Welcome back, Illinois high school basketball.
Following a two-year hiatus with no state champions crowned due to Covid and years of dwindling interest, high school basketball came back with a bang this season.
Specifically, the sport recaptured some old magic and mystique this past weekend as the State Finals returned to Champaign.
The Glenbard West storyline was a trending one all season, and it was a boon to the state tournament and the IHSA that it continued right up to the final night of the season.
But there were winners, big moments and storylines even beyond Glenbard West and the four state titles that were won.
Here is a recap of the 2022 State Finals.
Biggest winner: IHSA
Yes, there were four teams that left Champaign with a state championship win and first-place trophy. And that’s what it’s all about.
But after 700-plus days without any type of Original March Madness, the IHSA needed a big hit this weekend. Maybe it wasn’t quite a grand slam, but it was at least a hustling triple or maybe even a home run.
There was some clunkiness in getting to championship Saturday; the Thursday and Friday format with early morning semifinals and third-place games at night seemed odd in a variety of ways. But once we got to Saturday it was a huge success.
The State Farm Center, a recently renovated, state-of-the-art venue, is a welcome change and added to the moment for the participating teams and its fans.
There was a large crowd on hand Saturday and, more importantly, a return of some energy for the four state championship games, especially for the Class 3A and 4A title games Saturday night.
Greatest moment: The State Farm Center was at its fullest for the end of the Class 3A title game and just before the start of the Class 4A title tilt.
And thank goodness because they were all there to witness a shot for the ages and be a part of something truly special and unique: a championship game win at the buzzer.
With seconds ticking down in a second overtime, Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin’s Keshon Singleton gained control of a bobbled ball, turned and launched a desperate three-pointer that hit every part of the rim before rolling in as the buzzer sounded.
SHG’s 53-50 double overtime win over Metamora is the school’s first-ever state basketball championship.
Biggest star: Braden Huff
The label above goes without saying; the Glenbard West senior is headed to Gonzaga and is arguably the state’s best senior prospect.
But the efficient and consistent production he displayed in leading the Hilltoppers to a Class 4A state championship, along with his overall impact in making others around him better and more dangerous, exemplified why he’s so valuable.
Huff scored 20 points in the semifinal and 19 more in the title game while adding eight assists in the two wins. But it was also about how Huff scored the basketball.
Huff is a big man with the total offensive package. He scored the basketball in every way imaginable in Champaign, beginning with the five threes he knocked down in two games –– and on just eight attempts.
But he also displayed nifty footwork in the post, touch around the rim, a step-back, mid-range jumper and even a running floater in the lane. Simply put, he does things others just can’t.
Unsung hero: Zack Hawkinson
He’s got a big name across the state. He’s not even the top prospect on his own team. But what a two-game performance from Sacred Heart-Griffin’s Zack Hawkinson.
The 6-5 junior scored 22 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in the semifinal win over St. Ignatius. He then followed it up with a 27 point, 13-rebound performance in the state championship game win, including a clutch basket in the closing seconds to send it to overtime.
Hawkinson is a bull around the basket and provided a physicality and relentlessness for SHG.
Other top performances
• Bobby Durkin, Glenbard West. As an unsigned senior playing on the final weekend of the season, Durkin couldn’t have picked a better time to put together his best game of the season.
The 6-6 senior with ranging Division I and Division II interest scored 30 points in the state semifinal win over Bolingbrook, connecting on seven three-pointers.
Durkin remains one of the top unsigned seniors in the state.
• Will Grudzinski, Barrington. Playing the best basketball of his career down the stretch of the regular season and into the state playoffs, the versatile 6-6 wing was sensational in a loss to Young in the state semifinals. Grudzinski scored 24 points, including four huge three-pointers, in the tough 51-47 defeat.
Grudzinski scored 15 points and added a trio of threes in the third-place win over Bolingbrook.
Division III Washington University in St. Louis, where high-academic Grudzinski committed back in December, will hold its breath hoping no one else swoops in. As it stands, that’s a Division III recruiting steal.
Biggest surprise: Metamora over Simeon
Metamora, a recognized football town and school in this state with three state titles and 10 state championship game appearances, rolled into the basketball State Finals for the first time in school history.
And the reward was a showdown with mighty Simeon, the biggest name in Illinois high school basketball.
But the Redbirds came from eight points down with five minutes to play to stun Simeon in the state semifinals.
A Class 3A runner-up trophy is pretty special for a program that won just its second sectional championship in school history this year.
Coach Danny Grieves has done a masterful job of making Metamora basketball relevant since taking over the program a decade ago.
For a program with little to no basketball success prior to his arrival, Grieves has put together eight 20-win seasons, along with a 19-win season, in the past 11 years. He’s won the only two sectional championships in school history.
Storyline to follow going forward: More of the same in Class 3A?
Simeon will be back again near the top of Class 3A next season with the return of juniors Miles Rubin, Wesley Rubin and Jalen Griffith. But so will 3A finalists Metamora and Sacred Heart-Griffin.
Though the loss of senior guard Zack Schroeder, the team’s second leading scorer, will hurt, Metamora returns four starters, including the 1-2 punch of juniors Tyson Swanson and Ethan Kizer.
State champion Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin will lose key contributor Mike Utinske but will welcome back all five starters. Their big two of guard Jake Hamilton and big man Zack Hawkinson, who combined for over 31 points, 16 rebounds and five assists a game this year, will be a load next season.