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Simeon players celebrate their win over Stevenson in the Class 4A state final. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
PEORIA — The awards, accolades and high-profile media appearances are far too numerous to mention. Simeon senior Jabari Parker is simply the biggest star in the history of Illinois high school sports. Bigger than Candace Parker, Derrick Rose, Kevin Garnett, Jeff Jordan, Jon Scheyer, Isiah Thomas. Pick any name in state history and the resume will come up short.
Parker has been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, appeared on “Good Morning America,” played on ESPN. He’s been named Gatorade Player of the Year and USA Basketball’s Player of the Year. He regularly makes media appearances with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and first lady Michelle Obama.
Through it all, Parker has maintained that the only thing he cares about is winning basketball games and that all the attention is meaningless to him. Saturday at Carver Arena Parker proved it again, leading Simeon to a 58-40 win over Stevenson in the Class 4A state championship game.
That’s the way Parker has ended each of his four seasons of high school basketball — as a state champion.
“I just thank God,” Parker said. “My No. 1 focus was getting back on the court after my injury. I’ve had the best coach in high school basketball.
“It was a great season, a great run. I wouldn’t have made it here without the team I had. That was impossible what I pulled off, getting back healthy. I lost 35 pounds. It wasn’t all on me. My teammates pushed me in every single practice. That’s the best exercise, basketball. I couldn’t have done it by myself.”
Stevenson sophomore Jalen Brunson was brilliant in the first half, scoring 13 points to help keep the Patriots in the game. Simeon led 31-24 at the break.
Brunson didn’t score a basket in the second half. Simeon guard Jaylon Tate did a fabulous job, limiting him to just a free throw. Brunson finished with 14 points, shooting 3-for-11 from the field.
“I just wanted to give him a lot of pressure,” Tate said. “He’s a great player. Wanted to pressure him and not make it easy for him.”
Parker finished with 20 points and eight rebounds. Russell Woods added 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Kendall Pollard scored 10 and grabbed nine boards. Simeon outrebounded Stevenson 34-19.
This is Simeon’s seventh state championship. Ben Wilson and Tim Bankston led the 1984 team, Derrick Rose and Tim Flowers won titles in 2006 and 2007 and Parker and Nunn have played on the last four.
“We wrote history,” Parker said. “That’s how they are going to remember us from now on.”
“It’s been a great four years being here,” Nunn said. “Different teams, different players. It’s been a great experience.’’
Smith is the first coach in state history to win four consecutive state championships. He has six overall with a record of 260-40 in his nine-year career. There is some speculation he will accept a college coaching job next season.
“My take on it is that in these four runs we played a national schedule,” Smith said. “We didn’t just play local teams. What we did, and I don’t think people understand it, is we went to those home towns and played those teams. We went to Dallas and played DeSoto...we went to Memphis and played Southwind.’’
Simeon is the second team to win four consecutive state titles. Peoria Manual pulled off the feat in 1997.