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.