Evanston witnessed greatness — up close and personal — Monday night at Beardsley Gymnasium.
And if, like Wildkit girls head basketball coach Brittanny Johnson, you believe that seeing greatness can lead you along that same path at some point, then the 62-45 loss to defending Class 3A state champion Chicago Simeon was worth it.
DePaul University recruit Aneesah Morrow’s stat line included 31 points, 19 rebounds and 2 blocked shots for the Wolverines, and the 6-foot-2 senior standout made plays every time there was even a hint of an upset bid by the host team.
The game marked the season debut for Simeon with the late start to the Chicago Public Schools season, while Evanston fell to 7-2 on the year.
“I picked Aneesah to win Ms. Basketball LAST year, and she’s definitely the best player in the state this year,” said Johnson. “She’s been dominating since I first saw her playing with the varsity girls at Morgan Park when she was 7 or 8 years old.
“With her speed, athleticism and power, we knew it would be a tall order for us. She’s such a difficult matchup. Simeon is a really good team and I felt their intensity level was different even in warmups. It was important for our girls to see that for themselves. It’s important for them, especially the young players, to see the top talent in the state with their own eyes.
“My old high school coach always said if you want to be the best, you have to play the best. I’d love to play Simeon again. If we could play the top 20 teams in the state, that would be great, especially this year, because the wins and losses really don’t matter (with no sectional tournament seeds at stake) now. It’s actually kinda cool not to focus on the wins and losses. Our only goal is to improve, and this game can be an important step for us if we utilize it the right way.”
The winners turned the ball over a staggering 31 times, but ETHS couldn’t capitalize. Simeon hammered the Wildkits with a 52-34 rebounding advantage and the Kits only shot 28 percent (19-of-67) from the field, continuing their difficulties executing in the halfcourt offensively this year.
Rashele Olantunbosun was the only Evanston player in double figures with 13 points, and Lola Lesmond added 9. But the pair only shot a combined 10-of-37 from the field, and Lesmond was held scoreless until the final minute of the third quarter.
By that time, Simeon led 45-32. The Wildkits fought back to within 50-40 on Olantunbosun’s 3-point bucket and a free throw by Amarii Mays, but only tallied 5 points in the last 5 minutes as the Wolverines pulled away again.
6-1 junior Nakia Bartney, one of three returning starters for last year’s champs, notched 16 points and 13 rebounds backing up Morrow.
Johnson cringed at her squad’s final offensive stats, but knows that the chemistry is still a work in progress on that side of the court.
“We’ll be at our best when Lola and Z (Olantunbosun) get time to work together and learn how to utilize each other,” the coach explained. “Right now our halfcourt offense is 1-on-1 basketball, and we don’t want to play that way. We want to move the ball and share the ball.
“It felt like a lot of our shots were rushed tonight. Simeon’s length and athleticism really bothered us. We got some good shots, we just couldn’t put them in.”
The Wildkit girls are back in action Tuesday at Niles North for a Central Suburban League crossover game.