By Joe Henricksen

And a sophomore shall lead us

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In the last 20 years of state tournament play, 160 different teams have reached the final eight of the big school tournament -- Class AA from 1993 to 2007 and Class 4A and 3A from 2008-2012.

And in those 20 years and among those 160 different teams that reached the state finals, there have only been six teams who have been led to Champaign and Peoria by a freshman or sophomore. That's a percentage of 0.0375 for all you sabermetric sports fans out there who are into odds and percentages.

The last to do it was Simeon, with Jabari Parker averaging a team-leading 15.3 points a game as a sophomore in 2011. Parker scored 16 points in the 56-53 state semifinal win over Glenbard East and then scored a team-high 12 points in the 48-39 state title game victory over Warren.

Here is a list of the other five players who led their teams in scoring and to the State Finals.

• Paul Bayer, Moline (2004)
The 6-4 sophomore led the Maroons to the Elite Eight, averaging 17.1 points a game. Moline lost to Julian Wright and Homewood-Flossmoor in the state quarterfinals.

• Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North (2003)
The only freshman on this list, Scheyer's cult-like following began early as he led the Spartans to the Elite Eight with 15.8 points a game. After beating Johnsburg in the state quarterfinals, Glenbrook North lost to Thornwood in the semis and beat Evanston in the third-place game behind Scheyer's 20 points. Scheyer didn't make it back to Peoria until his junior season.

• Angel Santiago, Von Steuben (2003)
In Von Steuben's lone trip to the State Finals, coach Vince Carter's team was led in scoring by the sophomore guard Santiago, who averaged 16.3 points and 5.7 assists a game.

• Matt Shaw, Centralia (2002)
The Orphans made it all the way to the state semifinals, where it lost to Springfield Lanphier, behind the 6-7 sophomore. Shaw averaged a team-leading 14.4 points a game as Centralia finished third in the state. Shaw was an all-tournament selection in 2002.

• Kent Williams, Mount Vernon (1997)
Behind the high-scoring sophomore's 19 points a game, Mount Vernon made it to Peoria, where it fell to West Aurora in the state quarterfinals.

Which brings us to one team in Illinois in all of 4A and 3A who is led by a sophomore and is a No. 1 sectional seed: Stevenson.

While history shows it's unlikely any team will reach state behind a sophomore, Jalen Brunson isn't any 'ol sophomore, as the Hoops Report indicated in this December blog. Yes, he's talented. Yes, he's clearly among the top two of three prospects in the Class of 2015, maybe the best. But why Brunson is so prepared to lead a team in March is his make-up and fortitude.

Talk about poise, you don't find players this age as calm, cool and unflappable as Brunson. His feel, basketball I.Q. and winner's mentality for a sophomore with this much individual responsibility is the best I've seen since, well, Jon Scheyer as a sophomore during the 2003-2004 season. Brunson's presence of mind on the floor, knowing just what pass to make, what play needs to be made, each trip down in every different situation, is Trey Burke-like.

What's so alarming when watching Brunson play is that even after being branded a star, with opposing coaches game-planning for him and all eyes in the gym on him, he remains as deceptive as any game-changing player in high school basketball.

But there is a lot that goes into any superstar sophomore putting a team on his back and carrying it deep into state tournament play.

Another part of the equation is the road every team that is led by a sophomore faces in March. There are major roadblocks for some -- Derrick Rose's Simeon team, for example, faced a loaded Bobby Frasor-led Brother Rice team in Rice's back yard in a sectional game at St. Xavier during his sophomore year and lost in the final in double overtime -- while the road is paved nicely for others.

Stevenson is not only the No. 1 seed in the Waukegan Sectional, where it must hold off the likes of North Suburban Lake foes they've already beaten and St. Viator, but it also feeds into a super-sectional where it will face the winner of the weakest Class 4A sectional in the state. Peoria is clearly attainable.

Then there is the supporting cast. What is that young star surrounded by? Who is he playing with? What coach is he playing for?

Scheyer was just a freshman when he led Glenbrook North to Peoria with nearly 16 points a game. While there weren't any big names around Scheyer, he had the influence of a steady group of seniors in Eytan Azaria (15 ppg), Eric Walowitz (8.6 ppg), Sam Horelick (4 ppg) and Sean Emerick (8.2 ppg) to lean on.

It's a little different for Brunson at Stevenson this year. There are some seniors who play valuable roles for the Patriots, but the top three scorers are all underclassmen. There are four sophomores among the top 10, including Stevenson's second leading scorer, Connor Cashaw. Will the expectations going forward be a boost or a burden for the Patriots?

Regardless of the road Stevenson has ahead of it or the amount of experience coach Pat Ambrose's players have, with Brunson on its side, even as a sophomore, the Patriots have a distinct advantage in any game it plays between now and Peoria.

Quite a difference from the last Stevenson team that reached Peoria. That 2007 team finished fourth in the state and was led by the unforgettable Jong Lee and his team-leading 12.5 points per game.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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1 Comment

Seriously Joe, do you have a research team that helps you? Your stuff is off the charts for a hoops junkie like me.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on March 5, 2013 12:01 PM.

Regional rewind: DuSable and a bunch of thoughts was the previous entry in this blog.

Why Big Cliff and Illinois makes sense is the next entry in this blog.

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