Boys Basketball: Simeon eyeing national greatness

Story Image Jabari Parker practices with Simeon basketball, Thursday, November 10, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Updated: November 17, 2011 10:46AM

This has been a preseason unlike any other in the storied history of Chicago high school basketball.

Simeon’s Wolverines didn’t wait for anyone to call and tell them that they would be the top-ranked team in the area. The Wolverines, ranked No. 1 in the country by ESPN and No. 4 by USA Today, set up a media day last week and watched the local and national media stream in.

There were interviews and pictures taken, videos shot and some very big goals discussed.

“We didn’t want to start No. 1, we wanted to finish No. 1 [in the nation],” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “That’s real important. That’s our goal.”

Simeon junior Jabari Parker is generally regarded as the top player in the country regardless of class. But even that isn’t enough.

“Jabari wants to be the best basketball player ever,” Smith said. “Not just one of the best out of Illinois. He wants to be one of the best professional basketball players ever.”

Simeon senior Steve Taylor, a Marquette recruit, is the top-ranked senior in the state. Junior Kendrick Nunn is one of the top class of 2013 players in the country, second in the state to Parker.

The Wolverines have experienced point guard Jaleni Neely back and added Jaylon Tate, a highly-regarded transfer from De La Salle. Forward Kendall Pollard improved a great deal over the summer and Simeon has two of the best freshmen in the state, DJ Williams and Brandon Hutton. Smith believes Williams may be Simeon’s next great player.

“We have some of the top talent in the city of Chicago,” Parker said. “To have this at one school is very rare. We’re the No. 1 team in the country. The rankings pretty much speak for themselves.”

There is no question the Wolverines are stocked with talent. And this year’s senior class is considered one of the least talented in recent state history. The only other team in the area that even has a high-major senior is Crete-Monee, with Illinois recruit Michael Orris.

Couple that with the fact that the Wolverines have won the last two Class 4A state titles, and it is easy to see why Simeon seems more focused on its match-up with Findlay Prep, a national powerhouse from Nevada, than impending showdowns with in-state powers Young or Warren.

Parker, Taylor and Nunn all named the Findlay Prep game on Jan. 16 in Springfield, Mass. as their most eagerly anticipated game of the season.

That’s not to say Simeon is overlooking Young or Warren or Proviso East or even Red-South rival Bogan. Smith and the players all showed the proper respect to those teams and acknowledged that they will be hard-fought games, but the dreams and goals at Simeon are not just about winning the city or state title. The Wolverines are striving for greatness.

“I’m pretty familiar with the Peoria Manual team from the ‘90s that won four consecutive state titles,” Parker said. “I’m trying to do the same thing as well. But we have other goals too. We want to be the best team in the country.”

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