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Simeon's Jabari Parker shoots a jumper over Young's Paul White. | Patick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media
Jabari Parker and Simeon are chasing history the next three weeks. It’s that simple and that notable.
A fourth consecutive state championship will raise the Wolverines up next to the famed Peoria Manual squad featuring Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin that won titles in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997.
After the past few months Parker and Simeon have lived through, focusing on winning seven playoff games may come as a relief. Parker is aware of the pressure on his shoulders and reflective about the tumultuous season his team has endured.
He put it succinctly: “It was real crazy.”
The 6-8 forward began the season rehabbing from a foot injury. He lost weight and got in game shape faster than almost any outsider would have imagined.
Then the hits started coming in waves.
Simeon lost to DeSoto, Tex. on Dec. 13, ending their national title hopes.
A week later, Parker received some unwarranted criticism from local media for his nationally televised college decision press conference. The nation’s top high school basketball players have been announcing their college decisions on television for over a decade, but Parker’s dignity was called into question after he followed suit.
In mid-January, three Simeon players were ruled ineligible by the Illinois High School Association, drastically cutting into the Wolverines’ depth.
The first Morgan Park game was a total mess. A dust-up in the handshake line resulted in Simeon coach Robert Smith and Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin receiving four-game suspensions. After the game, Morgan Park student Tyrone Lawson was shot and killed.
Then Morgan Park knocked off the Wolverines in the city tournament—another goal shattered.
All of the incidents took a toll on Parker and the team.
“It’s been alright, I can’t complain,” Parker said. “That’s what a lot of people do when they don’t meet their goals and expectations. We had a couple of down periods and I think we all got tired from all of the travel. But at the same time all of those experiences are going to help us make a run now.”
Simeon’s ultimate team goal, that fourth state championship, remains. Standing in the way is the rugged Argo Sectional, headlined by city champion and top-ranked Young. Dolphins star Jahlil Okafor, the top-ranked player in the national class of 2014, has emerged as Parker’s heir apparent to the spotlight and may win some of the individual awards Parker was considered the heavy favorite for back in November.
“All through the summer and the fall a lot of people had the opportunity to prepare and improve and get ready for the season,” Parker said. “Because of the injury, I didn’t. But I’m not gonna make excuses or fold.”
It’s a cliche at this point, but like Derrick Rose before him, Parker has generally put the team first, with his words and actions. So it’s fitting that the ultimate team goal, a fourth consecutive state title, is his final high school mission.
“I thought after the injury I could wake up every day and just play,” Parker said. “But life gives you bumps and bruises. Everything depends on how you respond to them. That’s my job, to make sure we respond the right way.”