By Joe Henricksen
I don't even want to start counting the number of high school games I've watched in the last two-plus months. All I know is I've seen my share of bad teams, boring, poorly played, empty-gym games in that time. And then I get Batavia-Simeon Saturday night at the annual Batavia Night of Hoops.
The highly-anticipated matchup between two teams with true state title aspirations was a classic as Simeon held off Batavia in double overtime. It's really what high school basketball is all about. Batavia High School's gym was electric. A packed gym with students roaring and fans on the edge of their seats from the opening tip. A Chicago Public League power in Simeon, ranked No. 1 in the Chicago area, heading out to the suburbs and playing a talented team in a hostile environment. This had all the drama of a state tournament game, featuring Division I talent, momentum swings, and each and every player leaving it all on the floor over 40 minutes of basketball.
This is why Batavia is such a terrific basketball program. Coach Jim Roberts pumps life into a community and basketball program with the schedule the Bulldogs play. Batavia basketball breeds players and opens the eyes of young kids in the community with nights like Saturday. Batavia has now traveled to Quincy, gone toe-to-toe with Marshall at the Sears Centre, and lost to the two-time defending state champions in Simeon. Batavia is fearless when it comes to squaring off with state powers, because this is a program that has done this for years, elevating itself and testing and challenging itself against the best. There are a lot of other programs that sit back, count their W's, wait for the one rivalry game or big conference matchup they have each season and go into March with blinders on. Batavia basketball prepares itself and generates excitement along the way.
And this is why Simeon is what it is -- the premier basketball program in the state of Illinois. Coach Robert Smith deserves a lot more credit than he's received thus far as head coach at Simeon. Sure, he had Derrick Rose and a gifted team the past two years. Nonetheless, Simeon has always done what it's supposed to do since Smith took over for legendary coach Bob Hambric. The "Simeon way" works. Don't underestimate the importance of playing the schedule Simeon does -- from traveling to Pontiac for four games to facing a team like Batavia in the suburbs. There are other Public League teams that should follow that path. Simeon sees different styles, has to adjust to a different type of officated game, plays in tough environments and gets better because of it.
When it was all said and done, after all the drama of a double-overtime game, you just have to appreciate that these are two coaches, two programs and two teams to enjoy now and in March.
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