By Joe Henricksen

The five biggest, most hyped games in recent memory

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The many basketball meteorologists have been forecasting a monumental late-season clash for months now.

It's finally here.

No. 1 Whitney Young.

No. 2 Simeon.

A pair of top 10 nationally-ranked teams.

Jabari Parker.

Jahlil Okafor.

Game on.

The "Game of the Year" doesn't resonate quite like it used to, getting drowned out due mostly to the fact "Game of the Year" is thrown around loosely these days. Typically, there are "Games of the Year" -- yes, that's plural -- because it's rare for that single, grab-everyone's-attention game to develop.

First, the top two teams need to be hyped early with big preseason expectations. A big-named, marquee player or two helps. Then the two teams must live up to the hype and meet the expectations all season long.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report selected just five games from a lengthy "Game of the Year" list that have taken place over the past 15 years in the Chicago area.

These aren't holiday tournament title games or Chicago Public League playoff games, where the matchups weren't finalized or known until a couple days prior or less than 24 hours before tip-off. These were classic, circle-the-calendar games where the teams were announced months in advance and fans immediately began talking.

These were legit showdowns, matchups where the hype percolated over time, materializing over the winter months, with all eyes on them, until the two tangled in the final few weeks of the season. And the hype generated around these games only remained because each of these teams took care of business.

After going through these five, a "Thank You!" should probably go out to the organizers of the City-Suburban Showdown. Ironically, each one of the Hoops Report's selected top five hyped games were played in this event.

Now, this isn't to say these were the five greatest games. There may have been better, more memorable games over the past 15 years than a couple of the ones listed here. But when it came to pure, deserved hype leading up to each one? Well, it's difficult to top these five with all that each individual game had to offer.

Does the Whitney Young-Simeon showdown this Saturday bump one of these gems out of the top five? The Hoops Report believes so, calling this weekend's game the biggest this state has seen since the famed "Game of the Decade" back in 1998, where Whitney Young and Quentin Richardson edged Fenwick and Corey Maggette.

Enjoy a look back at the five most highly-anticipated high school basketball showdowns in recent memory here in the Chicago area.

Feb. 14, 1998
Whitney Young vs. Fenwick
The hype: The City/Suburban Hoops Report billed this one as "The Game of the Decade" and the moniker soon stuck. In the 18 years of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, this is still the most hyped and single greatest regular-season game played in my mind. Most importantly, the game lived up to all the expectations.
Parties involved: This was No. 1 (Young) vs. No. 2 (Fenwick). And it was a game featuring two high school All-Americans in Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette, who both went on to become NBA first-round draft picks.
What went down: In front of a sold out crowd at Welsh-Ryan Arena at Northwestern, Richardson and Maggette went at it for 32 show-stopping minutes. There was a stretch in the second half where each star took turns wowing the crowd, back and forth, one star one-upping the other. Behind Richardson's sterling performance -- he scored 28 points and hauled down 19 rebounds -- Whitney Young edged Fenwick 55-52. Maggette was special as well, scoring 28 points and pulling down 14 rebounds.
Impact and Resonate Level: 10
This was one of the rare times when a ridiculously hyped team and individual matchup lived up to expectations -- and more -- in front of a buzzing crowd. A memorable high school game with two stars captivating the crowd.

Feb. 21, 2004
West Aurora vs. Peoria Central
The hype: This was Downstate vs. Chicago area on a big stage, late in the year and featuring the top two teams in the state. And people in the Chicago area were jazzed up to see what all the fuss was about when it came to Shaun Livingston, the Duke commitment who was being talked about as a potential NBA Lottery Pick out of high school.
Parties involved: Peoria Central, the defending state champs, came in 21-1 and ranked No. 5 nationally. West Aurora was 24-1, the top-ranked team in the Chicago area and No. 9 nationally. Game on.
What went down: There were 8,117 fans and 20-plus NBA scouts that jammed into Welsh-Ryan Arena to catch a glimpse of the player that had captivated high school basketball in Illinois -- Peoria Central's Shaun Livingston. But it was Illinois recruit Shaun Pruitt who stole the show. The 6-9 senior scored 21 points (on 9 of 11 shooting from the field) and pulled down 8 rebounds.
Impact and Resonate Level: 7
The game drew a buzz and a massive crowd, but the overall feel was that Livingston and Peoria Central didn't live up to the hype on this particular night. Peoria Central didn't make a field goal in the second quarter and had just 13 points at the half. West Aurora built up a 31-13 halftime lead and cruised. Livingston, meanwhile, struggled for the better part of the game.

Feb. 13, 2006
Glenbrook North vs. Lawrence North (Ind.)
The hype: This one received nationwide attention. The nation's No. 1 ranked player in the country and two-time National Player of the Year, Greg Oden, made a Chicago area appearance. And the local cult hero, Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer, was there to try and slay the giant.
Parties involved: Lawrence North was a two-time defending state champ from Indiana; Glenbrook North was the defending state champ from Illinois. The best two proud basketball states had to offer.
What went down: Nearly 8,500 fans took in this one at Northwestern. Despite Scheyer scoring 19 points in the first half -- and 32 for the game -- GBN was no match. Oden scored 31 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, while fellow All-American Mike Conley added 24 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals to lead Lawrence North to a relatively easy 79-61 win.
Impact and Resonate Level: 7
The fact the great Greg Oden was in town certainly resonated. There weren't many players more hyped than the big 7-footer. The game was a hot ticket. But the writing was on the wall very quickly in this one: GBN and Scheyer had no chance, thus the buzz was over in a hurry.

Feb. 17, 2007
Simeon vs. St. Joseph
The hype: Another one of those best of the best matchups, with the state's top two prospects and top two teams slugging it out in a late-season battle. Plus, it was a preview of what many felt would be a big-time super-sectional showdown three weeks later.
Parties involved: Simeon and St. Joseph were No. 1 and No. 2. And so were Simeon's Derrick Rose and St. Joseph's Evan Turner, the top two prospects in Illinois in the Class of 2007.
What went down: This was about as intense of a battle as you will find, highlighted by a war of words between Turner and Rose, both during the game and after. Both stars provided head-turning performances, scoring 29 points apiece. At one point, Turner scored 20 consecutive points for St. Joseph. Rose and Simeon prevailed, however, 74-66. And Rose and Simeon did it again a few weeks later, ending Turner and St. Joseph's season in the super-sectional.
Impact and Resonate Level: 8.5
The Rose-Turner matchup has outlived the actual game, with their individual bravado still talked about today among avid fans. "I was better than Rose," Turner told the Chicago Sun-Times after the game. "With me guarding him he didn't do much. He knows that, and I know that." But the mild-mannered personality of Rose wasn't going to let Turner have the last word. "We both know who is better," Rose told the Sun-Times after hearing Turner's quote. "He's just doing this to get a little publicity. We'll see who does more on the next level. ... It wasn't like he did anything that impressive."

Feb. 19, 2011
Simeon vs. Benet Academy
The hype: Heading into the week of the game, both Simeon and Benet Academy were unbeaten on the season. A little bit of the buzz was taken off when Whitney Young stunned Simeon three days before the Benet-Simeon matchup. But this was still No. 1 vs. No. 2 and the storylines were plentiful: 25-0 vs. 23-1; city vs. suburb; public vs. private; established power vs. rising power; rematch of a buzzer-beating overtime super-sectional thriller the year before.
Parties involved: Benet Academy was rolling at 25-0 behind its Big Ten combo of David Sobolewski, who had signed with Northwestern, and Wisconsin recruit Frank Kaminsky.
What went down: The Benet fans took over a sold out UIC Pavilion by the thousands and Kaminsky put his team on his back, leading Benet to an exhilarating 58-54 win. The 6-11 senior scored 19 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, dished out four assists and dominated defensively around the basket with five blocks.
Impact and Resonate Level: 9
Anyone that was in the arena for this one felt the never-ending energy the Benet Academy fanbase provided that team that night. It was a game played at an extremely high level, both in the intensity level and quality of play.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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1 Comment

Great list and remember them well, being at 4 of the 5. Looking back at that Q Richardson-Maggette game I realize now more than ever how special of a matchup that one was. What a game and atmosphere.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on January 24, 2013 7:22 AM.

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