays above the rim. He can provide a jolt with his athleticism and good looking three-point shooting stroke (70 three-pointers made on the season).
Jake Hamilton, Sacred Heart-Griffin
An undervalued prospect due mostly to where he plays, Hamilton is an all-around guard who averages 15.3 points a game. He also chips in six rebounds and over three assists a game.
Playing on the biggest stage this weekend in Champaign is an opportunity to put his name on the radar. The 6-3 junior is a crafty lefty with a wide-ranging offensive game and some sneaky athleticism. He will stick mid-range, pull-up jumpers, get to the basket and has made 41 threes on the year.