By Joe Henricksen

This pick is an easy 1

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By Joe Henricksen

You know when you're just a week or two from the start of the season -- any season -- and you're reading the season previews in the newspapers, buying preseason issues of magazines on the newsstands and debating with your sports friends who will win it all? And then you read and hear from those that go against the grain and pick against the obvious just to avoid choosing the same team as everyone else and the team that won last year? The ones who want to add a little shock value to their picks?

While we're still in July, in the heart of the club basketball scene, people who aren't picking Simeon as the No. 1 team heading into the 2010-2011 high school basketball season are not using logic.

Yes, it's hard to repeat. Just ask Whitney Young, which fell just short of a repeat last March when the Dolphins lost in the state title game after capturing the 2009 state championship. But the last repeat state champion in Illinois? Simeon in 2006 and 2007.

And yes, Brandon Spearman was an alpha dog this past March and will be missed. The 6-3 wing put the Wolverines on his shoulders, came up huge in the state tournament run and is off to Dayton this fall. But alpha dogs come and go at Simeon, with super sophomore Jabari Parker -- while still evolving into that type of go-to player -- poised to become the special talent we've grown accustomed to at Simeon.

The Hoops Report, as well as many others, have seen enough of Simeon this summer -- and its individual players on various club teams -- to realize what is in place at 8147 S. Vincennes. That realization came not too long after Simeon knocked off Whitney Young in last year's state championship.

The Hoops Report remembers just a couple of hours after last year's state title game, mingling with fans, referees, coaches and the participating teams in the team hotel. The celebration was brewing and the basketball discussion was live, with the Hoops Report telling the Simeon coaching staff, "You know you're going to be better next year." While the staff didn't say much, choosing instead to relish in what the Wolverines just accomplished in Carver Arena a couple of hours earlier, there were wide smiles on their faces. They knew the potential that was returning.

And since that late March evening four months ago the Hoops Report has been asked over and over again, "Who will be No. 1 next year? Who has the best team heading into next season?" As more time passes and more evaluations are made, it becomes clearer and more emphatic: Simeon.

Yes, Simeon is primed and ready for yet another run. Coach Robert Smith will be gunning for his fifth state trophy in seven years, with state titles in 2006, 2007 and 2010, along with a second-place finish in 2008. This much is certain in comparing next year's team to the great Simeon teams of the past: this group will be the deepest in talent of all of those teams. Smith can and will likely go 10 or 11 deep -- and that's a quality 10 or 11 deep. Talk about competitive practices!

There are always potential pitfalls for any return champ. After winning it's easy to slip into a more selfish mode. Kids want more recognition, names in the paper and on the internet and more playing time. Avoiding pettiness and remaining focused are typically always more difficult the second time around. Will the hunger still exist for a group that tasted it all in March? Instead of repeating, teams can start imploding.

But at Simeon it's about diverting their respective games to win as a group. For months last year it didn't appear the "Simeon way" was going to happen, yet when the calendar turned March we saw it materialize. Smith and his staff, which watched the Wolverines lose nine regular-season games -- albeit against a top-notch schedule -- would have liked to have seen the "Simeon way" transpire earlier than March. But better late than never worked in the end. A great coach can only do so much; the star can go a long way in keeping everyone in line and providing the peer leadership. And then, hopefully, the roster is filled with character kids who want to buy in.

So the "Simeon way" is already in place, which is a start. No player is bigger than the program. And players know their coach isn't going to put up with anything that is going to jeopardize success. Plus, Smith has enough talent and bodies in the program to threaten minutes and roles if someone is not on the same page as the rest.

For starters, the biggest name in the program -- Jabari Parker -- has a unique persona about him. The scintillating sophomore who had high-major offers at a ridiculously young age, is all about winning. The 6-7 Parker, among the top five players nationally in the Class of 2013 and the No. 1 sophomore in lllinois, brings so much to the table: size, skill, basketball I.Q. and versatility. The final hurdle Parker will make as a high school player is becoming a dominant figure and evolving into a leader, which should develop naturally as he matures as a player and gains experience.

There are three other super young talents in the program who have blossomed this summer and are set to emerge this winter. Big man Steve Taylor, a 6-7 junior, is one of the most improved players in the Class of 2012 and among the top five prospects in the class. He rebounds, runs the floor and has shown the ability to face up and knock down shots. Taylor has been impressive. Junior point guard Jelani Neely gained valuable experience a year ago and is becoming the much-needed poised point guard, while 6-1 sophomore Kendrick Nunn has the look of a future star. Nunn is regarded as one of the top five sophomores in a loaded Class of 2014.

There are a host of seniors who have played in big moments and offer different strengths. There is 6-2 Darien Walker, a multi-faceted off-the-ball guard who will defend, knock down shots and bring toughness. There are a pair veterans in guard Tywon Pinckney and 6-6 Rashawn McElrath, two others who have played impact minutes and are willing to defend and do a little of the dirty work. There is emerging Ahman Fells, a 6-6 long athlete with tremendous upside after working so hard to get on the floor. There are three seniors -- athletic Sondale Connor, 6-5 blue-collar Kevin Hunter and guard Terrell Green -- who have waited their time after playing small roles.

Simeon has all the important elements in place and will enter the season with a bulls-eye on its back. We're talking a coach who has been through it all in seven seasons and certainly has his fingerprints all over the program. We're talking a program that is used to the attention it will receive. We're talking a ridiculous abundance of talent and depth (a potential 9 or 10 Division I prospects?). We're talking experience, size, guard play and, of course, confidence from having done it a year ago. The Hoops Report couldn't begin to tell you where teams will be ranked in its preseason issue in November, but it can tell you who will be No. 1: Simeon.

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13 Comments

can't wait for Benet to take apart Simeon this year.

I absolutely hate that this is what high school basketball has fallen to. The 'Simeon Way' as I see it, is to amass, through recruitment I'm sure, the best athletes the city has to offer and put them on the floor with less talented teams and watch them win games. It doesn't take a great coach to do that, hell it doesn't even take a good one. How does a school just so happen to have 9 or 10 division 1 prospects on its team at one time?

I recall waiting for Jabari Parker's decision to chose a high school like we wait on blue-chip athletes to choose a university or college to attend. The fact that we don't see anything wrong with this picture is no less than astounding to me. Especially if you take into account that these kids are being recruited to a school that ranks 563 out of the 656 high schools in the state academically.

With all due respect, is Robert Smith a great coach or someone who wins games because he has the ability to stock pile talent? Would we know who he was if he were coaching at say Gage Park and had to coach the kids who showed up to tryouts? I highly doubt it. In fact, who coaches at Gage Park right now? Hopefully, you get my point.

Joe, I read your work all the time and find it to be insightful and informative. However,I have a problem celebrating schools like Simeon and Whitney Young for that matter, for winning when they clearly have an unfair advantage over all of the other schools who do not get to cherry-pick the best talent that the city has to offer. It's easy to beat up on those who are weaker than you and that's what Simeon is doing. Not very impressive, in my estimation.

All due respect.

Darnell the Simeon Way has been in place for a long time man. It has proven to be very effective in winning games and getting kids to college. And you have to honor Robert Smith for getting these me me kids of today to buy into the system. That is not an easy thing to do. As it is they are my Number 1 team to start the season. DeLaSalle is loaded but not sure if they can beat Simeon in a one and done. For as much talent as Whitney Young has they lost an outstanding backcourt in Starks and Johnson. They will drop some and look out for Morgan Park and Orr also. Jabari Parker will be a McDonald's All American before it's all said and done. As for Benet Sobiewski and Zaminsky are very good players but Simeon will not take them lightly this year like they did last. Simeon is Number 1 team hands down. Defending State Champs with most of it's talent coming back.

Tim From Evanston,

Last year, DeLaSalle beat Simeon by ALOT at the City-City showdown. Both teams return most of their talent.
If they play this year, close game, could go either way.

Tim, you're missing my point. No one can dispute the fact they are winning games. My concern is how. Again, Simeon has an unfair advantage in the sense that it gets the pick of the litter when it comes to basketball talent in the city. My position is that anybody can win when you consistently have superior talent than your opponent. I am not convinced that Robert Smith is a great or even good basketball coach. I wonder how he would do if he wasn't able to stack the deck with studs every year.

The second part of the Simeon way, as you mentioned, is 'getting kids to college.' I am curious to know if that means they are actually being prepared to be serious students or does that mean getting them to college simply to play basketball. And if that is the case, as I suspect, how does that benefit the kid? Or does that matter anymore?

Phil once again that was regular season. What did DeLeSalle do in the state tournament? I thought so. Darnell I see your point but it is open enrollment in all CPS schools except the charter schools. Also do you think these kids would make it to college without basketball? Unfortunately that is the case with the CPS also not getting the funding that the suburban schools get. That's an unfair advantage academically isn't it? But that's a conversation for another time. Simeons kids seem to do well in college and get their Bachelor Degrees.

Darnell,
You have some really good insight on Simeon’s depth and talented players. I don't know if you have paid much attention to sports throughout your life but the most talented teams don't always take home the gold. I can definitely admit to losing money on the 2004 Lakers who flaunted 4 of the best for the 90's decade. How about our slight slump with or USA team, which thank heavens is over. My point being that i am willing to bet that teams with lots of talent have just as much opposition an pressure as most. I also see it as a gamble with egos for young high school stars to become a unit. The best is always a target in this hungry savvy basketball city, you would have to be one mentally strong unit to withstand and conquer. My point is yes there is an advantage but a large required price to be paid just like everyone else. Don't take credit away from Simeon’s coaches, players, o and their HISTORY! Last time i check john wooden said that one of the most important pieces to a winning team is recruiting the best talent. I don't think i need to list off the depth of his rosters because many are all-time hall of Famers. Recruiting is all a part of the game i hope you get used to it because the basketball world has been making some strides that you have been sleeping on; HS SPORTS are everything to people these days because they love it and can be a part of it. I hope you heard the news Lebron is going to Miami!

Tim,

"Simeons kids seem to do well in college and get their Bachelor Degrees. "

I disagree with you and agree with Darnell.

Look back to teh Rose championships. WHere are the four other players who played with Rose? I am not confident on this, but I believe one was arrested, two dropped out of college and one went two two different community colleges and is still in school.
"getting a college scholarship" is good.
KEEPING it and getting a degree is excellent.

In my oppinion, SImeon is a great place for the High school to the pros player (like PArker). However, for anyone who cares about their education and does not have strong discipline parentS at home, SImeon may get you a scholarship, but it wont prepare you for college.

Look at D Rose, even he would have had trouble had he stayed at Memphis for more than that year. (We won't even go into the eligibility/ACT issue)

Name one GOOD player who Smith has coached that has graduated in four or five years OR is on pace to do so.

Phil I see you didn't address DeLaSalle's futility in the state playoffs. And why does he have to be a "GOOD" player? Check out the whole Simeon roster. Sounds like you a hata Phil. And plus the article is about who's Number 1 "basketball" team for next season. That would be Simeon thank you.

Tim, your points are well taken and you have actually further made my point for me. You made the comment 'Recruiting is all a part of the game', I totally agree with that. So let's call this what this is. Schools like Simeon win today because they can stack their squads and simply overpower the competition. If you have 9 or 10 division 1 prospects on your team and your competition in most cases is lucky to have 1, you SHOULD win!!

So let's give credit to the Robert Smith's of the world where it is due, the ability to recruit the best talent in the city and cherry-pick wins and championships against weaker opponents.

I'm not hating on anyone, this is what the game has become but let's at least make an attempt to put it in its proper context.

Tim,

I didn't say aything aboput DeLaSalle because there is nothing to correct. That is very true. Likewise, you did not say anything about my education at Simeon comment because you know its very true. SiMEon basketball players are not prepared for college.
By the way, you brought up education at Simeon, buddy. And I quote,
"Simeons kids seem to do well in college and get their Bachelor Degrees. " - Tim from Evanston

PS, what is 'hata' (Yes, I sometimes wear a hat? LOL)

I answeres you question about DeLaSalle, answer mine...

NAme one SImeon Player under Robert Smith of D1 talent who has graduated or is going to graduate in 4/5 years at the same college he started at?

"Last time i check john wooden said that one of the most important pieces to a winning team is recruiting the best talent."

Yeah and Wooden was a cheater too. Just ask Sam Gilbert.

First, Simeon is the best team talent-wise in the state of Illinois. But we have seen a number of times where the best talent doesn't always or sometimes even come close to winning. Just look at the Mac Irvin Fire in the summer. Many of the best teams lose very early in March. The point is making the most of the talent you have. A la Phil Jackson. Before people rip me for brining Jackson and the NBA into this conversation, its just for comparison sake. Plus the Simeon kids dont act like a bunch of idiots like a lot of these teams do on the floor and with their behavior.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on July 20, 2010 10:55 AM.

The best of a special 2011 was the previous entry in this blog.

Could UIC use a little Moore? is the next entry in this blog.

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