The state of Illinois, and more specifically the Chicagoland area, has always thirsted for elite basketball.
With names of greats like Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Garnett, Derrick Rose, Jon Scheyer, Dwyane Wade and George Mikan on its decorated roster, the city and state has always been a cornerstone for high school hoops in America.
So with the 2015 IHSA Class 4A state playoffs set to tip off Tuesday evening, we’re reminded of past, present and future.
I referenced the past and all of the aforementioned players who have graced Chicago’s fans with some of the finest playoff basketball there is.
In the present, Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois is preparing to shoulder the burden of his entire team and lead them to championship glory.
And in the future, precisely 19 days from today, is where we can safely assume that the Illinois boys basketball 4A state title game will come down to two teams: The Stevenson Patriots (22-3) and the Simeon Wolverines (23-2).
Now, I should interject with a bit of wholesome boasting and a big reason why I have such a special interest in this year’s tournament. My younger brother, Zac Lendino, is a senior starter on the No. 14-ranked Neuqua Valley Wildcats. That team, not Simeon or Stevenson, is most likely to win state because of my own personal bias.
However, technically speaking and for all intents and purposes, I’m going to focus on the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state of Illinois depending on where you look.
As the bracket lies, these two Illinois basketball powerhouses find themselves on a collision course for the state title game. For Stevenson, the No. 1 seed in the Waukegan Sectional, all roads lead to the state semifinal at Chicago State University on the top half of the bracket.
Simeon, who holds the No. 1 seed in the Blue Island Sectional, would ultimately play its state semifinal at Illinois State University on the bottom half of the bracket.
Now call it happenstance or calculated tweaks to the sectional placements, but the idea that these two titan programs could meet in the state title game has every offense-loving basketball fan salivating.
With five Division I signees between them – including three ESPN Top 100 players – and a multitude of former blue-chip players sure to be in the stands, this is the high-profile matchup the entire state is feasting to see.
In fact, it’s the matchup that the state deserves.
Jalen Brunson, whose herculean effort in last year’s state semifinal almost single-handedly upended Jahlil Okafor and eventual champion Whitney Young, is the state’s best player. The Villanova recruit averaged 26.1 points as a junior and parlayed that with an incredible senior season, becoming the primary reason why Stevenson is one of the tournament favorites. His sidekick and backcourt mate is Connor Cashaw, a Rice commit.
On the Simeon side of the ball, there’s Ed Morrow Jr. (Nebraska) and D.J. Williams (Illinois) both ranked in ESPN’s Top 100 – plus Iowa commit Isaiah Moss. And that doesn’t include junior Zach Norvell, ranked in next year’s Top 100.
Should, or perhaps when, these two teams meet in the state finals for their rematch Stevenson will be out for revenge. Two weeks ago, Simeon knocked off the then-top ranked Patriots in the semifinals of the City-Suburban Showdown.
Despite being one of the best players the state of Illinois has seen in recent memory, Simeon’s length was too much for Jalen Brunson in the small gym setting in Skokie.
On that night, Brunson was held to only 25 points on 24 shots, as Simeon reminded us all why they’re one of the most storied high school programs in the state. The battle, just another exhibit of the talent pool of Illinois basketball, is one that deserves a rematch. Especially considering they met in the final just two springs ago – when the five Division I commits were sophomores.
Sure there are many other talented teams in the Class 4A state tournament, the Neuqua Valley Wildcats included. It wouldn’t be Illinois high school basketball if there were only two good teams in the bracket.
But anyone would be foolish to think that the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois deserve anything short of Stevenson vs. Simeon on March 21st in Carver Arena.