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Simeon's Jabari Parker races inside past Young's Paul White. | Patrick Gleason ~ For the Sun-Times
The biggest names in high school basketball—Simeon, Jabari Parker, Whitney Young and Jahlil Okafor—are set to collide Saturday night at Chicago State University.
Combine the talent-filled rosters loaded with Division I prospects, star-caliber players, highly-ranked national teams and No. 1 vs. No. 2 locally, and you could argue this Young-Simeon clash is the biggest regular-season game that’s been played in this state since 1998.
It was 15 years ago when No. 1 Young and Quentin Richardson met No. 2 Fenwick and Corey Maggette at a sold out Welsh-Ryan Arena at Northwestern in what was billed as the “Game of the Decade.”
That 1998 game lived up to the hype, with the Dolphins edging the Friars in a 58-55 thriller as the two high school All-Americans, Richardson (28 points, 19 rebounds) and Maggette (28 points, 14 rebounds), put on a memorable show.
This highly-anticipated matchup is eerily similar. And aside from the obvious—the state’s top two teams and top two players going head-to-head—both coaches believe this game is unique in another way.
“You have two Chicago teams that play similar national schedules, bring national visibility and are really mirror images of one another in that regard,” Young coach Tyrone Slaughter said. “I think to have them playing here in Chicago is pretty special.”
Adds Simeon coach Robert Smith, “The magnitude of this game increases because it’s not only local, it’s a high-level game nationally.”
Forget the position-by-position, player-by-player breakdown. These are the areas that will decide the biggest regular-season game this year:
The road to Saturday: Simeon is playing its best basketball of the season. But no one has played a tougher schedule than Young. The Dolphins have run roughshod over in-state foes while turning heads on the national level.
Basketball aura: Simeon is the program in the state right now, winning three straight state championships and seeking its seventh overall state title.
Karma: Whether it’s been waiting for its star to get healthy, battling inconsistency or dealing with the negative vibe of the Morgan Park battle, things haven’t been easy for Simeon. Meanwhile, everything has clicked and gelled together for Young this season. Plus, Simeon won both matchups a year ago, so the Dolphins are due.
Star attraction: It doesn’t get any better than this. Simeon’s Jabari Parker is the No. 2 player in the country in the Class of 2013; Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor is the nation’s top-ranked player in the Class of 2014. Plus, there are another eight or nine Division I players from these two teams who will take the floor Saturday night.
X-factor: Young’s balance. Say all you want about having a 6-11 superstar, but the foursome of Jahlil Okafor (21.4 ppg), Paul White (15 ppg), L.J. Peak (14 ppg) and Miles Reynolds (13 ppg) have all stepped up big at various times this season.
Style of play: Both teams have the personnel to blend a fast-paced style with a slow-it-down halfcourt offense, depending on what the game calls for. But only one team has a true, dominant, on-the-block presence to dump the ball into.
Prediction: This has all the makings of a classic between two very evenly matched powers. Young 60, Simeon 58