How else to put it? After a season in which University of Illinois recruit Jereme Richmond led Waukegan to the top of the Class 4A ranking in Illinois and defending Class 4A champion Whitney Young seemed poised to strike again, the big moment belonged to the Simeon Wolverines and a recruit headed not for the Big Ten, but for Dayton of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Brandon Spearman, soon to be a Flyer, scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds, leading Simeon in scoring for the seventh consecutive postseason game, and the Wolverines defeated, or stunned, Young 51-36 for the 4A title.
Not that watching Simeon’s players march off the court in Peoria with a state championship trophy should be that surprising. Chicago Bulls star and No. 1 NBA pick Derrick Rose led Simeon to back-to-back Class AA state titles in 2006 and ‘07. In four of the last five years, the Wolverines have played for or won state championships, and in the one down year, 2009, they advanced to the sectional final before losing.
Certainly, this was an emotional season for the Wolverines. Last August, Bob Hambric, who coached Simeon to its first state title in 1984, died. The season was dedicated to Hambric, who won more than 500 games. Current head coach Robert Smith served as an assistant to Hambric.
"This championship and this season are for him," Smith said. "We went through a lot of trials and tribulations, but we got through it. I miss you, coach."
Simeon (25-9) lost to both Young and Waukegan during the regular season. They didn’t win the Chicago Public League tournament. They didn’t win the early-season Chicago Public Schools Tournament. At one point, they lost three straight games. But the Wolverines got hot in the state tournament, beating Lyons (which had only one loss) and Mt. Carmel in the sectionals, Benet Academy in double-overtime in the supersectionals, and O’Fallon in the 4A semifinals.
Against Whitney Young, which survived in the semifinals with an exhaustive 60-58 win over 2009 runner-up Waukegan, the Wolverines scored the game’s first 13 points and cruised from there. Game over.
"We dug ourselves a hole that was too deep to get out of," Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. "They had some fresh legs and we weren’t very fresh today."
The loss spoiled a terrific postseason run by Young (23-7), and a lineup that included Oregon State recruit Ahmad Starks and Purdue recruit Anthony Johnson. Starks hit the game-winning basket against Waukegan (26-5) and Johnson scored a game-high 20 points.
Simeon’s title marks the fifth consecutive year that a Chicago city team has won the 4A, 3A or AA state title.
"Chicago basketball is still king in the state of Illinois," Slaughter said. "This is why we have to keep our sports in the Chicago Public Schools. That’s what allows these young people to make it out and play."
Around Chicagoland: Hillcrest wins first-ever hoops title
* As much happiness as there was at Simeon High School, imagine the celebration in Chicago’s southwest suburb of Country Club Hills. Hillcrest won its first-ever state title in basketball with a 58-55 win over Peoria Richwoods in the Class 3A championship game. Kent State recruit Eric Gaines led the Hawks (30-3) with a game-high 18 points and game-high four steals. "We’ve been telling the kids that it’s not just about us because it’s bigger than us. It’s about all the guys who’ve ever worn that Columbia blue," Hillcrest coach Don Houston told the Chicago Tribune.
* In what is becoming an almost daily occurrence in Chicagoland, budget cuts will result in all football teams at middle schools in the Elgin School District being eliminated. With $44 million in debt to recover, more than 1,000 teachers and staffers in the district are losing their jobs. One week ago, Chicago Public Schools announced a plan to drop all sports under the varsity level.
* St. Rita (Chicago)‘s baseball team, ranked No. 21 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25, won its first three games of the season over the last week. Anthony Andres drove in five runs with a double and triple, and was the winning pitcher in a 14-1 victory over Lake View.
* Loyola Gold, a finalist in last year’s Blackhawk Cup state final in hockey, will play St. Rita for the championship Friday night at the United Center in Chicago. St. Rita (46-9-7) upset top-seeded New Trier Green 4-3 in Monday’s semifinals; Loyola (28-22-5) defeated Marist, 6-1.
3 big performances
* Waukegan’s Jereme Richmond, an Illinois recruit, scored 36 points and had 16 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ 85-78 win over O’Fallon in the Illinois Class 4A consolation game. In two games at the 4A final four, Richmond scored 48 points, and had 21 rebounds and six blocked shots.
* Nick Burdi of Downers Grove South, a Louisville recruit and one of the top junior pitchers in Illinois, struck out five and allowed zero hits over three innings in a season-opening 5-0 win over Benet Academy.
* South Shore’s Walter Rodgers pitched a complete-game no-hitter, striking out nine in a 13-1 season-opening win over Raby.
* Brian Bobek, a 6-foot-3, 278-pound lineman at Palatine Fremd, has verbally committed to Ohio State, choosing the Buckeyes over scholarship offers from Michigan State, Purdue and Ball State. He is projected as a center for Ohio State. "When this (Ohio State) came up, it was like, ‘Holy cow!’ " Fremd head coach Mike Donatucci told the Chicago Sun-Times. Bobek, a starter since his sophomore year, helped Fremd to an 11-1 season in 2009 and a berth in the Class 8A quarterfinals.
* D.J. Cooper, a 5-foot-11 freshman guard from Chicago’s Seton Academy, had a memorable first year with the Ohio University Bobcats. Cooper broke Ohio’s single-season record for steals with 85 and was named the Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year. His average of 2.7 steals per game ranked No. 5 in the nation. "I am very excited about his development this year and look forward to coaching him as he continues to grow on and off the court," Ohio coach John Groce said. Oh, and Cooper also went to the NCAAs in his rookie year. Cooper scored 23 points and had six assists in the Bobcats‘ 81-75 win over Akron in the MAC title game, and also scored 23 points in Ohio’s 97-83 win over third-seeded Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
* Marcus Jordan, who last year led Whitney Young High School to the Class 4A Illinois championship, also had an impressive freshman collegiate season. Jordan, the son of NBA great Michael Jordan, was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team after averaging 10.8 points a game in league competition. His best game was in a win over Houston, when he scored 23. Jordan will enter his sophomore season with a new coach; head coach Kirk Speraw, who recruited Jordan, was fired after a 15-17 season.
* Johnny Moran, a graduate of Jacobs High School in Algonquin, a far-northwest suburb of Chicago, scored eight points and had two assists for Northern Illinois in its 69-67 upset of top-seeded Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. Moran, a sophomore guard, is a starter for the Panthers.
Paul Bowker, a sports journalist for 25 years who has worked at newspapers nationwide, covers the Chicago area for MaxPreps. He may be reached at