By Roy and Harv Schmidt
Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye
Who were the best coaches, players and teams in the 2013 state basketball finals? Who were the biggest surprises? The players whose stock rose like Google? Who were the disappointments?
Here is everything you need to know:
The best coach?
Take your pick. Overall, this might have been the best combination of coaching that we have seen in the state finals since the Illinois High School Association adopted the four-class system.
Simeon's Robert Smith, Morgan Park's Nick Irvin, Stevenson's Pat Ambrose, Edwardsville's Mike Waldo, Cahokia's Darian Nash and Proviso East's Donnie Boyce all did outstanding jobs.
Make no mistake about it -- Smith continues to show why he is the best high school basketball coach in Illinois at this time. And he has made history by becoming the first coach to win four consecutive state titles. It is a remarkable achievement, a personal milestone.
[MORE: Final CSN Top 20 Rankings]
At the same time, we must give kudos to Nick Irvin, who is our Class 3A Coach of the Year. Sure, he had great talent. But he has done a masterful job of getting his team to play hard and to believe in each other. He has instilled the value of teamwork. And contrary to what the public perception has been in the past, this Morgan Park team plays outstanding defense. From a personal standpoint, it has been a pleasure to see Irvin mature as a coach. He has really grown up.
And then there is Pat Ambrose, who is our Class 4A Co-Coach of the Year.
His tea exceeded absolutely everyone's expectations this season. Above all else, Ambrose got all of his players to believe in themselves and what they were capable of achieving. And he wasn't afraid to roll the dice with his talented underclassmen who showed what they can do and then some. Stevenson has a great basketball future. Don't be surprised to see the Patriots playing in Peoria in 2014.
The best player?
Jabari Parker proved why he is the best high school player that Chicago has seen since Derrick Rose. The bottom line is that the bigger the game is, the better he plays. He ranks with Peoria Manual's Sergio McClain as the winningest player in state history. Throughout the weekend, he looked like Paul Pierce. He looks completely healthy and back in shape. Provided he stays that way, he may end up being a one-and-done player at Duke.
[MORE: After state title No. 4, Parker in all-time top-five]
While Parker was the best player from start to finish, Jalen Brunson was almost as good. He was sensational in the semifinals against Edwardsville and outstanding in the first half against Simeon before being shut down in the second half by Simeon's defense. Brunson has so much poise and plays under control at all times. He lets the game come to him, knows when to shoot, when to pass and almost always makes the right play. If Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis isn't the best point guard in the state regardless of class, then Dunson is.
The best team?
Again, take your pick. The answer to this question certainly can stir up quite a debate. Yes, Simeon has made history. The Wolverines will forever be remembered as a dynasty. However, dynasty is defined over the course of a period of time -- not by one team. And while taking nothing away fro what they have accomplished, we do not think this year's Simeon state champion is as good as last year's.
The argument can be made that Morgan Park is the best team in Illinois regardless of class. One might say that Morgan Park didn't play the tough national schedule that Simeon did. But that is an insult to everything that Morgan Park accomplished. The fact is the Mustangs dominated all opponents. As we have said for quite some time, Billy Garrett Jr. and Kyle Davis are the best backcourt in the state. It is an extremely close call, as close as Morgan Park's one-point victory over Simeon in the city semifinals.
The biggest surprises? The biggest stock raisers?
We knew that Edwardsville's Garret Covington is a good player but he is even better that we first envisioned. He is a recruiting steal for Western Illinois coach Jim Molinari, an excellent all-around offensive performer. The 6-foot-4 senior guard handles well, can consistently get to the basket, defends well as a result of his tremendous wing span and can knock down shots from beyond the three-point arc. A lot of college coaches missed the boat on Covington.
Stevenson's Andy Stempel, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, is not a Division I player but he is going to make some small college very happy, especially one that is looking for a shooter. He excels at being able to spot up and convert shots from beyond the three-point line, has unlimited range, utilizes screens and moves well without the ball.
Cahokia's Keenan Minor, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, is intriguing. He is a great scorer and can do so in a variety of ways, whether it be nailing jumpers from the perimeter or beating defenders off the dribble. However, he needs to exercise better judgment in terms of shot selection and diversify his game further. He is a borderline Division I prospect.
Make no mistake about it -- Orr's front court pair of Tyquone Greer, a 6-foot-7 junior, and Marlon Jones, a 6-foot-8 junior, did not come to play in Peoria. This explains why both of them sat on the bench for most of the second half during Orr's loss to Cahokia. Had they played aggressively, the semifinal might have had a different outcome. It was more of the same in the third place game against Bartonville Limestone.
There are few players in the class of 2014 in Illinois who has as much upside as Greer and Jones. But they must understand that they need to play hard at all times. They can't take plays off. From a scouting standpoint, that was sad to see. Hopefully, they will be motivated to bounce back in 2013-14.