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The Morgan Park boys basketball team is the SouthtownStar's preseason No. 1 team. Pictured from left are coach Nick Irvin Josh Cunningham, Lamont Walker, Charlie Moore, Billy Garrett and Torry Johnson. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Simeon and Young are the toast of the city. They have the national superstar players; they have the lofty national rankings. They hang out with the mayor.
Meanwhile, Morgan Park practiced Wednesday in an auxiliary gym with no heat. There is no national ranking. There was no invitation to the Chicago Elite Classic.
Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin is usually the first guy to speak up when his team is being slighted. So far this preseason, he’s exuding a quiet confidence. We haven’t seen that before.
He knows he has something Simeon and Young don’t. He has Kyle Davis, Billy Garrett Jr. and Markee Williams, the state’s best backcourt. Simeon has the two Illinois recruits, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate. But Williams adds another dimension to the Mustangs’ attack.
“I’m tired of looking at the paper and seeing no one can beat Simeon,” Irvin said. “Freshman year, Billy and Markee beat them. We have had success. We can do it again.”
Simeon brought in players from around the state this offseason. Young brought in a player from California and one from North Carolina. It’s an endless arms race in the upper echelon of the Public League. Reload or die. Irvin kept it local. Davis has transferred in from Hyde Park, Williams from Crane.
Davis has all the fun qualities of a city basketball superstar: the swagger, the attitude, the too-flashy yet absolutely filthy moves to the basket. His legs are covered in tattoos. There is a Bulls logo and a White Sox logo on his right calf. Luckily, he never added Hyde Park. Perhaps he knew he was destined to leave.
While Garrett is the elder statesman of the team, expect Davis to provide the spark.
“That spotlight Simeon has, it doesn’t mean nothing to us,” Davis said.
Williams spent his first two seasons at Morgan Park and transferred to Crane last season, where he sat out after being ruled ineligible. Plenty of observers won’t understand why he’s being included in the same conversation with Garrett, Davis, Nunn and Tate. He doesn’t have the pedigree, doesn’t have the Division I scholarship.
It’s simple. Williams is a winner, a tough, capable player Morgan Park clearly missed last season. He proved that as a freshman, when he single-handedly propelled the Mustangs to a victory at Young in the Public League playoffs. They went on to win the city title.
Garrett has watched Simeon grab the spotlight since then, watched his good friend Jabari Parker become the focus of the national and local media.
“Oh, we hear everything about Simeon,” Garrett said. “We try not to get into all that. We know what it takes to beat Simeon, and we are ready to do it again. This is our last go-round. We don’t want to have any regrets.”
Junior forward Josh Cunningham is expected to take a large step forward this season. The 6-6 wing has had some huge games in his career but has lacked consistency. The same can be said for 6-8 center Xzavier Taylor.
Expect big contributions from two freshmen, 6-6 Alonzo Chatman and point guard Charlie Moore.
Morgan Park will have one shot at Simeon in the regular season. It’s a home game, but Irvin expects to move it to a larger venue.
The Mustangs aren’t a well-oiled machine yet. A lot of things are going to have to go well, a lot of players are going to have to fully reach their potential for Morgan Park to climb the mountain of Simeon, but Wolverines coach Robert Smith is aware of the potential problem that lurks four miles down Vincennes.
“I don’t know what everyone else thinks about Morgan Park, but I think they have a really good shot at us, at Young, at being No. 1,” Smith said. “They could win the city and the state.”