It’s not that Mike Waldo isn’t impressed by senior guard Mark Smith’s 76 points in two sectional tournament games.
Edwardsville High School’s 28th-year boys basketball coach just understands there’s been more to the Tigers’ run at their first state championship than Smith, even if he has emerged as one of the hottest college prospects in the nation.
There’s also A.J. Epenesa’s 13.3 rebounds per game, Oliver Stephen’s 61.5 percent shooting from 3-point range, and a capable defense led by Caleb Strohmeier and Jack Marinko that has allowed just 50 points per game against a strong Southwestern Conference schedule.
“Defensively, we do a lot of good things,” said Waldo, whose 30-1 Tigers will play in the Class 4A Normal Super-Sectional against Chicago Simeon on Tuesday. “Jack and Strohmeier really have done a good job on defense and Oliver is always good off the ball. We do a good job of getting Mark the ball in good spots where he could do things.”
Smith, a candidate for Illinois Mr. Basketball, led Edwardsville to an 81-59 sectional championship victory over Danville by scoring 45 points with Ohio State Buckeyes coach Thad Matta in the crowd at Ottawa High School on Friday.
But there’s even more to Smith than his 22.2 points per game. He’s also averaging 8.3 rebounds and leads the metro-east leader in assists.
“Mark does good things on defense, too,” Waldo said. “He’s a real complete basketball player.”
It’s going to take the full compliment of Edwardsville’s lineup to top Simeon at Redbird Arena on Tuesday and advance to the Class 4A State Tournament this weekend.
Simeon has won seven state titles, including six between 2006 and 2013. The Wolverines, Chicago Public League champions, finished in third place in 4A last season.
They enter Tuesday’s super-sectional at 28-3 and ranked No. 3 in the Illinois Associated Press high school basketball poll.
“You’re always going to see a good team at this point in the season,” Waldo said. “You’re excited about anything you get to do this time of year because it means you’re still playing.”
Four of Simeon’s five likely starters have been extended scholarship offers from NCAA Division-I programs, including senior Evan Gilyard, a three-star recruit who is committed to the University of Texas-El Paso. He brings 16 points, four rebounds and four assists per game into the Tueday’s game.
Junior forward Talen Horton-Tucker, a 6-foot-5 205-pound junior, is a four-star recruit and has fielded offers from DePaul, Missouri, Iowa State and others.
Junior forward Messiah Jones (6-5, 190) and guard Kezo Brown (6-0, 190), a junior Kansas recruit, also are likely starters for Simeon. Sophomore guard KeJuan Clements (6-2, 170) is the other.
State-wide high school sports writers got it right on their final Associated Press basketball poll. The top 5 on the Class 4A rankings all advanced to the Elite Eight, including the No. 1 Tigers and third-ranked Wolverines.
No. 2 Bolingbrook faces the only non-ranked team in the tournament, Naperville North, at the DeKalb Super-Sectional. No. 4 Evanston and No. 8 Whitney Young face off at Chicago State and No. 5 Palatine Fremd will meet Algonquin Jacobs at Hoffman Estates.