(As Editor/Publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report, a high school basketball publication for nearly two decades and a recruiting service, I have awarded a Player of the Year in Illinois for the past 22 years. The following is the 23rd recipient of the award.)
Although it was a gradual climb for Talen Horton-Tucker as a prospect, a player who was out of the spotlight for the majority of his career, the Simeon star closed things out with a bang as a senior.
While the season ended with a thud, with top-ranked Simeon losing to Young in the Class 4A super-sectional, there were some big-time, big-stage performances throughout the year that helped Horton-Tucker build his résumé and capture the 2017-2018 City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year award .
THT put up 26 points on the national stage in the HoopHall Classic against powerful Montverde and the nation’s No. 1 ranked player, Duke-bound R.J. Barrett, in a 62-60 loss.
In the championship game of the prestigious Pontiac Holiday Tournament, Horton-Tucker scored 25 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and added four assists in a dominating win and performance against Curie. He was MVP at Pontiac.
Then he put on a show in the city championship win over Orr in February, scoring 23 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking five shots, including a signature moment when he drilled three straight three-pointers in the second half.
With his ability to dribble, pass and shoot, there wasn’t a more versatile player in the state. He put up offensive numbers not normally seen at Simeon. And he climbed the national rankings –– Finally! –– where he’s now a consensus top 50 prospect in the country.
Horton-Tucker talks his season, including the crushing super-sectional loss to Young, his development as a player, what it means to play at Simeon and what he’s looking for in the future at Iowa State and beyond.
In THT’s words …
➙ It’s still hard. We should have been downstate my senior year. You win some, you lose some. You just have to have a short-term memory. You try to make sure you don’t have to feel that way again and move on to the next game.
➙ Yes, [the season] feels incomplete. Of course it feels incomplete. I wanted to win a state championship. That’s really the only thing I haven’t accomplished as a high school basketball player. That’s what you play for at Simeon. Just missing that state championship is what makes it feel incomplete.
➙ Three years ago I was short, not as fast, not as athletic. I always thought I had the ability, and I was always able to think the game of basketball and play with a high I.Q. But my body wasn’t allowing me to do things my mind was telling me to do.
➙ Everyone being ranked in front of me definitely fueled me. Being an underdog fueled me. With me coming into the year and not being ranked in the top 100 made me feel like I needed to show I was that player. I wanted to show that I was one of the best players in the country. Now it shows that all the hard work paid off. I worked on my game so much. I put in the time, worked on my craft as a basketball player and as a student. And seeing and realizing all the hard work paid off is very rewarding.
➙ Playing at Simeon, putting that Simeon uniform on, means you’re playing at a place with a great tradition and history. It’s about representing the people that played before you, the people that achieved greatness before you and the ones that are playing with you. To be able to put yourself in the same category with those people is great, especially being a young guy.
➙ A big part of becoming the player I can be will be about maturing, dealing with different people and being in control of my life. I’m ready to get started right now. Going in with these guys — the two guys from Illinois, Zion [Griffin] and George [Conditt], and Tyrese [Haliburton] from Wisconsin — just has me really excited about college, about what is happening at Iowa State. It’s something completely new, not being in high school anymore and having more freedom that comes with going away to college. It all has me pretty excited. Also, it’s taking the next step in preparing and trying to reach my goal of the NBA. That’s my ultimate goal.
➙ Going to college is going to be great for me as my mom is a teacher and has always taught me education is first and having the opportunity to go to school for free is very important.
Past City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year winners
2018: Talen Horton-Tucker, Simeon
2017: Mark Smith, Edwardsville
2016: Charlie Moore, Morgan Park
2015: Jalen Brunson, Stevenson
2014: Jahlil Okafor, Young
2013: Jahlil Okafor, Young
2012: Jabari Parker, Simeon
2011: Wayne Blackshear, Morgan Park
2010: Jereme Richmond, Waukegan
2009: Drew Crawford, Naperville Central
2008: Kevin Dillard, Homewood-Flossmoor
2007: Derrick Rose, Simeon
2006: Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North
2005: Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North
2004: Shaun Livingston, Peoria Central
2003: Shannon Brown, Proviso East
2002: Dee Brown, Proviso East
2001: Pierre Pierce, Westmont
2000: Dwyane Wade, Richards
1999: Leon Smith, King
1998: Quentin Richardson, Young
1997: Brian Wardle, Hinsdale Central
1996: Ronnie Fields, Farragut