Don't forget about Simeon's (Chicago, Ill.)
boys basketball team just yet.
The Wolverines, whose city, state and national rankings had actually slipped with a 17-2 record, stung city rival and top-ranked Whitney Young (Chicago)
44-41 Saturday night in a much-anticipated showdown at Chicago State University.
Using a balanced attack led by senior guard
's 12 points and a suffocating full-court defense, Simeon, the No. 5 team in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 rankings
, held off the nation's No. 1 team.
In case there were doubts about the three-time defending state champions, Simeon nearly blew Young out of the gym in the second quarter when the Wolverines forced four consecutive turnovers and turned a one-point lead into a nine-point halftime advantage. In the third quarter, they led by 13.
Still, it took a last-second defensive stop to prevent Young from forcing an overtime period. Paul White
missed a 3-point attempt with two seconds left and Simeon grabbed the rebound.
How much did this game mean? Afterward, University of Illinois coach John Groce found recruit Kendrick Nunn
in the hallway outside the team's locker room and hugged him.
"It means a lot," said Tate, also an Illinois recruit and also the receiver of a bear hug from Groce. "They're a real good team. They've got a good coach (Tyrone Slaughter), they've been doing real good this year. It meant a lot."
Now both teams are 18-2, and possibly headed for two more meetings in the city playoffs and state tournament.
Tate drove the length of the court for a lay-in basket with less than a minute left, turning a precarious one-point Simeon lead into the 44-41 final.
The game was billed as the biggest high school basketball game in the city in more than 10 years. Despite winning three consecutive state titles and having a starting lineup which includes four Division I college recruits, the Wolverines had fallen underneath Young in the national rankings and to No. 2 in the city rankings.
The game had other importance, as well. Because of the large crowd, the game was moved to Chicago State, the same place where on Jan. 16 a fight erupted after the Simeon versus Chicago Morgan Park game. The incident resulted in a four-game suspension of both coaches. After the game in the parking lot, a young man was killed in a shooting.
Saturday night, players from both teams wore warm-up T-shirts with the message: "Shoot hoops not guns." Outside the arena, police cars buzzed around campus.
"We need to get these kids off the street, start getting them active in sports," said Simeon power forward Jabari Parker
, a Duke University recruit who scored seven points.
Instead of the game turning into a battle between Parker and Young junior star Jahlil Okafor
, a highly recruited 6-10 junior center, it became a survival of turnovers and an attack of quick-moving offenses. Okafor scored just eight points and was held scoreless in the second and third quarters.
With Okafor silenced and the Dolphins having trouble nailing passes in the second quarter, the Wolverines took advantage of turnovers on four consecutive Young possessions and claimed a 23-14 lead by halftime. The Wolverines went up by 13 early in the third quarter. Nunn had two crowd-pleasing slam dunks.
No matter. The attention on Okafor just opened up the Young offense for junior guard L.J. Peak
, a transfer from South Carolina.
"I had three guys on me," Okafor said. "They were kind of disrespecting him."
Left alone, Peak scored 14 points in the third quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers, sending the Dolphins back into the game. And his best play came off a steal following an in-bounds pass. It led to a basket by White and a 30-30 tie score.
"They're a good team. We knew weren't just going to blow them out and they weren't going to come back," Tate said. "We had to keep our head, keep our composure and keep playing hard."
"That's a great team," said Simeon assistant coach Leonard Thomas, who is the team's lead bench coach while head coach Robert Smith sits out his Chicago Public Schools-issued suspension. "Basketball is a game of runs. … We got it back together and we pulled it out."
Peak finished with a game-high 20 points, the only Dolphin to reach double figures in scoring.
A basket by Peak in the final minute of the third quarter created a 32-32 tie, setting the stage for Simeon's strong defensive stops in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines held Young to one basket in the final 1:28. That was simply a delight for Thomas, who says he loves the defensive side of basketball.
"I never worry about offense. I'm a defensive guy," Thomas said. "If you get it done on defense, nine times of 10 you're going to win."