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Morgan Park's Billy Garrett Jr. moves the ball with precision against Proviso East during the Proviso West Holiday Tournament Championship. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media
Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin doesn’t just want his Mustangs to beat Simeon on Wednesday at Chicago State, he wants them to do it with Mayor Rahm Emanuel watching.
Irvin and Emanuel discussed the game last month.
“Everyone knows he’s with Simeon,” Irvin said. “I just told him to be at the game and watch.”
Does Irvin think Emanuel is actually going to show up at 7 p.m.?
“He better be there,” Irvin said. “We are saving him a seat. I need to take a picture with him.”
Whether or not Emanuel shows up won’t matter much to the thousands of fans that are expected to watch two of the state’s top programs play the Battle of Vincennes.
“The game has been moved, so we aren’t playing on Vincennes,” Irvin said. “But the magnitude is still there. It’s a rivalry game and we are going to come in and do our part. My team is ready to lay it all out there.”
Simeon coach Robert Smith acknowledges that his team will be excited to be playing a big game back home in Chicago, but thinks Morgan Park is just another team excited to have a shot to beat his dominant program.
“Everybody gets up to play us,” Smith said. “It’s not a big game for us, it’s a regular conference game. We just have to maintain what we’re doing.”
Smith was on hand to watch Morgan Park’s destruction of Proviso East in the Proviso West Holiday Tournament title game.
“I don’t really know how good Proviso East is this year without Keith Carter,” Smith said. “I think he was the key. I think the same thing about us maybe, how good are we without Jelani Neely He was just so steady for us.”
Smith doesn’t think this year’s Morgan Park squad is better than the recent Wayne Blackshear-led teams.
“They don’t have a Wayne Blackshear,” Smith said. “They have some great players and defensively they are better, but when you have a McDonald’s All-American that is tough to deal with.”
“This is the all-around best team I’ve had because we aren’t relying on one player,” Irvin said. “We can beat you in a lot of ways. I think this team can be very special and possibly go undefeated in the state.”
Here’s a breakdown of the season’s most highly-anticipated game to date:
No. 2 Simeon (12-2) vs. No. 3 Morgan Park (16-1)
THE GUARDS: Simeon’s Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn vs. Morgan Park’s Billy Garrett Jr., Kyle Davis and Markee Williams.
Advantage Morgan Park. Garrett Jr. and Williams led the Mustangs to a city title their freshman year and have loads of big game experience. Davis has emerged as one of the top players in the city and Simeon may have difficulty stopping him from getting to the basket. Expect the Wolverines to try to force Morgan Park to shoot from outside.
THE BIGS: Simeon’s Jabari Parker, Kendall Pollard and Russell Woods vs. Morgan Park’s Lamont Walker and Josh Cunningham.
Advantage Simeon. Parker and Pollard make the Wolverines go. Pollard is the emotional leader and Parker, who is nearly back to full strength, will be the best player on the floor. Anything out of Woods is a bonus. If Cunningham plays like he did against Proviso East in the Proviso West championship last month, Morgan Park could be hard to beat.
THE BENCH: Simeon’s DJ Williams, Edward Morrow and Ricky Norris against Morgan Park’s Charlie Moore, Torry Johnson, Kain Harris, Alonzo Chatman and Xzavier Taylor.
Advantage Morgan Park. Simeon’s bench took a major hit when Donte Ingram was ruled ineligible by the Illinois High School Association Tuesday. The Danville transfer was not in uniform for Simeon’s game against Vocational Monday. Neither were Jaycee Hillsman or Sean Moore Jr. All three players transferred to Simeon and lived outside of Chicago last year. According to Smith they will sit out until the IHSA investigation is over. That leaves Simeon’s bench relying heavily on two talented but inexperienced sophomores, Williams and Morrow.
“DJ Wiliams stepped up and played really well [Monday against Vocational],” Smith said. “He made two big threes when we were down. It gave us a big boost.”
Morgan Park’s bench is full and deep and intact. Irvin thinks Taylor, a 6-8 senior, will be the x-factor in the game.
“If he can rebound and control the paint and block shots like he has has been doing he can change the game,” Irvin said.