Simeon, Proviso East was worth the wait

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Simeon, Proviso East was worth the wait

Even the most distinguished high school basketball player in the United States can commit a foolish act. Fortunately for Simeon's Jabari Parker, it didn't cost a state championship. Not on Saturday night in Peoria.

But it could have. And it put a taint on a masterpiece, like smearing catsup on the Mona Lisa.

With 12 seconds to play in the Class 4A final, Parker dunked in celebratory fashion to give Simeon a seemingly insurmountable 50-43 lead.
But he was assessed a technical foul for swinging on the rim. It was a no-brainer.

Proviso East converted two free throws, took the ball out-of-bounds and Sterling Brown made a three-point shot at the buzzer. Simeon and Parker escaped with a 50-48 victory.

Afterward, Parker hinted the officials made the call on him because "they had to do something to keep the game alive. They didn't want to see us win again." It was a stupid remark, unworthy of a player of his stature, but remindful that the 6-foot-8 junior still has some growing-up to do.

It ended one of the most dramatic and exciting state championship games in history, what everyone had anticipated, a duel between two storied programs pitting No. 1 Simeon vs. No. 2 Proviso East, clearly two teams a notch above all others, demonstrating their superior quickness, athleticism, relentless defense and iron will, both refusing to yield one plank on the floor, contesting every shot and every rebound and every pass.

Proviso East coach Donnie Boyce was betting that Simeon hadn't experienced the quickness and pressure that Proviso East could apply from one end of the court to the other, from the opening tipoff to the final buzzer. He was right.

"You've gotta keep attacking, keep attacking," Boyce told his players.

Simeon was on its heels most of the game, falling behind 39-34 after three quarters before finally pulling ahead with an 8-0 run that put the Wolverines ahead 45-41 with 3:05 remaining. Kendrick Nunn's steal with 1:42 left preserved their lead.

In the closing minutes, they dug deep into their hearts and found a way to handle the pressure, as great teams always do. But they needed Steve Taylor's 12 points and 15 rebounds and free throws by Jaleni Neely and Jaylon Tate to build a margin that even Parker's last-second dumb-dumb couldn't erase.

Was it the greatest state championship game of all time?

Better than CarverCentralia in 1963 when 5-foot-7 sophomore Anthony Smedley came off the bench in the closing seconds, stole the ball and made a game-winning basket?

Better than Morgan ParkWest Aurora in 1976 when Laird Smith made a game-winning basket at the buzzer?

Better than East St. Louis LincolnPeoria Central in 1989 when Vincent Jackson converted a game-winning shot at the buzzer to end a three-overtime thriller?

Probably not. But it must be remembered that none of those games pitted No. 1 vs. No. 2. Centralia was ranked No. 1 in 1962 and Peoria Central was unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in 1989. But two finalists with only one loss between them, two programs that have won 10 state championships? It hasn't happened before, not until now.

And if you were wondering if Simeon or Proviso East could supplant Thornridge 1972 as the best high school team ever produced in Illinois...well, remember that Thornridge never allowed an opponent to get within 14 points in a 33-0 season in which it averaged 87.4 points per game while allowing 56.3 and set the gold standard for state-final performances by overwhelming Quincy 104-69.

The difference between Class 1 and 2A basketball and Class 3 and 4A basketball is like comparing a plow horse to a thoroughbred, half-court vs.
full-court, a Jeep to a Ferrari.

Today's high school players are quicker and more athletic. But the game isn't as good or as disciplined. That was evident throughout the Class 3 and 4A events as players constantly ran out of control. In many cases, it wasn't pretty. To their credit, the officials let them play. Desperate to keep up with the frantic pace, one official even ran out of his shoe.

The SimeonProviso East was everything that the Illinois High School Association could have dreamed about. If you can't fill Carver Arena for that match-up, the only alternative is Peoria CentralPeoria Manual.

Simeon relied on its experience and resolve to stem the tide that was Proviso East's unyielding pressure. The Pirates never slow down, never hold the ball, never back off. They are always pressing, always driving, always running in high gear. Sometimes the up-tempo style translates into playing out of control, making turnovers and missing easy shots. But the long-range pluses outweigh the minuses.

The all-tournament team? Simeon's Jabari Parker and Steve Taylor, Aaron Simpson of Class 3A runner-up North Chicago and Fred Van Vleet of Rockford Auburn's Class 4A third-place finisher were easy picks.

The fifth spot belongs to 6-foot-4 junior Sterling Brown of Proviso East, who may have been the most outstanding of all. The younger brother of former Illinois Mr. Basketball Shannon Brown had 13 points and 15 rebounds in the semifinal and 25 points in the final, demonstrating another reason why the class of 2013 shapes up as one of the best ever produced in Illinois.

The Class 3 and 4A tournaments also gave basketball fans a chance to observe other future stars such as Springfield Lanphier sophomore guard Larry Austin Jr., 6-foot-4 sophomore Kurt Hall of North Chicago, 6-foot-2 junior Jovan Mooring of Hillcrest, 5-foot-11 junior guard Paris Lee of Proviso East, 6-foot-5 junior Johnny Griffin and 6-foot-5 junior Jataryan DeJareaux of Bloom and 6-foot-2 junior guard Kendrick Nunn, 6-foot-1 junior guard Jaylon Tate and 6-foot-5 junior Kendall Pollard of Simeon.

Austin is being groomed as a point guard in college. He has two years to improve his perimeter shooting. But his quickness and leadership and savvy and ball-handling and passing on the floor are enough to warrant scholarship offers from Illinois, Missouri, DePaul, Memphis and Bradley and interest from Kentucky and Kansas.

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AP

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White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

White Sox willing to overlook 'rough' patches as healthy Carlos Rodon returns

The two fastballs that soared to the backstop on Wednesday night should give you a strong indication that Carlos Rodon was far from perfect.

But in making his first start of the 2017 season, the White Sox pitcher also offered his team plenty of signals that his health isn’t going to be an issue.

Rodon returned to the mound for the first time since last September and brought the goods that made him one of baseball’s top pitching prospects several years ago. Given he’d missed three months with bursitis in the left shoulder and the potential value he offers to a franchise only half a season into its first rebuild in 20 years, that was plenty for the White Sox to overlook the rust Rodon showed in a 12-3 White Sox loss to the New York Yankees at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“He started a little rough early obviously, got some high pitch counts,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And then he kind of settled down.

“Having him back in the rotation and getting him back out there on the big league field, coming out of there feeling good, healthy. I'm sure he will continue to get better as he continues to get out there and move forward.”

Renteria said he wasn’t surprised that Rodon struggled with his command as much as he did against the Yankees. The issues the pitcher displayed in uncorking a pair of wild pitches, walking six batters and throwing strikes on only 41 of 94 pitches were also present during Rodon’s four rehab starts in the minors.

But as long as the stuff was there, the White Sox would be OK with any issues that accompanied the performance. Rodon began to alleviate those concerns immediately when he earned a called strike on the game’s first pitch with a 93-mph fastball to Brett Gardner. Featuring a four-seamer with an absurd amount of movement and a nasty slider he struggled to control, Rodon checked all the boxes the White Sox hoped for from a pitcher they believe will be a frontline starter for years to come. Rodon also was pleased by how he felt before, during and after the contest.

“I was pretty excited,” Rodon said. “I was going a little fast in the first. But it was good to be out there. Next time out, it’ll hopefully be a little better. Arm feels good, body feels good, all you can ask for.”

Well, it’s not ALL you can ask for, but it’s pretty damn good out of the gate given how slow Rodon’s return took. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to BrooksBaseball.Net and touched 97 mph. His two-seamer averaged 94.4 mph and touched 95. And his slider, though he couldn’t control it, nor locate it for a strike, averaged 86 mph.

“You could see (Omar Narvaez) going over to try to catch some balls that were having tremendous run,” Renteria said. “That's (Rodon). He's got some tremendous life, he's just trying to harness it the best that he can and being able to execute where he wants to get as many strikes as possible.”

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The strikes were about the only thing Rodon didn’t bring with him. He walked Gardner to start the game and issued two more free passes after a Tim Anderson error allowed a run to score and extended the first inning. Rodon threw 37 pitches in the first, only 15 for strikes.

He also reached a full count to each of the batters he faced in the second inning. Rodon walked two more with two outs in the third inning after he’d retired six batters in a row.

And there were those pesky first-inning wild pitches that resembled something out of ‘Bull Durham.’

But all in all, Rodon and the White Sox ultimately saw enough in the first outing to be pleased.

“Great stuff, great life, but the goal is to put it in the zone and let them swing it to get guys out early,” Rodon said. “That’s not what happened. I’ll get back to that.”

“It’s a tough loss, but it’s better to be with the guys out on the field grinding than sitting on the couch and watching, for sure.”