By Mark Gregory
For the second time in the past three seasons, the Bolingbrook basketball team is the state Class 4A Final Four.
And for the second time in the past three seasons, they will open the tournament with the current No. 1 team in the state.
This year, that team is Simeon – one of the top teams in Illinois history.
The two will tip off Friday night at 7:15 p.m. at Carver Arena in Peoria. The other state semifinal pits Whitney Young against undefeated Fremd.
Simeon has won seven state titles, including six since 2006 under current coach Robert Smith. The Wolverines have produced such NBA players as Nick Anderson, Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker.
“They are the most storied program in the state of Illinois and coach Smith does a great job with his kids,” said Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost. “We are honored to be there, but we just don’t want to be there. When you get to the dance, you want to stay for more than just one song.”
The Raiders this season have posted a 29-1 record on the season, falling only to Lincoln-Way East late in the season.
Simeon is 28-3 on the season, falling to Bogan, Morgan Park and Evanston.
This season, Simeon is led by University of Texas-El Paso signee Evan Gilyard, who averages 16.0 points per game as well as Marquis Brown (14.4) and Talen Horton-Tucker (12.5).
Unlike several of their other championship teams, Simeon does not feature the sire-fire NBA player this season.
“We have been playing together,” Smith said. “It has been all about the team. One guy gets his day one game and the next day is someone else’s day. When this season started, we were not one of the teams that anyone looked to because we didn’t have any NBA players or any high major college players that they knew of at the time. But as we have mashed it all together, we are a good team and this is not an individual thing. This is all about the team. I am really proud of these guys. They have really worked their butts off to get to this point and that makes it a little more rewarding.”
The team-first attitude is the same one that has got the Raiders to where they are at this time.
“When we have a team like this, it is easy to worry about your own touches and what you are getting and to the guy’s credit, they have not done that all year and I don’t expect they will do that this weekend easier,” Brost said. “We are really balanced. We have had five guys go over 20 points multiple points each and we are hard to guard.”
Those guys are Nebraska recruit Nana Akenten, who averages 14.7 points per game, Malik Binns (13.4), Kaleb Thornton (12.7), Joseph Yesufu (10.1) and Tyler Cochran (8.7).
Binns leads the team with 7.2 rebounds, while Akenten adds 5.8 boards per contest.
“The last time we came this far, we played the No. 1 team in the state and we will have to do that again,” Brost said. “Our guys will be ready Friday. Simeon poses a lot of challenges from what I know not even watching tape, but they have to guard us as well.”
Guarding the Raiders is what Smith agrees his Wolverines must do.
“I know they like to get up and down and so do we,” Smith said of Bolingbrook. “At this point, we have to play defense and rebound the basketball. Scoring, at this point, shouldn’t be a problem for us.
“We are not satisfied. If we don’t get a chance to win the whole thing, we haven’t accomplished what we set out to do. We are focusing on Bolingbrook and seeing what we can do to beat them and I know they have the same feeling. They are ready to get to the next game, too. It should be a really good game. We have been two of the best teams in the Chicagoland area all year.”