There was an interesting piece written by the Chicago Sun-Times regarding this topic. Veteran writer Taylor Bell took the 1972 Quinn Buckner-led Thornridge team, while Steve Tucker made an argument for the modern era teams, including the great Peoria Manual team of 1997 and this year's Simeon team. There are others that will argue the 1981 unbeaten Quincy team, led by Michael Payne and Bruce Douglas, and the 1990 unbeaten King team, led by Jamie Brandon, as the state's best.
When it is all said and done, yes Simeon, in all likelihood, will have done something no other Chicago Public League team has ever done: win back-to-back state titles. If we're talking two-year runs, then throw Simeon into the mix. But as far as the best, single-season team ever? Simeon just misses being placed on that pedestal.
I'm not even sure this is the best city team I've seen in the last 10 years. I still would take the 1998 Whitney Young team, led by Quentin Richardson (DePaul), Cordell Henry (Marquette), Dennis Gates (California) and 6-8 Corey Harris (Ball State).
As a pure high school player, Richardson was more dominating than even Rose at the prep level. Whitney Young's supporting cast was better. I would take George Stanton over Robert Smith as a coach. And that Young team didn't have any slip-ups, such as the one we saw Simeon have against Farragut. The Dolphins beat every Illinois foe that year, losing only a 60-58 heartbreaker to Lexington Catholic out of Kentucky.
What also must be noted is just how loaded the state was that year with team and individual talent. When comparing the 1997-1998 season to the 2006-2007 season there is absolutely no comparison. The 1998 senior class in Illinois was the best we've seen in this state in the last 25 years. The Fenwick team, which Whitney Young beat behind Richardson's 28 points and 19 rebounds in the City-Suburban Showdown, with future NBA star Corey Maggette was loaded. Maine West featured the high Division I pair of Lucas Johnson and Kevin Frey. Galesburg, the state runner-up in '98, had the heralded Joey Range and Rod Thompson, a pair of Big Ten recruits. The Simeon team had future NBA player Bobby Simmons, Julian had Lance Williams, Farragut boasted future Arizona star Michael Wright and Peoria Manual still had Frank Williams. Rockford Boylan had Illinois recruit Damir Krupalija. Heck, Naperville North's Henry Domercant wasn't even ranked among the top 20 senior prospects that year and he went on to become one of the nation's leading scorers in college while playing at Eastern Illinois.
Whitney Young was better. There is no question Whitney Young had bigger potential obstacles in the winter of 1998 than this Simeon team has or will have in the next two weeks. That, along with the fact the Dolphins didn't lose to a single team from Illinois, gives Whitney Young the edge.
POINT #2 .... Another popular question asked over the last year or two is whether or not Burlington Central's Cully Payne can play in the Big East Conference. The 6-foot sophomore guard made a big splash two years ago when he committed to coach Jerry Wainwright and the Blue Demons when he had just graduated from 8th grade. Since then the poor kid has been scrutinized up and down by everyone and, to his credit, handled it all very well.
The Hoops Report thought it was a bit premature with DePaul making an offer that early. But Payne is beginning to remind the Hoops Report of another type of player that had an unbelievable career in the Big East--former Syracuse star Gerry McNamara. Payne has that confidence, the gunslinger approach and tremendous basketball savvy which McNamara played with.
Will Payne reach the level of McNamara, who helped lead the Orange to a national title as a freshman four years ago and became a cult hero in the Carrier Dome? That will be a tall task. Payne, though, was absolutely brilliant Saturday night in scoring 35 points against Rockford Boylan in the regional final. This came three days after scoring 35 in a regional win over Sycamore. Remember, he's just a sophomore.
POINT #3 .... As of today, Sunday, Mar. 4, there are only 13 days left of two-class basketball in Illinois. Enjoy the best state tournament Illinois has to offer these next two weeks.
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