Six years ago, the O'Fallon Panthers knocked off (Lincolnshire) Stevenson in the Class AA state basketball semifinals to earn a shot at Chicago Simeon.
In the final high school game of his star-studded career, future NBA star Derrick Rose put on a show with eight assists in a 77-54 state title game victory over the Panthers. Six years later, the Edwardsville Tigers are facing a similar path.
The Tigers (30-2) take on Stevenson (28-4) in the Class 4A semifinals at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Peoria's Carver Arena. On the rock-star side of the bracket, nationally ranked Simeon (28-3) and 6-foot-8 Duke recruit Jabari Parker takes on Chicago heavyweight (Maywood) Proviso East (29-3) in the first semifinal.
Simeon, which has at least three or four Division I recruits and probably more, knocked off Proviso East 50-48 last season to win its third straight state title and has its sights set on a fourth.
That would tie the record of four straight Class AA titles set by Peoria Manual from 1994-97. No matter which team they face, the Edwardsville-Stevenson winner has a chance to shock the Illinois basketball world.
"It would be quite a mountain for anyone to climb," Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said. "We'd love to give it a shot."
So would the Edwardsville Tigers.
"These guys have paid the price to be successful," said Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo, whose teams are 605-234 in 30 years of coaching, including 524-183 at Edwardsville. "You can pay the price to be successful and get beat, that's part of sports. But it's good to see the guys are happy and have been rewarded for working hard."
Waldo never slows down and he and his staff have spent nearly every waking moment either practicing, scouting or going over video in an effort to find two more victories.
"One of the best things about getting older is you don't worry about proving yourself any more," said Waldo, who began his coaching career at Marquette in 1983 and since 1988 has been patrolling the sidelines at Edwardsville. "You just try to do a good job. In that regard I maybe enjoy it a little more because I don't worry about proving whether I'm any good or not, I just enjoy doing it."
Simeon also has a pair of Illinois recruits in seniors Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate. The Chicago Tribune has followed Simeon on a daily basis the entire season.
"It is definitely cool, but we know that we can hang with these nationally ranked teams," Edwardsville senior Tre' Harris said of the hoopla surrounding the state finals. "We've seen them play and we see their weaknesses and their strengths."
Before they get to any nationally ranked teams, the Tigers have to deal with a loaded Stevenson squad led by talented 6-foot, 2-inch sophomore guard Jalen Brunson (21.8 points per game, 59 3-pointers) and sophomore forward Connor Cashaw (16.2 points and 7 rebounds per game).
Stevenson has an 18-game winning streak while Edwardsville has won 13 straight. Edwardsville's only two losses came to fellow state-ranked Southwestern Conference rival Belleville East and Illinois recruit Malcolm Hill.
Stevenson has a chance to gain some revenge against the Southwestern Conference.
"We like those St. Louis teams," joked Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose. "(O'Fallon) cracked us on the boards, we couldn't box them out. Edwardsville is just solid, three kids that can play inside and outside and do a lot of different things. They run some really nice stuff."
Stevenson gives Edwardsville its third straight prolific point-guard challenge in the postseason. Rock Island and (Chicago Heights) Marian Catholic each had star guards that were held in check by the Tigers and Brunson --one of the top sophomores in the Midwest --is capable of making things happen.
Brunson's father is former Temple University standout Rick Brunson, who played nine years in the NBA. Rick Brunson is an assistant coach with the Carolina Bobcats.
Illinois, DePaul and Virginia are among the early suitors in the Jalen Brunson recruiting race.
Ambrose said what sets Brunson apart are his "poise, headiness, his maturity is well above and beyond a sophomore. He knows when to pass, when to shoot and who to give it to."
Stevenson's other threats are Andrew Stempel (11.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 55 3-pointers) and Matthew Morrisey (8 ppg).
"They actually play four guys that can make threes and that's always hard to play against," Waldo said. "They've got two good penetrators too, so they'll be a hard team to defend."