It’s tournament time in basketball. Former Chicagoland standouts led a number of teams into the NCAA tournament, and a few Chicago ballers are looking at making a run in the NBA.
But let’s pull it back to the high school tournaments for now. A number of Dr. Vora’s schools entered the postseason with high hopes for city and state championships. Let’s take a look at how those schools fared and give credit to a few outstanding individual performances.
We also have a state champion that deserves recognition, but we’ll save that for the end.
Vernon Hills and Lakes
While the Cougars lost out in the Class 3A sectional semifinals to Lakes Community High School Eagles, they had some shining moments this season, with one winning streak after another.
In fact, the Vernon Hills boys basketball team nearly broke the record of 10 straight wins when they found themselves at 9-0 in the Prairie Division; before that, they had a couple of six-game winning streaks.
Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty toldThe Daily Herald’s Patricia Babcock McGraw: “It’s nice to think about how we’ve been putting those wins together. The kids have really enjoyed that. We talked as a team though about how they have a lot of other things they’d like to do, like win a conference championship and win a regional.”
McCarty cited great teamwork as one reason why — for only the second time since 2001 — Vernon Hills has won more than 20 games in a season. Guards Corey Levin and Bo Manso not only lead the team in assists but are also especially good at setting up their teammates, like the Cougars’ leading scorer, Robby Nardini.
Daily Herald writer Joe Aguilar quotes Vernon Hills coach Matt McCarty as saying: “To try to beat Lakes three times isn’t easy. They’re a formidable opponent. They have some seniors that we watched in football and basketball, and those kids just don’t go away. They give great effort.”
The Eagles he’s talking about include senior forward Ethan Sage, senior guard Jake Balliu and Dalton Solbrig. Lakes coach Chris Snyder told Aguilar: “It feels good, I’ll tell you that. Understatement. To (win) against a really good team on their home floor, it speaks volumes about these guys.”
Lake Forest High School
When the Scouts defeated Evanston, they became the first team in Lake Forest High School’s history to reach the Sectional Finals. Evan Boudreaux was invaluable to the team’s momentum, with 22 points and 22 rebounds. A couple of other players, Lorenzo Edwards and Noah Karras, also contributed significantly to the team’s postseason success.
It was Boudreaux and Edwards again who led the charge in the final against Stevenson at Waukegan, but ultimately Lake Forest lost by a score of 49-57. Even with that loss, the Scouts ended the season at 28-3 and as Sectional Finalists.
Stevenson High School
Congratulations to the Patriots, who defeated Normal 57-40 on March 21 to capture the Class 4A state title. The victory also puts preseason No. 1 Stevenson at the top of the Super 25 boys basketball rankings.
Stand-out player Jalen Brunson, who scored 30 points during the championship game (a new record-high for the Class 4A title game) told Sun-Times preps sports editor Michael O’Brien that he’s “wanted this so badly for so long.”
Brunson added: “It was a rough game. But I don’t care. We missed a lot of easy shots, so did they. It doesn’t matter to me at all. All that matters is we won. I don’t care at all how we won. We won.”
O’Brien seemed to have anticipated Brunson’s importance in the win. In his state finals preview, he wrote thatJalen Brunson had one more shot at glory with Stevenson. He pointed out that Brunson had already led Stevenson to major state victories over the past four years, although the team had fallen short of the Class 4A state championship.
At the time, here’s how Brunson put it: “That’s the goal. There is no question about it. That’s what all this has been for.”
Stevenson basketball coach Pat Ambrose seemed to take the pressure to win in stride, telling O’Brien: “It’s been a lot of fun, being in all the big games, taking on big teams with [Brunson] leading the charge. It’s been super fun, an amazing run. I think it’s the greatest thing in the world because I think high school basketball is awesome.”
Others were feeling the heat, though, like Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost. O’Brien tweeted a quote from Brost in the PJ Star: “(Stevenson) is going to be a challenge, but we put our uniforms on just like they do.”
In an op-ed piece by Joe Henricksen for High School Cube News, where he shared his past and present thoughts on the state finalists, he wrote of Stevenson:
“Is this one of the all-time great teams in state history? No. But it’s more than deserving and of the same state championship quality as some other past champions. Having been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 all season, the Patriots have lived up to the expectations. This team was built and ready to make a state
championship run and is two wins from doing it.”
He also gave13 reasons to be interested in state finals, including “terrific tandems” like Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw — “Future Division I players are all exceptional talents paired together for your enjoyment,” Henricksen writes.
He added this about Brunson: “Remember his record-breaking 56-point semifinal game a year ago? Don’t go in expecting a repeat of that memorable night, but he’s the best player in the state with an opportunity to play on the biggest stage and on the final night of the season.”