Simeon and Morgan Park both started the season ranked in the top five. The traditional powers had massive expectations for the season.
And then things pretty much went wrong. The Red-South/Central rivals have lost a combined 16 games this season. Neither won the conference or a holiday tournament.
But things have started to fall into place for both teams lately and Friday at Jones Armory, in a flashy shoe-company extravaganza, both teams pulled off upsets in the Public League semifinals.
“Through the losses I just stayed with it and told the team to stay with it,” Wolverines sophomore Jaylen Drane said. “ I knew in the end we’d be in these type of moments. We have to know how to not fold.”
Drane scored 20 points in No. 9 Simeon’s 79-69 win against No. 1 Curie in the first semifinal. He’s a blur in the open court and the Condors’ attempts at a full-court press defense gave him plenty of room to get out and run.
“We’ve seen it before,” Simeon senior Jeremiah Williams said. “It’s just hard to press us. There are just too many weapons.”
Williams, one of the state’s best unsigned seniors, is clearly much more comfortable with his teammates than he was when Curie knocked off Simeon in December. Williams transferred from St. Laurence over the summer. He scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“We just made some plays this time that we didn’t last time,” Wolverines coach Robert Smith said. “And that was a long time ago. We are a much better team now.”
Simeon (21-8) led 42-29 at halftime and never allowed Curie (24-2) to get back into the game. DePaul recruit Ahamad Bynum led the way with 25 points.
It’s the first loss to a local team all season for the Condors, who were playing their seventh game without head coach Mike Oliver. He’s currently suspended while CPS investigates an allegation of a physical altercation with a student in his role as a security official.
“We are already dealing with a lot of distractions with Mike being out and then you add this circus along with it,” Oliver said. “It’s just hard to keep asking the kids to be ready and deal with all these distractions. Simeon was the better team today.”
The mood lighting and custom court made the event feel like a living, breathing shoe advertisement. And coincidentally or not, both teams that are sponsored by a rival shoe company did not fare well.
“It doesn’t matter what the atmosphere is like,” Drane said. “I’m going to get used to it quickly and play hard.”
Senior Nick Owens led Curie with 18 points and Saiveon Williams added 17 points and five rebounds. Condors star Ramean Hinton was limited to nine points and 12 rebounds.
“That was the key, keeping Ramean in check,” Jeremiah Williams said. “He’s usually the boatload of their offense.”
No. 15 Morgan Park dominated No. 6 Bogan 74-60 in the second semifinal. The Mustangs (19-8) jumped out to a 21-6 lead and the Bengals (23-3) were never able to mount a threat.
Illinois recruit Adam Miller scored 14 in the first quarter and finished with 25. Brandon Weston had 16 points and 15 rebounds.
The Mustangs have shot poorly from three-point range in some of their losses this season. That wasn’t a factor against Bogan, with Miller and Wake Forest recruit Marcus Watson (16 points) attacking the basket relentlessly.
Senior Antione Bloxton led the Bengals with 16 points and Darrion Jones and Kyndall Davis each added 14.
Simeon and Morgan Park will face off on Sunday at 2 pm in the championship game at Jones Armory.
The Wolverines have won nine city titles, the last was in 2018. Morgan Park has four titles, the last was in 2010.