The Class 4A Boys Basketball State Finals ended late Saturday night at Carver Arena in Peoria when Whitney Young outscored Simeon, 10-0, in overtime for a 60-50 victory.
That came on the heels of Bolingbrook’s 70-66 win over Fremd in the third-place game. Fremd gave Young a good battle in Friday’s semifinals before falling, 53-47, and Bolingbrook did likewise against Simeon. The Raiders rallied to lead, 40-39, early in the fourth quarter before the Wolverines went on another run and prevailed, 60-50.
If those four were not the best teams in the state’s largest class, they were among the best. Several others – we will put Joliet West and Joliet Central in this mix – could have shown well had they made it to state, but the final four as it existed was excellent.
Rob Brost, who has coached Bolingbrook to 201 victories in his 10 years at the helm, talked Saturday night about his team finishing third for a second time in three seasons.
“I told the guys after the game that I thought we could be pretty good this year,” he said. “But if you had told me we would win the Decatur [Thanksgiving] Tournament, the Hinsdale Central [Christmas] Tournament, conference [Southwest Prairie], be regional, sectional and supersectional champions and finish third in the state, that we’d have three All-Staters and be ranked No. 1 for seven weeks, all of that was going to happen, I would have thought that’s pretty crazy.”
Yet the Raiders indeed did accomplish all of that.
The All-Staters are senior Nana Akenten, who was a first-team selection by both the Associated Press and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, along with senior Malik Binns and junior point guard Kaleb Thornton. Binns was honorable mention on both teams while Thornton was a third-team IBCA pick.
Sophomores Joseph Yesufu, Tyler Cochran and Demari Grant, plus junior Isaiah Clemmons and 6-foot-7 senior Brandon Lawan, also contributed valuable minutes as the Raiders finished 30-2. That doesn’t happen if they play selfish basketball.
“These guys generally care about one another and about the coaching staff,” Brost said. “Basketball can be a selfish game.”
The Raiders were anything but that. As talented as they were, with quality players at every position, they do not finish as one of two teams in 4A to win its final game if not for the way they shared the wealth and did not care about personal glory.
Akenten is an outstanding high school player and a deadly 3-point shooter, yet he averaged a modest – by all-state standards – 15 points. As Brost noted before the state finals, he could have averaged 25, but personal glory is not what he is about.
The Raiders were disappointed they were not playing for the big prize Saturday night. Were the same four teams to take a mulligan on the state finals next weekend, any of the four realistically could win it.
“We wanted to be in the championship game, but Simeon is a really good team and we made a couple of mistakes,” Akenten said of the semifinal loss. “You can’t do that against an elite team. But we are one of two teams in the state to win our last game.”
It was not only Bolingbrook, of course, that made this a memorable boys basketball season in the Joliet area.
Think back to Christmas. That’s when Joliet Central beat previously unbeaten Wheaton Warrenville South, 50-42, for the championship of the State Farm Classic in Bloomington. WWS did not lose again until the sectionals.
At the Pontiac Holiday Classic, West beat Chicago Curie, 55-49, for fifth place. Three of the top four seeds lost in the quarterfinals at Pontiac, and a West-Curie matchup was one many observers had been counting on seeing in the championship game.
Central lost to Bolingbrook, 60-55, on Jan. 17 as the Raiders finished the game on a 10-0 run. West faced eventual state champion Whitney Young on Jan. 21 at Glenbard East and fell, 73-64. But if the Tigers had not shot 14 of 40 from the free throw line, and missed their last 11, that outcome might have been different.
Central lost to West 51-49 on Feb. 18 and 64-62 in the sectional semifinals, both games as competitive as the scores suggest. In the sectional final, Bolingbrook beat West, 78-66, but even with a 20-2 Raiders run in the second half, it was a two-point game with two minutes left.
Add in some of the things teams such as Lincoln-Way East, Minooka and Romeoville accomplished, and all in all, this season is a keeper for our area.
We haven’t had a champion in the state’s largest class in nearly 40 years, but fueled by Bolingbrook finishing third in two of the last three seasons, the feeling is that sort of celebration may not be far off.
• Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.