Simeon wins 4A state championship

PEORIA, Ill. -- Simeon coach Robert Smith set out on a mission three years ago following his second state championship.

"The biggest thing for me is I want to be the all-time winningest coach and win the most state championships," said Smith back in 2006. "Before I stop -- I don't want to do this forever -- I want to be the person who has won the most state championships in the state of Illinois. That's what my goal is. Hopefully, it doesn't take me 15, 20 years to get it done. But that's what my goal is. Once I accomplish that goal, I think I'll stop coaching high school basketball."

Smith took a step closer toward retirement on Saturday. He became only the third coach in state history to win three titles. Bennie Lewis owns the record with four state championships, and Wayne McClain won three titles.

The Wolverines easily defeated Whitney Young 51-36 Saturday in the Class 4A state championship game at Carver Arena in Peoria and gave Smith with his third title in six years at Simeon.

This title was different for Smith. Unlike his first two, this one was without Derrick Rose running his show.

"It's a great accomplishment because everybody said that you had Derrick Rose, so you're supposed to win," said Smith, who has made five state tournament appearances and has a record of 167-34 in six seasons. "I tell people some other people had Kevin Garnett, Thornton had great teams, other people had great teams and didn't win. We put together a team we thought was good enough to win it."

Aside from Dayton recruit Brandon Spearman, the Wolverines (24-9) may not have been a team of the biggest marquee names in the state, but it made little difference on Saturday. Simeon's Darien Walker and Rashawn McElrath have never received the publicity of Whitney Young's Ahmad Starks, Anthony Johnson and Sam Thompson, but it was the no-names that shined when it mattered most.

From the opening tip, Walker and McElrath were dominant against their Public League counterparts. The two combined for 15 points, six rebounds and two steals in the opening eight minutes and put Simeon ahead 21-5 after one quarter.

"I haven't been having a great season," said Walker, who finished with nine points, five rebounds and a steal. "I've been too laid back. I just came out aggressive and put up buckets so we could win this game. We came out on them from the start."

Whitney Young (23-6), the defending 4A champs, could never find its groove. The Dolphins didn't score their first basket until 2:12 of the opening quarter and trailed 30-13 at halftime.

Simeon never led by less than double digits after the first few minutes.

"They forced us to play their style of play," said Whitney Young's Ahmad Starks, who shot 4 for 9 and scored 10 points. "They did a great job. They were really well coached. The guys believed in their system and executed."

Simeon wasn't a team that looked like state championship material late in the season. The Wolverines dropped five of their last eight games before the playoffs.

Once the playoffs arrived, though, that changed. Spearman took ownership of the Wolverines, and they began rolling. On Saturday, Spearman did his part again and led Simeon with a team-high 13 points and four assists.

"We had to get ourselves together for the state run, and that's what we did," Spearman said.

Smith said, "Everybody wrote us off early in the year. We weren't a team anybody thought would come down here and win it."

Anthony Johnson led the Dolphins with 13 points.

-- Waukegan (27-5) topped O'Fallon 85-78 in the third-place game. Jereme Richmond, the ESPNChicago.com Player of the year, led the Bulldogs with 36 points, 16 rebounds, two assists and three steals.

"I think we would have been embarrassed if we came out here and didn't play our hardest because we didn't accomplish our main goal," Richmond said. "The biggest thing coach emphasized was how would we bounce back after not accomplishing our main goal. I think our guys did a good job of that tonight."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at preps@espnchicago.com.