Preps Talk

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.

91 Days to Kickoff: Joliet Catholic

91 Days to Kickoff: Joliet Catholic

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: Joliet Catholic Academy

Head coach: Jake Jaworski

Assistant coaches: Dave Douglas, Cory McLaughlin, Chris Kinsella, Mark Mettille, Jake Ziesmer, Zach Dolph, Josh Greenback and Craig Slowik

How they fared in 2017: 3-6 (2-5 East Suburban Catholic Conference). JCA failed to make the 2017 IHSA state playoff field.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 vs. St. Rita

Aug. 31 @ IC Catholic Prep

Sept. 7 @ St. Viator

Sept. 14 vs. Carmel

Sept. 21 @ Marist

Sept. 28 vs. Benet Academy

Oct. 5 vs. Marian Catholic

Oct. 12 @ Nazareth Academy

Oct. 19 @ Notre Dame

Biggest storyline: Can Joliet Catholic snap a two-year hiatus from the state football playoffs?

Names to watch this season: OT Dave Monnot and RB Kenyetta Williams

Biggest holes to fill: The Hilltoppers will need to reload at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. 

EDGY's Early Take: It's been a rough few seasons at one of the state's best football programs. That said, 2018 has the potential to be the turnaround year the Hilltoppers have been looking for. Second-year head coach Jake Jaworski will feature four big and experienced offensive linemen, led by senior OT Dave Monnot (6-foot-6, 287 pounds). They also have a name to watch in junior-to-be RB Kenyetta Williams. If Joliet Catholic can survive another challenging early season non-conference schedule, they will compete in the always-tough ESCC.

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

The Cubs are ahead of the game in MLB's brand new world

"BINGO!"

Joe Maddon couldn't contain his glee as he was told there is actual scientific evidence that proves the Launch Angle Revolution has not had any impact on the uptick in homers over the last couple seasons.

The reason MLB players were hitting the ball into the bleachers more than ever before in 2017 was because of the way baseballs are made now, reducing the wind resistence and causing balls to carry more.

But all these players changing their swing path to get more lift on the ball? Not a thing for the group as a whole (h/t MLB.com):


But in analyzing Statcast™ data from the measurement tool's 2015 inception through 2017, the committee found no evidence that batter behavior, en masse, has been a contributing factor toward the homer surge. In fact, exit velocities decreased slightly from 2016 to 2017, spray angles from the time studied were stable and a small increase in launch angles was attributable primarily to, as the study refers to them, "players with lesser home run talents."

Basically, the long-ball surge was global, affecting players from all spectrums of homer-hitting ability and irrespective of their approach.

"Going into this, I thought that was going to be the magic bullet, the smoking gun," Nathan said. "But it wasn't."


Hence the "BINGO!" cry from Maddon, who has been very vocal in the fight against the Launch Angle Revolution this season.

The end result is the study will eventually lead to baseballs being returned to normal levels and a more uniform way of storing the balls moving forward. Thus, homers figure to eventually return to normal levels, too, and everybody who was caught up in the Launch Angle Revolution may be left behind.

It's the changing landscape of baseball and we've already seen the after-effects this year: April was the first month in MLB history where there were more strikeouts than basehits.

Why? Because strikeouts are a natural byproduct of the Launch Angle Revolution as players are swinging up on the ball more and sacrificing contact for power and lift.

That, coupled with an increase in velocity and higher usage of relievers, has led to more strikeouts.

It makes perfect sense — it's tougher for a player to try to catch up to 98+ mph at the top of the strike zone with an uppercut swing.

"It's one of those things that sounds good, but it doesn't help you," Maddon said of launch angle. "There's certain things that people really want to promote and talk about, but it doesn't matter. When a hitter's in the box, when you're trying to stare down 96 or a slider on the edge, the last thing you're thinking about is launch angle.

"Now when it comes to practice, you could not necessarily work on angles — your body works a certain way. Like I've said before, there's guys that might've been oppressively bad or they just had groundballs by rolling over the ball all the time So of course you may want to alter that to get that smothering kind of a swing out of him.

"But if you're trying to catch up to velocity, if you're trying to lay back and I could keep going on and on. It sounds good."

The idea of hitting the ball hard in the air has been around for decades in baseball, pretty much ever since Babe Ruth on some level. It just wasn't able to be quantified or accessed by the public as easily until Statcast came around and made it all mainstream.

The Cubs, however, have been anti-launch-angle to a degree this season. They let go of hitting coach John Mallee (who liked players to hit the ball in the air and pull it) and replaced him with Chili Davis (who teaches the full-field, line-drive approach).

The effects haven't yet yielded results in terms of consistently plating runs or having a better performance in the situational hitting column, but the contact rate is, in fact, up.

Here is the list of Cubs hitters who currently boast a career best mark in strikeout rate:

Kris Bryant
Javy Baez
Willson Contreras
Addison Russell
Jason Heyward
Kyle Schwarber

Even Ben Zobrist is very close to his career mark and Anthony Rizzo is right at his career line.

Some of that jump in contact rate can be attributed to natural development and maturation of young hitters, but the Cubs are buying into the new way of doing things and it's paying off.

It's also probably the way the game is going to shift, with an emphasis on contact going to become more important the less balls are flying out of the yard.

The Cubs have seen firsthand how to beat the best pitching in the postseason and they know that cutting down on strikeouts and "moving the baseball" (as Maddon likes to put it) can help manufacture runs in low-scoring, tight affairs in October.

Now science is supporting those theories and Major League Baseball teams will have to adjust. 

The Cubs, however, are at least a step ahead of the game.

It's a long game — the offensive strides will take time to fully take effect even for the Cubs, who are at least a full offseason and two months ahead of the curve in terms of bucking the Launch Angle Revolution.

Maddon concedes that launch angle is a cool stat to see on the video board after homers, but other than that, he doesn't see much of a use for it, pointing to Kyle Schwarber's laser-line-drive homers having the same effect as Kris Bryant's moonshots.

However, Maddon does believe there's a place for launch angle and exit velocity in the game, though mostly for front offices trying to acquire players (think "Moneyball").

"As a teaching tool, you either come equipped with or without," Maddon said. "It's like you buy a new car, you either got this or you don't. Sometimes you can add some things occasionally, but for the most part, this is what you are.

"I like inside the ball, top half of the ball, inner half of the ball, stay long throughout the ball, utilize the whole field. I still think that's the tried and true approach and I'm not stuck in the mud on this by any means.

"The harder pitchers throw the baseball, the more laying back is going to be less effective."