Robert Smith took over the Simeon program in 2005. Since then, the Wolverines have finished the season in the state championship game seven times. Simeon won six of those games.
There were no state title games in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID. So Smith’s teams have played for the state title seven out of a possible 16 times. That’s an astonishing rate of success.
But the Wolverines fell short last season, collapsing in the final five minutes of the Class 3A semifinals against Metamora.
“That whole weekend was terrible for the team,” Smith said. “We went down there to win the whole thing and we didn’t accomplish that.”
Class 3A is loaded with strong teams, most of the starters from last season’s Final Four teams are back, including all five starters from the defending champs, Sacred Heart-Griffin. But top-ranked Simeon is primed to make a return trip to Champaign.
1. Simeon: Three college-bound senior guards, Jalen Griffith, Kaiden Space and Sam Lewis, spearhead an attack highlighted by the multi-talented 6-9 Rubin twins, Wes and Miles. The experienced Wolverines have a chip on their shoulder after last season’s upset loss in the state semifinals.
“Personally, I feel like the effort of the team just cleared out,” Wes Rubin said. “It’s been in my head as a revenge thing. We are locked in and we won’t let that happen again.”
2. St. Rita: The top three juniors in the state are now all on the same team. The Mustangs have Illinois recruit Morez Johnson, James Brown and Lemont transfer Nojus Indrusaitis, who will add some serious scoring power. Highly-regarded sophomore Melvin Bell is out with an injury until the second half of the season but junior James Worthington-White, who played as a freshman at Zion-Benton, has transferred from Indiana and experienced senior Nashawn Holmes has arrived from Homewood-Flossmoor.
3. Kenwood: Coach Mike Irvin probably has the most future college players in the state. There’s a lot of youth and some transfers to work in, but senior guard Darrin “Dai Dai” Ames, one of the area’s most dependable and dynamic players, will provide a solid foundation.
4. Joliet West: Michigan State recruit Jeremy Fears Jr. is back. His brother, sophomore Jeremiah Fears Jr., has grown to 6-1 and is expected to prove he’s one of the elite players in the country this season. Matthew Moore, a 6-9 senior, has transferred in from Hillcrest and will need to provide the Tigers a finisher under the basket.
5. Young: Do not overlook the Dolphins. The senior trio of Princeton recruit Dalen Davis, Citadel recruit Marcus Pigram and athletic wing Daniel Johnson are as experienced as any group in the state. Intriguing sophomore Antonio Munoz should open some eyes this season.
6. Curie: There isn’t a superstar on the squad, but everyone returns for coach Mike Oliver. Junior guard Carlos Harris could take things to another level this season. Jeremy Harrington is one of the area’s most productive players.
7. Rolling Meadows: Minnesota recruit Cameron Christie is one of the state’s top scorers and he’s surrounded by experience and size. This should be one of the best teams in school history.
8. Brother Rice: All the key players are back but there’s a new coach as veteran Conte Stamas steps in for Bobby Frasor. Ahmad Henderson, Khalil Ross and Nick Niego lead the way.
9. Mount Carmel: This is the season the Caravan has been building towards. Denver recruit DeAndre Craig is a load and the Ciaravino brothers, Angelo and Anthony, gained valuable experience last year. H-F transfer Tre Marks, a 6-6 junior, is a big addition.
10. St. Ignatius: Richard Barron returns and 6-8 Jackson Kotecki is much improved. Kendall Gill’s son, sophomore Phoenix Gill, should emerge as a standout.
11. Bolingbrook: This group is well-suited to Rob Brost’s fast and furious style. Mekhi Cooper can fly and score. Donaven Younger, Keon Alexander and transfer Aries Hull provide nice mobile size.
12. Glenbrook North: Senior Ryan Cohen is one of the area’s top scorers and the junior class is very strong, led by dynamic point guard Josh Fridman and 6-7 Pat Schaller.
13. Bloom: The Blazing Trojans lack star power, but are deep and intriguing with breakout candidate Jordan Brown, 6-7 Michael Garner and 6-6 senior Jayden Watson, a transfer from Brother Rice.
14. Oswego East: Versatile 6-5 senior Mekhi Lowery leads the way and 6-6 Ryan Johnson is back. Two transfer guards, Bryce Shoto from Plainfield Central and Jehvion Starwood from Yorkville Christian, will be major factors.
15. Benet: The trio of Brady Kunka, Niko Abusara and Brayden Fagbemi will anchor a strong group for coach Gene Heidkamp. Abusara, a 6-4 senior, emerged last season and Fagbemi, who played sparingly last season, was a breakout player this summer.
16. Hillcrest: The Hawks were hit hard by transfers but plenty of talent remains. Akron recruit Darrion Baker, a 6-8 senior, returns with 6-3 Quentin Heady and point guard Bryce Tillery.
17. Marian Catholic: The ceiling is high for the Spartans. Cal-Poly recruit Quentin Jones is an athletic, blossoming 6-4 wing that headlines a veteran group. Dependable senior point guard Tre Davis returns and 6-7 junior James Bullock flashed impressive potential last season.
18. West Aurora: The Blackhawks are back. Junior Josh Pickett and sophomore Terrence Smith are emerging stars and the additions of junior Jordan Brooks and CJ Savage should set coach Brian Johnson up for a nice two-year run.
19. New Trier: Cornell recruit Jake Fiegen is one of the area’s top shooters and 6-9 Tyler Van Gorp has taken a major step forward since last season. Sophomore Colby Smith, junior Logan Feller and senior Evan Kanellos will take on major roles.
20. Evanston: Prince Adams, a 6-7 senior, returns to anchor the post. The Wildkits were bolstered by Stevenson transfer Josh Thomas, a 6-5 senior with proven scoring ability and St. Viator transfer Hunter Duncan, a solid point guard.
21. Lyons: Niklas Polonowski exploded onto the scene this summer and the 6-6 Penn recruit has a solid group around him including seniors Jackson Niego and Graham Smith and 6-5 Brady Chambers.
22. Lake Forest: Clemson recruit Asa Thomas is one of the state’s top players and is joined in the backcourt by dependable 6-3 senior Anthony Mordini.
23. Romeoville: Guards Meyoh Swansey and Troy Cicero Jr. opened eyes over the offseason and should give the Spartans an edge in most games. Size could be an issue but Joliet West transfer Aaron Brown will add some muscle in the post.
24. Hyde Park: New coach Jerrel Oliver has a dependable foundation with senior guards Cam Williford and Da’marion Morris. Homewood-Flossmoor transfer Jurrell Baldwin, a 6-6 junior, should make an impact on both ends of the floor.
25. Perspectives-Leadership: Promoted to the Red-South/Central and ready to make a splash. Junior guard Tim Handy returns and is joined by a slew of prominent transfers including Jakeem Cole (Leo), Jarrod Gee Jr. (Rich), Gianni and Kamarion Cobb (Bloom) and 6-6 Kenric Mosby (Simeon).