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Jabari Parker of Simeon flies past Young's Jordan Smith. Patrick Gleason ~ For the Sun-Times
Simeon has Illinois high school basketball history in sight. The Wolverines have an excellent chance to equal Peoria Manual’s run of four consecutive state titles.
It isn’t just Jabari Parker. He wasn’t a major factor in the state championship his freshman year. That title was earned by Brandon Spearman and company. So why is it Simeon in this position, and not Farragut, Young or Morgan Park?
“The biggest thing was Derrick Rose,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “The kids knew who he was and saw how he played and for some reason they thought I was the reason that he played like that.
“Derrick and Tim [Flowers] were the reason that a lot of these kids came to this school, to keep up that legacy and help build on that. I think that was the biggest key to our success so far.”
Said Parker: “We’ve just been blessed with a lot of talent. I think it’s because of the discipline that comes out of this program. Coach Rob and his staff really emphasize working on certain things and perfecting them and not just coasting on the ability we have.”
Said Jaylon Tate: “It’s just the tradition that the coaches keep on. They’ve been sticking to the same thing since Bob Hambric and Ben Wilson were here. Good players are going to come here because they want to get better. They know where Coach Rob is going to lead them.”
Said Kendrick Nunn: “I think it’s because of the organization. Simeon has always been a top basketball school. When you say you play for Simeon, it matters. People automatically think that you’re somebody just because of that.”
Here’s the Sun-Times’ Super 25, led by the Wolverines:
1. Simeon: Smith admitted in the middle of last season that his squad was running on fumes. The extensive travel had taken a toll, and he was considering reducing the far-reaching schedule. That didn’t happen. The Wolverines are have games in six states.
“Last year we only played seven or eight guys,” Smith said. “These guys won’t be as worn down. We have 10-11 guys that can play. I think Jabari playing heavy minutes last year could have been why he got tired and got banged up.”
The depth has arrived from transfers and youngsters. Transfers Jaycee Hillsman (Champaign), Dante Ingram (Danville), Russell Woods (Leo) and Sean Moore (Leo) will be factors, as will sophomore DJ Williams and freshman Ben Coupet.
2. Young: If not for Parker, this would be the Jahlil Okafor era of Chicago high school basketball. The 6-10 junior might be the best big man in the country.
“It’s actually been kind of great with [Parker] getting all the attention,” Okafor said. “I always talk to Jabari about all the pressure that brings. He doesn’t really enjoy it.”
The Dolphins’ primary focus this season will be getting the ball to Okafor consistently, something they were unable to do last season.
Young has two key transfers: LJ Peak, a 6-5 wing who is considered one of the top 50 players in the national class of 2014, and point guard Ausar Madison from California. Juniors Miles Reynolds and Paul White are expected to take big steps forward.
3. Morgan Park: The Mustangs will go far on their backcourt of Billy Garrett Jr., Kyle Davis and Markee Williams. Those three alone should be good for 20 wins. Special things will happen if 6-6 Josh Cunningham, 6-8 Xzavier Taylor and 6-6 Lorenzo Chatman can play well consistently.
Unlike Simeon and Young, Morgan Park will play the majority of its schedule in-state.
“I like to be here,” Mustangs coach Nick Irvin said. “I don’t have to go everywhere. That’s like a circus. My kids travel enough during the summer.”
4. Proviso East: Simeon won the Class 4A title last season, but everyone who watched the championship game knows that Sterling Brown outplayed Jabari Parker. If Brown can keep playing at that level, there is no reason the Pirates can’t advance to Peoria again.
Senior guard Paris Lee, an Illinois State recruit, will run the show. Scorers Brandon Jenkins and Jevon Carter are poised for breakout years. The big issue will be size.
5. Hillcrest: No superstars here, just a group of hardworking, talented system players. Jovan Mooring and Kyle Oden return from a team that finished third in Class 3A last season. Coach Don Houston is raving about 6-7 sophomore Taylor Adway. “He’s going to be special,” Houston said.
6. St. Rita: Charles Matthews had a very impressive freshman season, and the best is still to come. He cemented himself as the state’s top sophomore over the summer, and he has plenty of talent around him, including his brother Dominique, a three-year starter. There is size, too, with skilled 6-7 Vic Law and 6-8 sophomore Myles Carter. Everyone just needs to stay healthy this season.
7. St. Joseph: This could be the most talented group in Westchester since Evan Turner and Demetri McCamey. Sophomore guards Jordan Ash and Glynn Watson will run the show. Junior Paul Turner, 6-6 junior Karriem Simmons and 6-8 senior AJ Patty return. Expect coach Gene Pingatore to have this young group firing on all cylinders by March.
8. Marist: Lexus Williams and LJ McIntosh flew under the radar last season until they spearheaded stunning playoff upsets of Curie and Bogan. They won’t sneak up on anyone this season. Size is a problem because Nic Weishar is expected to miss the season with a shoulder injury.
9. Curie: Cliff Alexander is strong, athletic and 6-8. Harnessing all of his focus and ability will be key for the Condors. Alexander was an afterthought too often last season, left to chase after the guards and clean up rebounds. De La Salle transfer Demarcus Richardson will bring some experience, and the Stamps brothers, sophomore Josh and junior Joseph, should emerge. Marcellis Davis will be key because the Condors will need a consistent scoring threat.
10. Bogan: Senior Juwan Henry, one of the city’s underrated guards, returns. Sophomore point guard Luwane Pipkins is a possible future star, and there is all kinds of size with 6-7 Juwan Savage, 6-6 Mysirell Green and 6-7 Dontrell Whitaker.
11. Seton: De La Salle transfer Alex Foster could be the missing piece. The 6-7 senior should fit nicely with senior guards Kamal Shasi and Mark Weems.
12. Bloom: Eleven players return from a team that finished fourth in Class 4A, led by Dejahown Freeman, Jataryan Dejareaux, Zerell Jackson and Nhyree Mitchell.
13. Orr: Tyquone Greer, Marlon Jones and Jamal McDowell return. Standout Marquise Pryor will miss at least half the season because of legal troubles. Watch sophomore Louis Adams, the son of coach Lou Adams.
14. Bolingbrook: This summer, the rest of the country realized how good 6-8 senior Ben Moore is. Sophomore Prentiss Nixon is a potential star, but the Raiders’ fortunes might rest on how well Kendall Guyton, Kenny Williams and CJ Redmond perform.
15. North Chicago: Talented juniors Javairius Amos-Mays and Kurt Hall return from last season and will be joined by Jayquan McCloud, who missed most of last season with an injury.
16. Marshall: There isn’t a star on this team, but there’s plenty of returning firepower with Cris Craig, Derrick Miles and Citron Miller. Big things are expected from freshman point guard Tyresse Willford.
17. Glenbrook North: A good big man goes a long way, and the Spartans have one in 6-8 Davidson recruit Andrew McAuliffe. Senior guard Kurt Karis and Jason Markus are very dependable.
18. Andrew: Valparaiso recruit Jubril Adekoya and guard Glorind Lisha are back. The Thunderbolts don’t have a lot of size, and they’ll need contributions from some younger players.
19. Notre Dame: The Dons are very experienced with Matt Mooney, Duante Stephens, Donte Stephenson and Justin Halloran.
20. West Aurora: Chandler Thomas, Spencer Thomas, Jayquan Lee, Josh McAuley and Jontrell Walker are back. Watch for sophomore Roland Griffin.
21. Homewood-Flossmoor: It’s a totally new cast for the Vikings, led by 6-5 senior Maurius Hill. There’s a lot of talent and size but not a lot of experience.
22. Waubonsie Valley: Jared Brownridge is one of the state’s premier scorers and a dark horse for Player of the Year. The Warriors have a lot of speed but very little size.
23. De La Salle: A lot of talent has transferred out, but senior guard Alvin Ellis remains. He still has some help with Marcus White, Justin Earls and some talented underclassmen.
24. Schaumburg: The Saxons are very experienced with three-year starters Kyle Bolger and Jimmy Lundquist. Junior Josh Parker and sophomore guard Brendan Parker are expected to contribute.
25. St. Charles East: Purdue recruit Kendall Stephens has decided to postpone his shoulder surgery until after the season. Point guard Dom Adduci is rock solid, Stephens can score and the Fighting Saints have enough size to do some damage.