CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Even David and his sling faced shorter odds.
At least that's the popular opinion among basketball fans when discussing tonight's second Class 4A semifinal matchup. On one side stands Goliath, better known as top-ranked Simeon; on the other is Bloom Township, the undersized and under-appreciated David in this hoops dual.
Both teams needed to win five postseason contests to reach Peoria, but the Wolverines were pretty much penciled in as a downstate entry by forecasters before the season even began. As a two-time defending state champion, and with the nation's most-heralded prep player on its roster, Simeon understandably drew immediate raves.
"It's kind of hard to block it out," Bloom guard Donald Moore said of the attention the Wolverines get. "A lot of people follow them everywhere they go."
Some of the Blazing Trojans have taken their own peek at Simeon during the 2011-12 season. Senior guard Lejavius Johnson saw them twice in person and admitted that not too many teams can match up with the tandem of 6-foot-8 All-American Jabari Parker and 6-8, Marquette-bound Steve Parker.
That doesn't mean, however, that Bloom has any intention of playing scared at Carver Arena.
"We're going to focus on what got us here in the first place -- defense and sharing the ball," Johnson said. "We have to keep playing hard and keep confidence in ourselves."
That latter point is one with which many of the Wolverines' foes have struggled. Simeon's combination of size and quickness is tough to contend with, but the Wolverines' reputation may be just as big a factor in their favor.
"Most teams, when they play Simeon, they play scared," Blazing Trojans center Johnny Griffin said. "You can't do that against a good team like Simeon. They'll take advantage of it."
Bloom coach Jasper Williams acknowledged the need for his players to avoid getting caught up in any mind games prior to the actual game.
"Simeon started off the season as the No. 1 team in the country, but they put one pant leg on at a time, just like we do," he said. "These kids have pride, and I don't think we're going to be intimidated."
Helping to prepare the Blazing Trojans for this huge test were three contests versus Homewood-Flossmoor. Bloom won all three, the third of them being last Friday's Lockport Sectional final.
While the Vikings might not have been Simeon's equal in some ways, they did boast similar size.
"They got three kids as big as Jabari," Johnson said of H-F. "We've always been undersized all season, but athletic-wise, we have that on our side. Everyone on our team crashes the boards hard."
"We really picked up our defense (against the Vikings)," Moore said. "We were getting in the passing lanes and got some easy steals, and that got us going."
Williams said the Blazing Trojans will focus on trying to attack the Wolverines' guards and goading their big guys into committing fouls. He also hopes his players will be "mad" about being given virtually no chance of succeeding.
Johnson said Bloom's athletes are used to such treatment.
"It's been like that all season for us," he said with a chuckle. "No matter what tournament we were in, we weren't supposed to win. We've always been on the short end of the stick (in people's minds) -- everybody's probably got us going fourth place (downstate)."
"It makes you mad because nobody wants to pick you, but we're just going to use that as motivation," Moore said. "Simeon's got a lot of swagger, I guess you could say. That's real big for them, but we've just got to use our swagger for the game."
The key is not letting the Wolverines race out to a big first-half lead.
"The beginning of that game will be very important," Williams said. "When we get out to a lead or just play even with a team, we have a tendency to relax, and when we relax we play well."
"We've just to come with a good mindset and execute," Griffin said. "And we can win the game."