By Joe Henricksen

Simeon highlights weekend in Peoria -- again

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By Joe Henricksen

With Simeon capturing its second straight state championship in Peoria over the weekend, the basketball mind goes straight toward the idea the Wolverines will be favored and expected to win a third consecutive title a year from now.

The Wolverines have now put up some staggering win totals under coach Robert Smith in the last six years. Under Smith, Simeon is an eye-popping 197-36 with four state championships and a runner-up finish. With five state championships in school history, Simeon is now tied with Peoria Manual for the most state titles in state history.

And next year's team, which will feature older and better versions of Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor and Kendrick Nunn, could rival the 2007 Derrick Rose-led state championship team. A sixth state title next year would move the Simeon program into a different stratosphere as far as premier prep basketball programs in the state of Illinois.

Overall, state finals lacking
When you look at the state tournament that was played in Peoria this past weekend, there was a lack of excitement and buzz in Carver Arena over the two days of action.

In fact, there were just two games that were filled with any drama -- and really only one game that went down to the wire and was played at a high level.

While the Centralia-Rock Island Class 3A final was filled with drama and tense moments down the stretch, for three-plus quarters the game hardly resembled a state title game. But with any double overtime game, especially when it's for all the marbles, there are dramatic moments that will always make this particular title game memorable.

The best game of the weekend was the Glenbard East-Simeon matchup in a Class 4A semifinal Friday night. There was the comeback -- Glenbard East rallied from an early 15-0 hole -- there was excitement, clutch plays and shots made and, overall, a high level of basketball played. When Johnny Hill of Glenbard East converted an "And One" with just over five minutes to play in the game, the Rams had fans on the edge of their seat with a 41-40 lead.

"It was a great semifinal game, probably one of the best I've been involved with since coming down here," said Simeon coach Robert Smith following the game.

But Simeon did what it needed to down the stretch, most notably making free throws at an alarming rate. The Wolverines went 17 of 18 from the charity stripe to secure a 56-53 win. A night later, Simeon missed 11 free throws (20 of 31) in the title game but still beat Warren 48-39.

Classy, tradition-rich programs
When it comes to a top 10 list of high school basketball programs in the state of Illinois, it would be difficult to leave off either Rock Island or Centralia when it comes to history, tradition, wins and just what their respective programs mean to their communities. The latter was evident in Peoria, with Centralia and Rock Island providing two of the biggest and most spirited fan bases the Hoops Report has seen in Peoria in years.

The Centralia fans formed a human tunnel from the Peré Marquette Hotel, where all the teams stay, to Carver Arena for the players to walk through prior to their state title game appearance. And the size and roar of the Rock Island fans in the closing minutes of the title game victory over Centralia was something we haven't seen at the state tournament in Peoria in quite some time.

No Chicago
The Class 3A state title matchup between Rock Island and Centralia was the first big school state title game since 1994 that didn't feature at least one Chicagoland area school. Peoria Manual beat Carbondale to win the 1994 Class AA state championship.

Sigel makes coaching history
Rock Island coach Thom Sigel became the first coach in state history to win both a small school and big school state championship since class expansion in 1972. Sigel led Rock Falls to a Class 1A title in 1999. Congratulations to one of the classiest coaches in the business.

Unsung hero
• Rashawn McElrath, Simeon
His overall game may not be the prettiest, but Rashawn McElrath of Simeon has been an unsung hero for too long. The 6-6 senior, who has not received nearly enough attention from college recruiters, has been such a key cog in Simeon's back-to-back state title run.

Normally, it's McElrath's defense, rebounding and energy plays that spark Simeon. In the 56-53 semifinal win over Glenbard East, McElrath did it on the offensive end. After Glenbard East took a 41-40 lead with five minutes to play, it was McElrath who answered. McElrath, who was huge in the fourth quarter, gave Simeon the lead for good with a 10-foot jumper. He was 5-of-6 from the field and hit clutch free throw after clutch free throw down the stretch (7-of-7 overall) and finished with a team-high 17 points.

State Tournament MVP
(Including supersectional and state tournament games in Peoria)
• Johnny Hill, Glenbard East
In the three games (supersectional and state finals in Peoria) there wasn't a player who did more for his team than the 6-3 guard. He led all players in scoring in those three games with 70 total points. He poured in 32 in the supersectional win over Rockford Auburn and a game-high 22 points in the semifinal loss to Simeon, shooting a sizzling 8-of-10 from beyond the 3-point line in the three games. The Illinois State recruit also averaged 7 rebounds and made play after play when the Rams needed it most.

Rising Stock
• Denzel McCauley, Rock Island
The 6-8 junior was the Hoops Report's breakout junior during holiday tournament time over two months ago. He again showed his promise as a college prospect in Rock Island's run to a state championship. McCauley was magnificent in a semifinal win over Brooks, scoring a game-high 14 points (6-of-6 from the line) with 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists. In the title game, McCauley scored 9 points and hauled down a whopping 17 rebounds. McCauley continues to show why the Hoops Report elevated the big man into the top dozen prospects in the Class of 2013.

• Anthony Beane, Jr., Normal
Although the 6-2 athletic junior guard struggled in the third-place loss to Glenbard East on Saturday, he was sensational in Normal's semifinal loss to Warren Friday night. In that loss to Warren, Beane played as well as the Hoops Report has seen him play, especially in the first half, scoring 21 points and making numerous athletic plays. Iowa and Oklahoma State have been the two biggest schools in on Beane, with numerous mid-major programs involved.

• Dante Bailey, Glenbard East
There is a lot of potential in this 6-6 junior, who played a key role for the third-place Rams all season long. Bailey is known for his shooting stroke, which he displayed in Peoria with three big 3-pointers in the semifinal loss to Simeon. But his all-around game against Normal in the third-place game was equally impressive. Bailey scored 16 points in a variety of ways and pulled down six rebounds.

• R.J. Kwiatkowski, Centralia
The Hoops Report had never seen Kwiatkowski during the season, but two games was enough to know the 6-2 senior scorer would be a terrific small college prospect at the NAIA or Division II level. The Hoops Report loved this kid. In two games, Kwiatkowski scored 38 points and made 5-of-7 three-pointers in two games and looked awfully good doing it.

Team gets it done
What may be most impressive about Rock Island's two wins in Peoria is that the Rocks got it done with star Chasson Randle struggling. The Stanford-bound Randle, who averages 22 points a game, scored a total of 25 points in the two wins. He shot 11-of-28 from the field, including just 1-of-11 from the three-point line. Nonetheless, the Gatorade State Player of the Year has his state championship

Peoria Blues
Although Brooks bounced back on Saturday with a win over North Chicago in the Class 3A third-place game, coach Bobby Locke and the Eagles had to be wondering what it would take for a ball to go through the net after Friday's debacle against Rock Island.

First, Brooks scored one point in the opening quarter of its semifinal game against Rock Island. At halftime the Eagles trailed 23-11 and were shooting 13 percent from the field. And by the time the horn sounded to end the game, the Eagles were an atrocious 13-of-50 from the field, including 2-of-15 from beyond the arc. The star backcourt of George Marshall and Michael Powell, who have been playing at such a high level over the past month, simply couldn't find the range. The guard tandem shot a combined 2-of-26 from the field in the loss to the Rocks.

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This was a great weekend for Johnny Hill and very reassuring for Redbird Country. I thought he was a likely redshirt cantidate who needs some time in the weight room. While his strength will need to be improved, I believe his smarts and athleticism will allow him to make an impact in the Valley next season.

Hoops Report was spot on with Johnny Hill from the word go! I went to as many state tournament games as I could, regional, sectional, supers, watched the games downstate. And good ones to. I know I missed alot but the performance I saw from Johnny Hill in the Dekalb supersectional was the best individual performance I saw this March.

When do we all just get tired of Simeon?

Hill looked awesome this weekend, he is a real good one.

I am glad to see McCauley getting some press, one of the best big guys I have seen recently.

The 3A championship was not pretty, but give the teams some credit. Both teams did their work and had plans to shut each other down. They got after it on defense and took away what each other wanted to do. Instead of saying Brooks had a bad day against Rocky, why isn't Rocky getting some credit for their great defense?

Royce Muskeyvalley shut down Powell on Friday. In the second half on Saturday he took over on Kwiatkowski and held him to four points over the final 24 minutes, three of them coming on a DEEP three. His defense and FTs were the difference.

Just typical that the majority of the Chicago media (not saying you Joe) are dismissing 3A because of the title game. Brooks was arguably the hottest team in the state coming in and got worked by Rocky by 19 points. That was all forgotten because we saw two great defenses on Saturday instead of entertaining offenses. Had Brooks won there would be an argument about who is better between Brooks and Simeon.

The IHSA should move both title games to Saturday night and put both 3rd place games in the afternoon IMO.

Joe -

Can you set the record straight as to what level of recruiting a school like Simeon does? I don't know whether there are just a lot of folks out there jealous of Simeon's success? Or does Simeon truly have a legit formula for bringing in the top talent in Chicago?



In America, no one gets tired of winners, and that what Simeon is, they exemplify winning, hardwork does payoff, you can beat them early, and in the middle, but if they get to the dance floor in Peoria, just put their name on the trophy, now why would someone get tired of this?
Congrats to Coach Smith and his team, a nationally ranked program that happens to be in Chicago and the state of Illinois!

Followed your blog all season on this website and quickly realized its the best source of basketball knowledge in a well written way that is out there. And its not even close. Keep up the great work and a lot of people enjoy your work.

It's a shame to read about the lack of buzz in Peoria. The dummies at the top of the IHSA should really pat themselves on the back for that one. No shot it goes back to two classes either. You can't have the same environment that used to electrify carver arena with 4 classes.

Even with 4 classes, attendance would be much better in Chicago - but that isn't realistic. You can't have it at the UC because you can't stay/walk/eat in that immediate area (same reason why having the Big 10 tourney there is a joke). Then there aren't enough seats at DePaul athletic center or Loyola.

Suppose they do move it up here, will CPS schools draw any crowd if it's in their own back yard? Doubtful.

It was fitting that a season filled with more hype and hyperbole from both chicago media outlets than ever ended anti-climatically in a ghost town of an arena.

Has anyone noticed that in 4A for both the boys and girls, there are currently two dynasties in play. Bolingbrook girls have won the last three state championships and I believe 4 out of the last 5. They've been in the last 7 final fours. Simeon on the boys side Simeon has won 4 state championships in recent years.

What have both Tony and Robert Smith figured out about coaching basketball, at their respective schools, that their contemporaries haven't? Interestingly enough, the only team that competes with those two schools, perenially, on the boys and girls side is Whitney Young. What makes these schools so much better in basketball, for both boys and girls, than all of the other schools in Illinois?

Are we to believe that the 2 aforementioned coaches, Corry Irvin and Tyrone Slaughter are just that much better than every other basketball coach in this state? Please. They are luring the best talent to their respective schools year-in and year-out. I am a basketball guy and I recognize very well coached teams when I see them and NONE of the teams that I have mentioned would come close to qualifying to be that. Although, I do think Irvin at Young is the best of the bunch.

These teams are winning with talent. Talent that they are stockpiling from being able to lure or recruit the best players to their respective schools. I live in Bolingbrook and constantly hear about the girls transferring in to play at the high school. Not to mention the ones who graduated from junior high in the Plainfield school district and attend Bolingbrook high, as the town is split as far as school districts go.

Joe, you mentioned that Bob Hambric, a hall of fame coach, only has 1 state championship and Smith has 4. Why? Because he is that much better than Hambric his mentor? I don't buy it. What has he learned that Hambric hadn't? I, like so many others, aren't impressed with watching teams that clearly have unfair advantages beat up on everyone else. It's not real competition and face it, it's not entertaining. Which is probably why attendance is down. Who wants to see a 250 pound guy fight a 150 guy? Again, not very entertaining and we've lost that fan who simply enjoys watching good competition. Simply put it is bad sports and it is losing interest from the casual fan.

We can continue to celebrate these accomplishments but understand we are celebrating the end of true competition at that level and demise of a game that was once pure, exciting and beneficial to the children who played it.

But hey, GO SIMEON!!!

Joe, to answer your question, no. What Cox and King did is the exact same thing, in fact, we all know that Cox laid the blue print for recruiting and stockpiling talent in the Chicago area. At the time, it was new and exciting and we all watched. But what we didn't realize is that we were watching the beginning of the end of true competition in the sport.

And now we are seeing the maniifestations of it all: bad sports. Talent-laden teams that are poorly coached but beat up on the competition because of their superior talent. Consequently, the casual fan is lost. But don't take my word for it, look at the attendance. How would you explain the drop in attendance and viewership?

No one is interested in watching a bully beat up on the smaller kids in the neighborhood.

You raise a great point, Darnell.

Can you imagine living in New Jersey? St. Patrick, St. Anthony and St. Benedictine can all recruit NYC/NJ but get to play in the NJ state playoffs against all the public school teams. The number of state titles between the three schools over the last 30 years is astonishing. Those teams can never meet in the state finals because they'll always meet in the semis, but it doesn't matter.

The open enrollment in the CPS allows coaches to try and recruit 'all-star' teams. However, Bolingbrook's girls program is just as egregious with the 'coincidental' all-star player transfers. Everyone talks about how dirty the mens side to amateur basketball is, but since women's has about a tenth of the popularity as mens no one cares. But that is the way it's always been, and always will be.

At the end of the day, its just sports and insignificant in the big picture. The true hope is that the kids who are being recruited to these high schools, then college, still gain the invaluable educational experience (not just in the books in class room) where ever they go. That they are given the same opportunities to grow as a human and not just used for basketball.

All that being said, as a basketball guy it was EASY to cheer/appreciate all the Simeon teams that have won state. Coach Rob has his teams play the right way x's and o's wise, but also as competitors. None of the 'neighborhood bully' mentality. The only team I've seen play like that was Morgan Park and they didn't make it too far in the postseason.

Joe, I have enjoyed your blog all season long. On the way home from Peoria it hit me that the season is over! Ouch!

My observations from Peoria.

- other than the Glenbard East-Simeon game it seemed like the games were being played in mud.

- I agree that the finals of both 3A and 4A should be at night. Combining the Centralia, Rock Island and Glenbard East fans would have had the place rocking on Saturday night.

- Glenbard East brought a lot of fans to Peoria as well as Centralia and Rock Island.

- Folks from Centralia were terrific. We were at the same hotel with them and you could feel the energy vibrating from them before Saturdays game.

- The IHSA needs to alter their policy on how many times a referee can be in the finals. Instead of a limit of 3 times. How about a once every three year limit. If you are trying to run the "best tournament in the land" you owe the teams the best referee's.

- The constant IHSA "commercials" on good sportsmanship need to be updated as do their nostalgic "commercials". IHSA bring those into this century. Please.

- Royce Muskeyvalley was the player of the game on Saturday for Rock Island. They were not hitting free throws until he stepped to the line in OT. With Randle fouled out he ran the team very well in those OT's. Where is he going to play in college?

- Simeon is a terrific team, very well coached, their play always seemed to be just a bit better than their opponent, but it all seemed coldly efficient.

- Finally, congratulations to Glenbard East, Coach Scott Miller, Johnny Hill, Zach Miller, Dante Bailey, Steve Kinney, Tyree York and the rest of the team on an outstanding season. You played a very high level of team basketball all season and should be very proud of your state trophy! I wish each of your great success in your future endeavors. Also nice to see Coach Miller receive very well deserved accolades from the other coaches in attendance this weekend.

When do the AAU and summer tournaments begin!?!

We have Darnell again with his excuses. I told Darnell and everyone else before the season, and especially after they lost to Benet and Young that Simeon would win again. Look man stop the bellyaching. Lots of schools in the city AND SUBURBS recruit athletes. Also Simeon's coaching staff must be doing something right. It is difficult in this AAU and individualist system in basketball to put a talented team together and get them to play team ball. That's what Robert Smith and his coaching staff does. They can play any style and you can't do that by just rolling the balls out there and letting the kids play. It is not that easy to do. Yes it helps to have talent in the first place but the Simeon Way is working and they are winning big. Attendance went down with the advent of the 4 Class system. And to most basketball fans its entertaining to watch the possibility of Goliath going down. Congrats to the Simeon Wolverines Back to Back State Titles. And don't mind the haters on this blog or anywhere else you are doing it right. And winning the big trophy on the regular.

Gino, to answer your question: yes Simeon has a formula. All the gym shoes a kid could ever want, 'free' travel, hotels and a pass on the rigors of real academics.

I believe that is their recipe for success. Now my question is where does that leave the kid 5 years after high school? Before someone says it, Derrick Rose, is the exception to the rule. Where the REST of his teammates from those 2 state championship teams? Also, keeping in mind that he couldn't qualify to be a student at the collegiate level either.

Dang Darnell! Chill out my man! Stop the hating! I hate the New York Yankees for having the biggest payroll in baseball by far but they don't win every World Series. Delasalle has a ton of talent last two years and done nothing with it. It is not just rolling out the balls. That is proven by the way Simeon plays.

I know Joe and Hoops Report has had so many positive things to say about Simeon and Rob Smith. That's enough for me as he's been around them all including the bad apples. Keep up the great work!

No point talking about yesteryear, things are different now, major change, neighborhood schools don't exist, sure schools use to recruit, but now, big-time athletes in the city want to play for a big name school!
Now about Simeon, the man has built a program, he was subbing 5 at a time this season, he has player's at UCLA, now that is something right there, and he has the top sophomore in the country, now guess what, AAU BALL is about to start and Darnell really loves AAU BALL!
Before you know it, there will be a charter school in every neighborhood, they are popping up everywhere, they are just like profit colleges, they are a force to be reckoned with!
Coach Bob Hambric instilled winning in all of his former player's, that is why you have so many of them in the coaching field, one of his former player's has even named a shootout after his former mentor! Now that is giving back, and everytime Simeon wins a state title, the name Hambric will continually ring out, and it should!

Guys, I'll make this one last post and I'll digress on the matter. First off, Joe I appreciate the forum to have these discussions and I truly do enjoy your columns. By using my bully analogy, I am not suggesting that Simeon shows its opponents up or any disrepect to the game. What I'm saying is they have a competitive advantage in the sense that they have on their roster 10 or so division 1 prospects when their opponents, in most cases have none. So in my estimation they SHOULD win. Honestly, how good would Robert Smith do if he had to compete against comparable talent? With the amount of talent that Simeon has every year, I'll bet my good friend Phil Smith Jr. would've won 4 titles as well.

I remember a time, and I've made this analogy before, when Whitney Young would win the City title every year in the academic olympics and they would celebrate it like it was such a huge accomplishment. What got overlooked in the process was that Young was allowed to hand-pick every child in the school for his or her academic prowess. When other schools, this was prior to Payton and the other college preps, had to compete with whatever the neighborhood had to offer. They had an clear advantage and SHOULD have won every year. Same with Simeon, Smith isn't developing talent over there, he's recruiting it and overwhelming his competition. That's all that I'm saying. No one can take away their accomplishments, however, in my mind, they come with an asterisk.

By the way, Julius you do realize that you compared Simeon to a professional team. Which on some level validates what I am trying to say here.

Darnell what are you talking about? Most of their opponents have no D1 prospects? Have you been to any Red South games? That conference alone this year had 5 teams (Simeon, Morgan Park, Brooks, Bogan, Carver) ranked in the city's top 25 at one point with 3 making the top 5. Don't tell me about Coach Smith being a super recruiter...he has 196 W's and 4 State titles to do that for him...players choose HS programs like Simeon for the same reason they choose college programs like Carolina, Duke & Kansas..they want to play for programs with great tradition, great coaches and they want to WIN! There is great parody as far as talent goes in the state, its not all at Simeon....Coaching & discipline goes a long way! And one last ask how would he do against comparable talent? How about thoroughly beating down the #1 team in the country on national tv in 2007!

He doesn't have to recruit like the old days, when you have a winner, you gravitate ballplayers to your school, just like Young, Morgan Park, Curie, Crane, Farragut, Marshall, CVS, Brooks, do you want to know what all of these CPS schools have in common, they have good coaches and established basketball programs!
Welcome home Tony Allen of Crane High School, he is now in the starting lineup for the Memphis Grizzilies!


Get off the sour grapes. I didn't know you were a CPS hater.......just give credit where it's due. CPS is dominating the 4 class format. They were beginning to dominate the 2 class format once the automatic bid was eliminated along with the CPS Championship as a super-sectional. The state championship game has been played with 2 Cps schools twice in the last 4 years. They may not win any other sport at the state level, but I see them winning basketball for the next 10 years. Why, well I see the 6'7" and 6'9" kids currently playing in the grammar school program. Let's see, I believe it's 7 boys state championships in the last 6 years. Simeon 4, Marshall, Young, and North Lawndale 1. I won't even count the place trophies or the 2 girls state titles during this time. Just give the schools their due. You're really making yourself look bad. I will say one more thing and close the case. If the state tournament was held at the United Center, Chicago fans would dominate and the attendance would be at least twice what it is in Peoria.

Sammy, my man, it's not like you to miss the point. I'm disappointed. If you look at my first post on this matter, I spoke of Bolingbrook high as well. Let me clear the air on something, I am not a CPS hater, in fact, I am a CPS graduate - Tilden '81.

However, I am not in favor of turning high schools into sports factories. I don't believe in showing more interest in a kid's athletic prowess than his or her social and academic development. Because I know something that they don't, in 5 years, no one is going give a care that they were part of a state championship basketball team. I am happy that the kids are participating in sports and having fun doing it. But that should be kept in perspective and they be made to understand that sports is just games and there are too many other things to prepare for. I thind we (black folks) are over invested in sports and sending the wrong message to our kids about what life is truly about.

We do a lot of talking in our community about the exploitation of our children in so many realms and it's unfortunate that we do not see ourselves as being complicit in this exploitation. You've told me how many state championships CPS schools have won recently and that's great but I'd more interested in knowing how many will be ready and qualified to replace us as public administrators when we retire.

And if having a different view on a matter and being willing to share that that view makes me look bad as you put it, then say hello to the bad guy. In this case, somebody has to be it.

Your posts have always seemed sincere. Though I disagree, (as you know I always do) I understand your point,but we are talking basketball. It is just a small percentage of the educational experience. We could certainly look back and check the data to see how many athletes became successful after high school. I bet you'd be surprised. As educators we certainly believe as a result of participation in sports, kids attend school more frequently, perform better, and have higher grade point averages and higher graduation rates. The studies tell us that. Sports help to develop the whole child. This includes the life skills that stay with them forever. I get your point, but I believe the percentage of ex athletes who become successful compares well with the successful students from the general high school student population.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on March 21, 2011 4:28 PM.

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