Can anyone beat Simeon in Class 4A?

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Can anyone beat Simeon in Class 4A?

Everybody is asking the same question: Can anyone derail Simeon's bid for a third Class 4A championship in a row and fifth state title in the last eight years?

Not likely.

But consider this: Simeon is coming off its first Public League championship since 2007. Could the Wolverines be emotionally drained? It wouldn't be the first time a city school peaked for the Public League playoff, then was psychologically worn out for the state finals.

It happened to top-ranked Phillips in 1977. The Wildcats beat second-rated Westinghouse and Mark Aguirre and Eddie Johnson before 12,000 in the city final at the International Amphitheater, then lost to St. Laurence and Kevin Boyle and Jim Stack in the state quarterfinals.

In 1994, Westinghouse upset top-ranked King for the Public League title 59-58, then lost to eventual state champion Peoria Manual in the quarterfinals.

In 1995, top-ranked Farragut with Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields won the city title, then lost to Thornton in the state quarterfinals.

Simeon is on a mission. Smith is seeking a fifth state title, most in state history, one more than East St. Louis Lincoln's Bennie Lewis and Lawrenceville's Ron Felling.

Smith's other goal was to make history, to be universally recognized as the greatest team in state history, better than Thornridge's 1972 team of Quinn Buckner, Boyd Batts, Mike Bonczyk and Greg Rose that won two state titles and 58 games in a row.

Simeon (26-1), whose only loss was a 75-50 decision to Fendlay Prep of Henderson, Nevada, the top-rated prep school in the country, boasts arguably the No. 1 player in the nation regardless of class in 6-foot-8 junior Jabari Parker. Smith rates Parker as the best player he has coached, even better than Derrick Rose.

But Parker isn't a one-man wrecking crew. He is surrounded by 6-foot-8 Steve Taylor, who is committed to Marquette, 6-foot-2 junior Kendrick Nunn and senior point guard Jelani Neely, who runs the show in what Smith describes as "the Simeon way."

"We are moving in the right direction," Smith said. "But we still haven't put four quarters together. It would be scary when we do. But I like what we do on defense and we're sharing the ball on offense. Neely controls the game. And Jabari doesn't have to score 30 for us to win."

But Simeon's anticipated trip to Peoria could be a bumpy ride. The Wolverines are top-seeded in what shapes up as the most competitive sectional tournament in the state. The field at Argo includes Curie, whose only two losses this season were to Simeon, in the championship games of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament and the Public League playoff, Bogan, Whitney Young, St. Rita and De La Salle.

Curie coach Mike Oliver rates his current 24-2 squad better than last year's 26-3 finisher. The Condors are senior-laden with 6-foot-3 Devin Foster, point guard Jabreel Jackson, guard Malcolm Hill-Bey and 6-foot-5 Thomas Smith surrounding highly rated 6-foot-9, 230-pound sophomore Cliff Alexander.

Bogan, which lost to Curie 50-47 in the Public League semifinals, is anxious to turn the tables. Coach Arthur Goodwin counts on point guard Ronnell Buckner, 6-foot-3 DeVaughn Johnson, 6-foot-1 Kendall Wesley, 6-foot-5 Dante Jackson and 6-foot-5 Devonte Smith.

Whitney Young is healthy for the first time this season. Coach Tyrone Slaughter has tested his players against one of the most competitive coast-to-coast schedules in the country, most of it without 6-foot-9 junior Tommy Hamilton. Now Hamilton is due to return with 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor and 6-foot-9 Paul White, two of the top-rated sophomores in the nation. Slaughter hopes to get more consistency and leadership from sophomore point guard Miles Reynolds.

St. Rita (15-10), led by 6-foot-2 senior Tony Hicks, the Catholic League's player of the year, also has played a tough schedule filled with out-of-state opponents. Hicks is averaging 26 points per game.

De La Salle has faded in recent weeks but coach Tom White still has the makings of a team that can compete with anyone. He has plenty of talent with 6-foot-8 junior Alex Foster, 6-foot-9 junior Gavin schilling, 6-foot-4 junior Alvin Ellis and 5-foot-8 junior Marcus White.

Proviso East (26-0), another school with a glorious tradition, is the most likely threat to end Simeon's streak. The Pirates are unbeaten and could meet Simeon in the Class 4A final. Interestingly, they also are seeking a fifth state championship in school history, the first since 1992.

First-year coach Donnie Boyce, who collaborated on Proviso East's 1991 state championship team with Sherrell Ford and Michael Finley, has a star-studded lineup featuring St. Louis-bound guard Keith Carter, 6-foot-4 junior Sterling Brown and guards Paris Burns and Paris Lee.

Other contenders are Plainfield East, Downers Grove South, West Aurora, Warren, St. Viator, Rockford Auburn, Huntley, Elgin, Collinsville, Edwardsville, Normal Community, Belleville East, Rock Island, Moline, Bloom, Andrew and New Trier.

Plainfield East, in only its third season after starting 9-16 and 15-13, has emerged as a state power with a 25-1 record. Coach Brandon Adkins has a deep and talented squad led by 6-foot-9 Brian Bennett, guard Dee Brown, 6-foot-3 Austin Robinson and 6-foot-3 Myles Walters.

Downers Grove South was 25-4 and lost to Glenbard East in the sectional last year. The Mustangs have lost to Proviso East twice and to Plainfield East but coach Jay Baum believes 6-foot-3 Jerron Wilbut and 6-foot-2 Jamall Millison form one of the most potent duos in the state. He also relies on the leadership of point guard Danny Spinnuza.

West Aurora coach Gordon Kerkman, who has won over 725 games in 36 years, has put together another contending team after finishing 14-12 and 13-16 in the last two years. This year's team is led by 6-foot-3 senior Juwan Starks, who is averaging 22 points per game.

Warren coach Chuck Ramsey is retiring after this season and his last team hopes to give him a state tournament experience that he will always remember, even more than his second-place finish in 1999 and last year's second-place finish. Returnees from last year's 31-4 squad are 6-foot-8 Darius Paul, 6-foot-4 JoVaughn Gaines and 6-foot-9 Nathan Boothe.

St. Viator has played under the radar all season but first-year coach Mike Howland thinks his club could surprise with 6-foot-3 Kevin Walsh, point guard D.J. Morris, 6-foot-3 sophomore Ore Arogundade and 6-foot-5 Chris Myjak. Their pressure man-to-man defense and up-tempo offense have been effective for most of the season.

Rockford Auburn was 26-5 last year and lost to Glenbard East in the supersectional. This year, coach Bryan Ott's team is 26-2 and has won 17 in a row since losing to Proviso East in the semifinals of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament. Auburn is led by one of the state's premier players, Wichita State-bound point guard Fred Van Vleet, who averages 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds per game.

Huntley (24-3), the No. 2 seed in the Dundee-Crown sectional behind Rockford Auburn, was 25-5 last year and lost to Rockford Auburn in the sectional final. Coach Marty Manning thinks this team could be better with point guard Troy Miller, 6-foot-3 Justin Frederick and 6-foot-6 sophomore Amanze Egekeze, one of best young prospects in the state.

Elgin (23-3) relies on 6-foot-4 Kory Brown, who averages nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. He is his team's tallest player and also initiates the offense from the point guard position. Last year, the Maroons lost to Huntley in the sectional.

Collinsville (23-5), which had suffered through five losing seasons in seven years before coach Darin Lee's arrival from Nashville, has undergone a resurgence and old-timers are recalling the glory days of former coach Vergil Fletcher. Lee counts on guards Daryn Foster and Jaris Wellmaker and 6-foot-5 JVaughn Williams.

Edwardsville has lost to Collinsville twice but coach Mike Waldo, in his 24th year, relies on one of the best players in school history, 6-foot-5 junior Tre Harris, who averages 18 points and 10 rebounds per game. Another standout is 6-foot-5 junior Garrett Covington (18 ppg).

Normal Community was 27-8 and finished fourth in the state last year. Coach Dave Witzig admits this year's club isn't as good. He lost 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-6 post players. This year, he relies on three guards--Illinois State-bound Anthony Beane (17 ppg), Chase Robbins (12 ppg) and Callen Boddie (9 ppg). To be effective in the state tournament, 6-foot-7 junior Trevor Seibing has to be a presence.

Belleville East has lost eight times to rated teams, including Collinsville by one point. But coach Ray Hoffman's team has beaten O'Fallon twice and East St. Louis. The Lancers are led by Illinois-bound Malcolm Hill, a 6-foot-6 guard who is averaging 23 points per game. He scored 43 in last Friday's 78-67 victory over Granite City. "He is the best player I have seen this year," Hoffman said.

Don't overlook fast-finishing Belleville West, which is only 15-11 but stunned Collinsville 54-51 last Friday. Kendall Smith sparked the Maroons, scoring 13 of his 20 points in the second half to overcome a nine-point halftime deficit. Nick Van Osdale scored 12, Michael Schmidt 11.

Moline (22-8) is seeded No. 1 in the regional ahead of Rock Island but coach Ryan Webber's team lost to Rock Island and Lincoln two weeks ago. Webber, 31, was Sigel's assistant in 2003 and was hired at Moline when only 27. He has overcome adversity. No. 2 scorer Jamaree Atwater returned last Friday after missing 24 games. His best player, 6-foot-2 senior Anthony Lindauer (23.5 ppg), has returned from a five-game suspension. Another contributor is 6-foot-1 senior Kenny Wages (15 ppg).

Rock Island is only 15-11 but has won five of its last six games. Coach Thom Sigel lost eight of nine players from last year's 30-3 state championship team but has built another contender. The Rocks are led by 6-foot-8 senior Denzel McCauley and 6-foot-4 senior Marquel Beasley.

Bloom (23-3) is reliving its glory days of the 1970s under coach Jasper Williams, whose team is top-seeded at the Lockport sectional ahead of Andrew, Homewood-Flossmoor, Crete-Monee and Thornwood. He relies on point guard Donald Moore, guard L.J. Johnson, 6-foot-5 junior Johnny Griffin and 6-foot-2 senior Henry Hicks.

Andrew, which lost a last-second two-point decision to Thornwood last Tuesday, spoiling its bid for a first-ever conference title, hopes to bounce back behind 6-foot-6 junior Jubril Adekoya and his brother, 6-foot-3 senior Jawad Adekoya.

New Trier, the favorite in the Glenbrook South sectional, relies on 6-foot-7 Dartmouth-bound Connor Boehm, point guard David Bragiel and 6-foot-4 Austin Angel. The Trevians are seeking their first trip to Peoria since finishing fourth in 2002. Boehm had 32 points and 14 rebounds as New Trier outlasted Niles North 93-84 in overtime last Wednesday.

White Sox draft pick Zack Collins wins Johnny Bench Award

White Sox draft pick Zack Collins wins Johnny Bench Award

This June just keeps getting better and better for Zack Collins.

Collins was selected by the White Sox with the No. 10 pick in the MLB Draft, made it to the College World Series with the University of Miami, signed his first professional contract and now he is the Johnny Bench Award winner.

The Johnny Bench Award was created in 2000 and is given to the top college catcher in Division 1. Previous winners include Buster Posey and Kurt Suzuki.

Collins already had a haul of first-team All-America honors from Baseball America, D1Baseball, the NCBWA, Perfect Game and Rawlings.

Collins hit .363 with 16 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .668 slugging percentage. He also led the nation with 78 walks this season for the Hurricanes, which went 0-2 at the College World Series. Collins started 62 of 64 Miami games and made 59 of those starts at catcher.

How Bulls could land a max free agent and re-sign E’Twaun Moore

How Bulls could land a max free agent and re-sign E’Twaun Moore

Quick note here because we are all eager to get back to our twitter feeds and wild speculation. Even though the Bulls will only have approximately $24 million in cap space, there is one situation in which they can sign a Tier 1 max player AND re-sign E’twaun Moore.

This all hinges on the deal (and discount) that Moore would give the Bulls. The Bulls have Early-Bird rights with Moore; that means they can potentially sign him to a deal and not eat into their cap space. There are a lot of rules into how this works and I won’t bore you with details, but the bottom line is that the Bulls can offer a 3-year deal for approx. $21 million or a 4-year deal for appox $28 million. If Moore accepts this contract, the Bulls just to have account for his ‘cap hold’ of $980,431 in free agency until the actual deal is signed. 

This potential deal would leave the Bulls approximately $23 million to spend, well above the $22.2 million it would take to land a Tier 1 (0-6 year NBA player) in free agency. This includes restricted free agent Harrison Barnes. Again, this only works if Moore doesn’t want to test free agency, or doesn’t receive a better offer in free agency. If Moore wants more money, the Bulls have to use their cap space to sign him to a larger deal.

One important key to any restricted free agent like Barnes, the Warriors will have 3 days to match any offer sheet that Barnes signs. Barnes can’t sign an offer sheet until July 7th, so the Warriors effectively will have until at least July 10th to make that decision. This prevents any team like the Bulls ‘swooping’ in and landing Barnes while Kevin Durant conducts his meetings in the Hamptons.

Cubs aren’t sweating loss to Mets or NLCS flashbacks: ‘Big-boy games are totally different'

Cubs aren’t sweating loss to Mets or NLCS flashbacks: ‘Big-boy games are totally different'

NEW YORK – The Cubs didn’t overreact to getting swept in last year’s National League Championship Series, but the New York Mets did expose some underlying issues while a deep playoff run created a sense of urgency in Wrigleyville.

The Cubs spent like crazy on the free-agent market (almost $290 million) and wore T-shirts around spring training that literally put targets on their chests, knowing the look would go viral on social media and spark love/hate responses.

Making a statement? Sending a message? That’s so last year, when the Cubs were a team still trying to find an identity and learn how to win. The Mets are now the ones feeling the season-on-the-brink anxiety, desperate for offense and crossing their fingers that all those talented young pitchers stay healthy.

Maybe this becomes a turning point for the defending NL champs, beating the Cubs 4-3 on Thursday night at Citi Field to kick off a marquee four-game series in front of 40,122 and a national TV audience. Not that John Lackey – the playoff-tested veteran the Cubs signed to lengthen their rotation for October – felt any added significance in facing the Mets.

“None,” Lackey said. “It’s June, who cares? Big-boy games are totally different.”

Yes, Lackey was “pretty surprised” and a little miffed that manager Joe Maddon pulled him with a runner on and one out in the seventh inning and the Cubs holding a 3-1 lead. Joel Peralta failed this bullpen audition, walking Alejandro De Aza (.158 average) and giving up an RBI single to just-promoted-from-Triple-A Las Vegas rookie Brandon Nimmo.

Neil Walker put the pressure on highlight-reel defender Javier Baez, who fielded a chopper at second base, didn’t have a play at home plate and made the split-second decision to throw toward backpedaling third baseman Kris Bryant. The Mets showed last October that little things matter in big-boy games, and the throwing error from a Gold Glove-caliber player suddenly gave them a 4-3 lead.  

“Getting beat’s one thing,” Lackey said. “But when you feel like you kind of gave one away – or let one go – that’s a different kind of loss.”

The Mets (41-37) might not have must-win games in July, but they needed some good news in “Panic City.” Steven Matz, who set off alarm bells this week with the disclosure he’s been pitching with a bone spur in his left elbow, managed to work into the sixth inning and throw 104 pitches, giving up homers to Bryant and Baez but limiting the damage to only three runs.

Yoenis Cespedes, who revived a lifeless lineup after last summer’s trade-deadline blockbuster, energized the Mets again with a big swing in the sixth inning, drilling a Lackey pitch 441 feet out to left field and onto the third deck, creating a 110-mph exit velocity with his 19th home run.

“New year, different team, different circumstances,” said Jake Arrieta, who lost Game 2 here last October, watching Daniel Murphy reach so far down for a curveball that his left knee almost scraped the dirt, driving it out for a momentum-shifting, first-inning, two-run homer. “We’ll probably relive some memories that weren’t very exciting.

“You never want to lose one step from a World Series. But, again, we had a team that was very young with a lot of rookies contributing. We gained a lot of valuable experience from those games, regardless of the outcome. And we’re obviously better for it this season with some new pieces. We look forward to ending in a little different fashion this year.”

The Cubs (51-27) still don’t have the answer for Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who finished off all four NLCS wins last October and is now 27-for-27 in save chances this season. Miguel Montero led off the ninth inning with a pinch-hit walk and Ben Zobrist followed with a double into right field before those all-or-nothing contact issues resurfaced.

Familia responded by striking out Bryant swinging – all six pitches were marked as sinkers clocked between 97 and 98 mph – and intentionally walking Anthony Rizzo to load the bases. Maybe this exposure will pay off in the playoffs, but Familia struck out Willson Contreras swinging and got Javier Baez to pop out to end the game. The Citi Field sound system started playing Ace Frehley’s “(I’m Back, Back in the) New York Groove.” Not that the Cubs were having flashbacks.

“We know the feeling of getting eliminated, getting swept, but I think we’re onto bigger and better things,” Bryant said. “We’re ready for it. Different year, different players here, different attitude.”