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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.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.