By Joe Henricksen
Any religious Hoops Report readers out there (Where are you? Make yourself seen!), especially those that hit the Hoops Report trifecta regularly -- reading this blog, the City/Suburban Hoops Report column in every Friday Sun-Times and subscribes to the Hoops Report publication -- have heard my 2011-2012 ramblings. The season just hasn't been all that, well .... what's the word? Energizing? Memorable? Enticing? Fun?
Yes, there are some great feel-good stories that have emerged (Keep it up, Plainfield East! ... Time for Donnie Boyce to run for Mayor of Maywood! ... Metea Valley? ... St. Rita's Tony Hicks to the Ivy League ... Andrew's basketball significance arriving ... Coach Chuck Ramsey's final run at Warren), but the overall quality and depth of talented teams out there is just lacking.
There is Simeon. There is Proviso East. And we'll throw Curie and Warren in there much like NBA analysts like to add the Pacers and Sixers into the Eastern Conference mix with the Bulls and Heat. But outside of Maywood and the corner of 83rd and Vincennes on the city's South Side, it's a muddled mess of slightly above average teams looking up at the two giants.
Which brings me back to Simeon and Proviso East, a pair of storied high school basketball programs that have been ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, pretty much all season long.
But first, a sincere Hoops Report apology to all those teams around the state with dreams of playing the final game on the final night of the season. And, specifically, a big advanced apology to those teams in the Argo and Schaumburg sectionals. But the Hoops Report wants, needs, has to have a Simeon-Proviso East state championship game March 17. No ifs, ands or buts about it, just the mere possibility of this one has me so energized I have gone back to thinking it's 1997 again.
While the anticipation of a potential Simeon-Proviso East showdown in 2012 doesn't really come close to the magnitude of when everyone from Cairo to Rockford wanted -- and desperately hoped for -- a one-for-the-ages Peoria Manual-Thornton rematch in 1997, we can at least call this one Manual-Thornton Lite.
Simeon-Proviso East would be an action-packed affair with real drama (the defending champs going for a dynasty vs. the re-charged elite program trying to revive one) and never-ending storylines (read on).
(Off topic here, but this just popped into my head ... What if we had the magical ability to pit an all-time Simeon team vs. an all-time Proviso East team where all 10 players were able to play together in their prime? We could see a Simeon five of Ben Wilson, Nick Anderson, Deon Thomas, Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker take on a Proviso East five of Michael Finley, Doc Rivers, Dee Brown, Shannon Brown and Jim Brewer. Oh, yeah, that works. Doc and Derrick going at it! Oooooohhhhhh! We could even have the two current coaches, Rob Smith and Donnie Boyce, still on the bench, though Boyce would be a helluva sixth man. With a little Simeon size advantage, I'm making Simeon a three-and-a-half point favorite.)
Now, imagine two teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 all season long actually being bracketed up by the IHSA so that they can actually face one another in a championship game? Wait, that actually happened that way this year? The hoops gods have cooperated early on.
This battle of Illinois prep titans would boast a Simeon team that would roll in to that final night in Peoria sporting a 32-1 record (and the only loss to an out-of-state prep school basketball factory), while Proviso East would still be perfect at 31-0. We haven't had a big school team playing for a state championship with an unbeaten record since Thornton came into the 1996 matchup with Peoria Manual with a 31-0 record. And we haven't had two teams meet in a state title game with a combined one loss since unbeaten King played 30-1 Gordon Tech in 1990.
Imagine two programs with a combined nine state championships squaring off? Imagine those two storied programs running on to the Carver Arena floor with all that history and lore?
We would have two coaches and two great guys in Boyce and Smith, who are as much a part of their respective program's history as we've ever seen matched up in a title game. And the coaching storylines would follow: Boyce returning home and leading his beloved Pirates to a state championship game in his first season on the job; Smith going for an unprecedented fifth state title, which would probably give him a record that will never be broken -- especially when he could very well add No. 6 in 2013.
The TV production people can start putting together some memorable video montages. Cue up the highlights of the "Three Amigos" dunking on everyone's heads en route to the 1991 Proviso East state championship. Throw in some classic D Rose footage in the never-ending comparisons to current great, Jabari Parker.
Imagine the game unfolding as many would expect it to -- Simeon clinging to a four or five-point lead very late in the game -- and watching the Wolverines do their thing: spread the floor, whittle the clock down while fighting off the jet-quick, pesky Proviso East guards in a life-support, do-or-die closing two minutes.
There would be Parker, the junior phenom, fighting for a career-turning title and adding to his illustrious prep basketball résumé. There would be Proviso East junior Sterling Brown trying to accomplish something his more ballyhooed brother, Shannon Brown, never could. There would be those Proviso East guards, those-oh-so-fun-to-watch Proviso East terriers who Mrs. Hoops Report can't even keep track of or tell one Paris from another. ("I LOVE watching this team," she says as she watches them hustle all over the floor and pick the pocket of another helpless guard Saturday night. "But I love Simeon, too! When will these two play each other?")
And there it was! That's when I earnestly started thinking how we need this Simeon-Proviso East matchup.
Are you seriously not excited about watching this game right now? Abso-freaking-lutely! This matchup would do for this 2011-2012 Illinois prep basketball season what Linsanity has done for an ordinary NBA regular season.
The good news is this potential matchup, which could demand real historical significance in what has been a rather bland season, is a real possibility. The bad news is by writing this and requesting it -- no, demanding it -- the Hoops Report has just jinxed it.
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