By Joe Henricksen

These 'Big Three' stand out from the rest

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There are three state powers -- Whitney Young, Simeon and Morgan Park -- and everyone else. And when it comes to talent and passing the eye test, no team in Illinois comes close to the Chicago Public League's three-headed monster.

When dissecting the "Big Three" from the city, Whitney Young stands out. Right now the Dolphins are anchored by the most dominating presence in high school basketball in 6-11 Jahlil Okafor. But there is also tremendous balance surrounding Okafor, and the Dolphins have the most impressive up-to-date résumé this season.

Coach Tyrone Slaughter has the right mix of talent and pieces that fit at every position. It is rare to see a team have so many talented pieces that fit together so well.

While the additions of L.J. Peak, an athletic 6-4 junior wing, and Ausar Madison, a much-needed point guard presence, have been huge, the maturity and growth of juniors Paul White and Miles Reynolds have put this team at another level.

Probably the most interesting note in regard to Whitney Young is this: Has there ever been a No. 1 ranked team in Illinois in January so few people in the state have seen play?

Whitney Young opened the season in front of a nice crowd at the UIC Pavilion in the inaugural Chicago Elite Classic, where it easily handled DeMatha Catholic out of Maryland. Since then, the only in-state opponents have been Westinghouse, Powerhouse and Douglass. Even the avid Chicago hoop fans aren't gearing up for those games, which were decided by 57, 49 and 67 points, respectively. Thus, very few eyes have taken in the state's best team.

The Dolphins have played eight power-packed national games outside the state lines -- three in Florida, four in South Carolina and one in West Virginia -- with a few more to come. With the Red-West as down as it's been in years, the only regular-season in-state matchups of intrigue for Whitney Young appear to be Orr and Simeon.

If there were odds available to wager on or stock to be bought on teams reaching Peoria, Morgan Park is the one to gamble on.

First, because Morgan Park is in 3A, while Whitney Young and Simeon are in 4A. Second, have you looked at the St. Laurence Sectional, where Morgan Park will be the No. 1 seed this March?

The team that destroyed last year's 4A runner-up Proviso East by 25, last year's 2A runner-up Normal U-High by 30 and rolled through the Proviso West Holiday Tournament is going to get a challenge from ...

Evergreen Park? No.

Julian? No.

Robeson, Phillips or Corliss? No, no and no.

Perspectives, any of the three Noble Street Charter schools or either Urban Preps? No.

How about Catalyst Charter/Maria (yes, it exists)?

Wait, Solorio Academy is 13-1! But only three of you reading this right now have heard of Solorio, the school located on the city's Southwest Side. I wonder if Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin has ever heard of Solorio?

The point is this: No team in the St. Laurence Sectional will beat Morgan Park. In fact, Morgan Parks's second team would be the No. 2 seed in this sectional.

Although a team like Hillcrest won't roll over in a potential supersectional matchup, the Hoops Report will be flabbergasted if Morgan Park isn't making its first trip to state since coach Herbert Ray led the Mustangs to a third-place finish in 2001.

And what about the three-time defending state champs with the ballyhooed Jabari Parker?

Simeon may be nationally-ranked and still has Simeon across that uniform, but you can feel that the belief in them has waned since the preseason. The Wolverines were handled on national television twice, losing to DeSoto (Tex.) and Montverde Academy (Fla.). Is it time to worry about Simeon?

While it's true this stock-filled talented Simeon team has yet to fully click and play at the level everyone expected, there was bound to be some growing pains early on. They learned to play without their star, Parker, who is now rounding into the JP of old and should be close to 100 percent by the end of the month.

While national competition is relevant and somewhat of a barometer, this is what I know about Simeon's two out-of-state losses:

1) The loss to DeSoto came with Simeon's top player, Parker, the shell of himself and playing at about 20 percent. The the loss came in Texas, to a team that had played 13 games compared to Simeon's one game and after a 12-day layoff. If coach Robert Smith could go back in time, you better believe there would be some tweaks in Simeon's early-season schedule.

2) The loss to Montverde Academy came to a prep school powerhouse that fields an all-star team. I hate it when prep schools and high schools mix.

There are certainly concerns surrounding Simeon and issues to address, including the loss to Montverde; this is a Montverde team, after all, that waxed Simeon by 29 points but barely beat Whitney Young in overtime.

However, if Simeon were to go on and win a fourth straight state championship, do you think anyone this March -- or 12 months from now or seven years down the road -- will be talking about or looking back on Simeon's loss to Montverde? A loss to an out-of-state team is a little like an AAU team winning any tournament title: no one really cares or remembers at the end of the day. There just isn't a reference point.

Until Simeon loses to an in-state team I will stay away from the ledge when talking about any Simeon demise. With the rise of Whitney Young, it's certainly no longer Simeon's title to lose anymore. But make no mistake: Simeon is every bit the state title contender it was when the season started.

There are a couple of huge January dates looming, with Simeon facing Morgan Park Jan. 16 and taking on Whitney Young at the end of the month. Then there is the Chicago Public League playoffs in February, where these three will raise the stakes when it comes to city bragging rights.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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Joe, I see you're spinning again in defense of Simeon getting outclassed on national TV again. Simply put and I've said this to you before, there is hype and there is reality. Simeon and the kids in that program are highly over-rated and that is evident every time they compete against good competition. I do not buy your assertion that Montverde somehow had some competitive a advantage over Simeon because it is a prep school. Simeon started that game with 4 division 1 signees on the floor and more in the pipeline on the bench. So where is the advantage?

So in my mind the bigger question becomes how does a high school basketball team with 4 division 1 signees on the floor, not just get beat, but get blown off the floor twice in the span of a month? You mention that it had something to do with scheduling. Maybe Simeon hadn't played enough. I say that's BS! Maybe if they were competitive I could see that rationalization but these games were decided by half time.

I got a better one for you Joe, they are simply not as good as the hype surrounding them and they are not very well coached. As long as they are playing South Shore, Gage Park, Tilden and the like, they'll be fine locally and look like stars but anything beyond that, well, you saw the games.

Is there any way to ban people from posting? Is this Darnell guy the only one in the world who missed Simeon winning the last three state championships? Who cares what they do against prep schools from another state with players going to Kentucky and Florida. Yep all Simeon beats ever is Tilden and South Shore. Clown. Another question.... Has there ever been a bigger hater of one team and program than this Darnell guy with Simeon?

Montverde blew out what I thought was one of the best high school teams I've ever watched in Lone Peak. So Montverde blowing out Simeon came as no surprise.

What can I say Tito? When you are right you are right. I am acknowledging that Simeon is local basketball powerhouse. Operative word being local. All that talk and national rankings are pure speculation with no real bottom to it. Case in point, I just read that blew out Perspectives-Calumet and Parker went for 26 and 11. Is it that they are better than they were when they got blown out by Montverde a week ago or by Desoto a month ago? I highly doubt it. Or is it that they played a local CPS team that doesn't recruit and transfer in the best basketball talent and therefore can't compete with them? My educated guess is for the latter.

The vast and overwhelming majority of coaches in the state have to coach the kids live in their district and have to do their best with whoever shows up to tryouts. Unlike Smith who has the luxury of reloading his teams every year by recruiting. And yes I have a problem with that because it kills the spirit of competition, which is what kids used to learn through high school sports. Not stacking teams and beating the hell out of everyone who doesn't recruit kids and beat their chests as if they actually accomplished something.

Imagine if Simeon was to compete against Payton in an academic competition, what are the chances that Simeon would win? None. So is it noteworty that Payton would slaughter Simeon academically? No. Because Payton has the luxury of hand-picking every student that walks through its doors based solely on their academic backgrounds. In my mind, there's no real achievement there. It's just a natural outcome to stacking talent.

And to your last point, I am guilty. I do not like care for schools like Simeon that uses those practices to win. But it's nothing personal, I live in Bolingbrook and I'm just as critical of the girls program here that won all those state titles doing the exact same thing.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on January 6, 2013 8:03 PM.

The holiday hoops rewind was the previous entry in this blog.

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