By Michael Wojtychiw
Getting downstate in any year is a difficult task. But to do it six times in the past 11 state tournaments is a feat.
Mix in playing in your coach’s final season and everything that goes on around that and it would have been very easy for the Simeon basketball team to lose its focus along the way.
‘‘It’s always been about them,’’ Simeon coach Robert Smith said. ‘‘I told them from the very beginning this season is still about them. Let’s try to push everything to the side. I knew it would be hard to do but the goal is to win the city and state championship for them.
‘‘I’ve already accomplished those goals. I wanted them to have that feeling.’’
The Wolverines were yet again able to stave off any distractions when they faced off with Hillcrest in the Class 3A Supewrsectional hosted by UIC. Simeon led for all of 17 seconds of the game en route to a 67-46 win over the Hawks, propelling it to its second consecutive trip downstate to play in the Class 3A Final Four.
The Wolverines were hitting on all cylinders and early. When Sam Lewis hit two free throws off of an offensive rebound of his pwn miss with 5:31 left in the opening quarter to give his team a 6-5 lead, that was all it needed as it never gave up the lead after that, as they’d score 12 consecutive points to go up 21-7 and would open the third quarter on an 18-3 run.
Simeon doesn’t play a large rotation, in factall five starters played at least 28 minutes and four – Wes and Miles Rubin, Sam Lewis and Jalen Griffith – all hitting for at least 13 points. The fifth starter, Kaiden Space, finished with nine.
A key part in the Wolverines’ success was the fact they were able to shut down any real Hillcrest offensive weapons other than Bryce Tillery. Tillery would score 18 points on 8-of-20 shooting but the other four starters shot a combined 6-of-30, with two separate players each shooting 1-of-10.
‘‘It just comes natural,’’ Miles Rubin said of neutralizing Hillcrest’s offensive game. ‘‘We all have height, so we’re just used to it playing at all levels.’’
The Wolverines face St. Ignatius in the semifinals at 10 a.m. Friday in a rematch of last season’s third-place game. The Wolfpack took down the Wolverines 61-59, sending Simeon home with a fourth-place trophy.
“It’s what we’ve been working for all season, since October, to get back downstate,” Smith said.
“But like I told the guys, we’re not done yet. They know what the goal is.’’