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The 2012 Class 4A and 3A state championship trophies both reside on Vincennes Avenue. The 4A trophy sits with a pile of others at Simeon, and the 3A four miles south at Morgan Park.
“It’s great that we have both state titles on Vincennes,” Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin said. “That’s unheard of really.’’
Basketball practice started around the state on Monday and, right on cue, so did the Simeon-Morgan Park rivalry, which was stoked by the outspoken Irvin.
The Public League has realigned its basketball conferences, shrinking the Red-South and allowing the teams to play each other twice in the regular season.
Irvin’s reaction to the change?
“I like that we get to beat Simeon twice this year,” Irvin said. “I will really enjoy that.
“Simeon has a good program just like we do. With our backgrounds we are always going to be contenders no matter who leaves. I’ve groomed a lot of young guys. My team knows what is at stake.”
Both schools have lost major star power from last season. There is no longer a household name on either squad, while Young has Jahlil Okafor and Paul White, and Curie has Cliff Alexander. All three are highly-regarded national stars.
“I know we have Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander in town, but [Morgan Park senior Josh Cunnigham] is going to player of the year,” Irvin said.
Irvin is also high on scorer Kain Harris and sophomore point guard Charlie Moore. He cites senior guard Torry Johnson as a stabilizing force.
A year ago, Simeon coach Robert Smith had Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn and openly talked about winning a national title. This year Smith has an extremely talented, but unproven group of players.
“Nothing has changed,” Smith said. “We think we are going to win the state championship every year. That’s our goal, to win city and state no matter what. The year we lost nine games, everyone counted us out and we came back to win state. It’s not the way we start it’s the way we finish.”
Illinois recruit D.J. Williams, sophomore Zack Norvell and big man Edward Morrow are expected to carry the load early for the Wolverines. Jaycee Hillsman and Loyola recruit Donte Ingram, both seniors, should be much improved.
“A lot of the seniors have taken on the leadership role,” Norvell said. “Being the point guard, I’m going to take on a lot of that, too. I need to run the team and make sure we get good shots every possession.”
Norvell, the star player on Simeon’s undefeated city champion sophomore team of last year, is a prime candidate to be one of the state’s breakout stars this season. He received an offer from Memphis on Monday, and Kansas, Michigan State, Illinois and a host of other schools are showing interest.
“Last year’s sophomore team was almost like a varsity team,” Smith said. “They competed against the varsity every day in practice. Talent-wise, I think we are there. I hope the winning rubbed off. Going through that trip Downstate hopefully kept them hungry.”
The IHSA is considering a proposal that would move successful teams in any sport into a higher class. So it’s possible that one day soon Simeon and Morgan Park will play for the same state title.
That could actually happen this year if the brass at Morgan Park wanted. Schools are allowed to move up a class. In the past St. Rita, a 3A school, has moved up to 4A in basketball.
“We are gonna stay where we are supposed to be,” Irvin said. “If [the IHSA chooses] to move us up than [we] just have to deal with it.
‘‘We play by the rules, we follow the rules. I’m not caught up in 3A state championship, 4A state championship, whatever. I just want to win. Last year we beat all the teams that were playing down at state.”