Privately, Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin will concede that he couldn't have chosen an easier path to the state finals if he had personally hand-picked his opponents. But the playoff pairings were drawn up by the Illinois High School Association.
Publicly, Irvin will declare that his team is playing its best basketball of the year right now.
"We have peaked at the right time. I was afraid we peaked too early. But I think we will continue to play with our hearts," he said.
"In the best, you looked at the name on the other team's jersey and sometimes took the day off. But these kids don't do that. They compete as if it is Simeon and Whitney Young on the jersey. They play hard all the time. They don't care who we play. They play our style."
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Morgan Park's style has been overpowering in recent games. The Mustangs are 31-3 after Tuesday night's overwhelming 77-44 victory over Hillcrest in the Class 3A supersectional at Joliet Central. They will meet Bartonville Limestone in the semifinals on Friday in Peoria.
Since upsetting Simeon 54-53 in the semifinals of the Public League playoff, then losing to Whitney Young 60-56 in the final, Morgan Park beat its regional and sectional opponents by margins of 67, 33, 63, 36 and 33 points.
What is Morgan Park's style?
"Defense wins championships. That has been our motto from day one. Pressure busts pipes. My father (the late Mac Irvin, the godfather of summer basketball in Chicago) always told us that growing up. You want to apply pressure all the time to the opposing team and see what you can get out of it," Nick said.
"Another thing that I see about this team is no one cares who scores. Everyone sacrifices their game for the betterment of the team. It always is a team effort. They have been showing me that from the first playoff game. They share the ball. They are unselfish. They love passing the ball."
Irvin believes one thing that will his team an edge in the state finals this weekend is the leadership from guards Billy Garrett Jr., Kyle Davis and Markee Williams.
Garrett Jr., who is committed to DePaul, averages 23 points and seven assists per game. Davis, who is committed to Dayton, averages 22 points and five assists per game.
"We have the best pair of guards in the state," Irvin said.
"Garrett brings leadership, a knowledge of the game, a basketball IQ," Irvin continued. "At 6-foot-5, he towers over other guards. He can play both guard positions. He knows how to score. He is the scoring guard that DePaul needs. He will help to turn the program around."
Garrett, whose father is an assistant coach at DePaul, said he tries to put an emphasis on leadership.
"You can't have a good team without it," he said.
And he can't think of a successful team that didn't have great guards. He believes good guard play, toughness, depth, rebounding and defense will give Morgan Park an edge this weekend.
"We don't have a clear weakness," Garrett said. "Toughness will get us by. And our guard play. We are a year old, more mature, more experienced, a lot better than last year. My job is to provide leadership, to keep everyone poised, to set an example for others to follow."
Irvin said Davis brings toughness, a basketball mind, to the table.
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"He can shoot and he is a great slasher and driver, the fastest guys on the court. Both Garrett and Davis can score and pass and bring the ball up the court," the coach said.
"They are unselfish. They just want to win. When you get a group like this and your main two guys just care about winning, that's the best situation you can have. It makes my job that much easier."
Davis admits his role has changed since he transferred from Hyde Park.
"Last year, I had to dominate the ball and carry my team on my back. But my teammates are more experienced at Morgan Park. Everyone is on the same page. Coming in, I didn't think we'd be this good. But playing with guys who are experienced and like to play with one another makes us even better," he said.
"It wasn't that difficult to make the transition. I had played with them in age-group basketball. We had history together. It works because we all have only one goal -- to win state. Everyone knows their roles. We don¹t try to out-shine each other. We just try to do whatever we have to do to win."
Williams, who originally enrolled at Morgan Park, transferred to Crane, then returned to Morgan Park, plays in the shadow of Garrett Jr. and Davis. But he was the starting point guard on Morgan Park's 2010 Public League championship team.
"Williams has a winning mentality," Irvin said. "He is the leader we needed. The ball is in his hands when the game is on the line. He keeps everybody happy. He makes sure the table is set. He gets everybody in the right spot."
Irvin pointed out, the Mustangs' early light playoff schedule notwithstanding, that Garrett, Davis and Williams have played on the national stage in AAU competition against the best players in the nation.
And the other players have followed their lead.
Against Hillcrest, Davis had 19 points and eight rebounds. Lamont Walker had 14 points, Josh Cunningham had 11 points and nine rebounds and Xzavier Taylor scored 10 points. Garrett had eight points, four assists and four steals. It marks Morgan Park's first trip to the state finals since 2001.
"Most teams don't have guard leadership. You have to have great guards to win a state title," Irvin said. "What I like most is they compete. They read what others say about them and it motivates them. They aren't that good, just OK, some people say. They thrive off things like that. I don't have to motivate them."