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TELANDER: Heart, spirit, pure joy all in one game

Chicago 03/12/13 Simeon's Kendrick Nunn shoots over New Trier defenders during their IHSA Class 4A super sectional Chicago State University

Chicago, 03/12/13 Simeon's Kendrick Nunn shoots over New Trier defenders during their IHSA Class 4A super sectional at Chicago State University March 12, 2013. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 14, 2013 6:42AM



Sometimes we forget about the sheer beauty of competition, how the game itself can strip away all the superficial differences between people and make for pure joy.

Tuesday at Chicago State, there was quite a display in the Simeon-New Trier 4A supersectional, the game that determined who goes Downstate for the round of four. Yes, Simeon pulled away from the Trevians at the end, winning 63-54.

But you had to know something like that was coming. Simeon is the sixth-ranked team in the country, according to the USA Today poll. And the Wolverines are the defending 4A champs, a crown they’ve won three years in a row. Win it again this year, and they tie with Peoria Manual for the only four-peat in Illinois high school history.

Oh, and did we mention a fellow named Jabari Parker? He’s simply the No. 1 senior player in the country, the humble jewel that the even more humble coach Mike Krzyzewski landed for his Duke team. Parker likely will be a pro before Coach K can polish the young man’s facets to a high gleam, but what a beauty Parker is already.

He finished with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds. He had one block that he sort of caught at shoulder height and slammed down to the floor. He is listed as guard/forward/center, and as his dad, former NBA player Sonny Parker, said before the game, ‘‘He really doesn’t have a position.’’

Now 28-3, Simeon looks like a semi-tractor roaring downhill, and the state title seems inevitable.

But having said all that, it might seem this game would be one of those hideous blowouts, a charade between two Illinois high schools with economic and population differences so great that they almost could be seen as different settlements on different planets.

Yet that is the beauty of sport at its purest. It equalizes, it forgets. All that matters is what you bring to the floor.

And when Simeon rushed out to a 9-0 lead, it seemed as if the clichés about white and black, basketball and leisure, hard scrabble and wealth, athleticism and passivity were all true, all playing out before us. But then New Trier started to light it up.

Point guard Reid Berman (10 points, 12 assists) broke down the fierce defense of Illinois-bound Simeon guard Kendrick Nunn and distributed the ball to three-point expert Aaron Rosen and Princeton-bound high flyer Steven Cook. Suddenly, the score was 21-21, and the furious high school competition was basketball at its best.

‘‘They came out shooting really well,’’ said Simeon senior guard Jaylon Tate (five points, eight assists), who, like Nunn, is going to Illinois. ‘‘They played with a lot of emotion. They have a good team.’’

And New Trier (28-6) is good. And unafraid and ambitious. For a good part of the game, Parker guarded slight 6-1 forward Stas Banas, and that’s just how the matchup went. And that just led to more hard, clean, fair play.

The refs were great, which is something you noticed only in that the action seldom stopped. Or when it did, it was for obvious reasons. The refs were just part of the backdrop, the splendor of the scene with teenagers from wildly different backgrounds going at each other.

New Trier is a north suburban school of over 4,000, with 92 percent of its students above the poverty line, and only 1 percent of its 15 percent minority students being black. Simeon has an enrollment of 1,600, 99 percent of its students are black and 92 percent come from low-income housing.

There’s more, of course. At New Trier, almost $21,000 is spent on every student; at Simeon, it’s just $13,600. ACT scores at Simeon are sadly low; at New Trier, they’re off the charts. Ninety-nine percent of New Trier’s students graduate, but only 61 percent of Simeon’s do.

I realized as I parked my car that I was close to the spot where high school student Tyrone Lawson II was shot and killed on Jan. 16 while Simeon played a game.

But all that can — and did — disappear in the joy of the game.

It was a beautiful contest, and the best team won. The world outside was irrelevant. It was just sweet.



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