Previewing the Class 4A state championship: Can Young beat Glenbard West?

In November, deciding between Glenbard West and Young as the preseason No. 1 was a difficult choice.

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Glenbrook West’s Caden Pierce (3) brings the ball into the front court as Bolingbrook’s MJ Langit (10) defends.

Glenbrook West’s Caden Pierce (3) brings the ball into the front court as Bolingbrook’s MJ Langit (10) defends.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

In November, deciding between Glenbard West and Young as the preseason No. 1 was a difficult choice.

The Hilltoppers were excellent in the short 2021 season and dazzled everyone all summer. But I’ve seen a lot of dazzling summer teams fall flat in the regular season. That was always in the back of my mind.

About a week before making the decision, I started leaning toward Young. Daniel Johnson and Xavier Amos, two relative unknowns, had been excellent during the 2021 season, and I thought AJ Casey and Dalen Davis were underrated after having subpar summers.

I went with Glenbard West as No. 1 because things were about even and the Hilltoppers were the better story. I wasn’t at all sure they were better than Young. In fact, I had major doubts.

Glenbard West went out and earned it. The Hilltoppers have proved, again and again, that they are the top team in the state. And they are much better now than they were in November. They play with the confidence and assurance that only comes from experience.

Young went through ups and downs. The Dolphins’ lowest point of the season was their 74-59 loss to Glenbard West on Jan. 22. Young was never really in the game.

So what reason is there to believe the Dolphins can beat the Hilltoppers in the Class 4A championship game Saturday?

Glenbard West star Caden Pierce has an answer.

‘‘[Young] has made it to the state championship for a reason,’’ Pierce said. ‘‘They are a lot better than when we played them back in January. They were missing one of their starters. They are a completely new team now. . . . It is going to be a good challenge for us.’’

Johnson was the starter out injured in the first matchup. He has been back for several weeks now and was a key factor in Young’s victory against Kenwood in the Public League championship game.

After losing to Glenbard West on the last day of the regular season, Simeon coach Robert Smith mentioned that he thought Young might have a better chance against the Hilltoppers in a rematch because they would understand their length and size. Smith said that it is something a team has to experience, that it can’t be simulated.

Young’s Daniel Johnson (11) drives to the basket against Barrington.

Young’s Daniel Johnson (11) drives to the basket against Barrington.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost did his best to simulate Glenbard West’s length in practice this week. Brost had his defenders hold pool noodles in practice. The Hilltoppers’ starting lineup is 6-4, 6-6, 6-7, 6-8 and 6-11.

‘‘You can prepare all you want, get pool noodles and do all the stuff that we did,’’ Brost said. ‘‘But . . . on the floor live, it’s a different beast. And then when they’re hitting shots, like they were [in the semifinals Friday], then they’re almost impossible to beat.’’

Glenbard West has shot well in every big game this season. The Hilltoppers have so many good shooters that one of them always seems to be hot. It’s hard to imagine Glenbard West’s shooting will flame out in the title game. So even if Young can handle the Hilltoppers’ size, it is going to be a battle.

‘‘We have finally gotten to the point where we can finish what we started and what we set out to do,’’ Glenbard West coach Jason Opoka said. ‘‘Back in sixth or seventh grade, we talked about it. In eighth grade, we met about it. And [Saturday] we have an opportunity to obtain it. It’s really special.’’

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