By Joe Henricksen
Do a little last-minute Christmas shopping on Michigan Avenue or State Street Thursday afternoon and head over to the UIC Pavilion for a matchup between the two programs with the most high-level Division I talent in the state.
For starters, the Simeon-Whitney Young showdown, which will tip off at 8 p.m., will feature the following:
• The state's No. 1 junior prospect -- and arguably the best high school player in the country regardless of class -- in Simeon's Jabari Parker. He's fresh off pouring in 40 points and pulling in 16 rebounds in just 21 minutes of action in a win over Calumet earlier this week.
• The state's No. 1 sophomore prospect and top five talent nationally in the Class of 2014 in Whitney Young's 6-10 Jahlil Okafor.
• There's also the No. 1 senior prospect in Illinois, Marquette-bound Steve Taylor of Simeon.
• Junior Kendrick Nunn of Simeon, an athletic 6-1 guard, is a highly coveted high-major prospect and one of the state's elite talents regardless of class.
• Whitney Young 6-9 sophomore Paul White is already sporting high-major offers and is among the top 25 rated prospects nationally in his class.
• Unfortunately, big 6-9 Tommy Hamilton of Whitney Young, a highly-regarded junior, is out with an injury.
The game may have lost a little of its luster with Young's upset loss to Orr last week, but it's a smorgasbord of individual talent. Plus, these are the two programs that have played on the big stage. Simeon has won the last two Class 4A state championships, including a title game win over Whitney Young in 2010. Whitney Young won the 2009 Class 4A state title.
Here is the Hoops Report's individual player breakdown of the Simeon-Whitney Young tussle and some keys to the showdown.
Whitney Young Starting Lineup
• Miles Reynolds, 6-0, So.
Sophomore point guard is still learning the ropes but provides energy and quickness for coach Tyrone Slaughter. Reynolds must make the right decisions in transition and against Simeon's halfcourt zone.
• Gabriel Snider, 6-1, Sr.
The UIC recruit must find his perimeter jumper and prevent opposing defenses from swarming Jahlil Okafor inside.
• Jahlil Okafor, 6-10, So.
The state's premier big man is a load, a legitimate on-the-block presence and an impossible matchup at the high school level. It will be interesting to see how Simeon defends Okafor in the post if the Wolverines get out of their zone.
• Nate Brooks, 6-6, Sr.
The highly-athletic Brooks must be active, get on the glass and use his size and hops to his advantage.
• Paul White, 6-9, So.
The talented sophomore is versatile enough to create mismatches for opposing teams and play multiple spots on the floor with his size and skill. Look for the Dolphins to move White around and use him at the 4 spot and on the perimeter.
Whitney Young Bench
• Jordan Smith, 6-3, Sr.
• Keith Langston, 6-4, Jr.
• Scott Kingsley, 6-2, Jr.
This group will need to provide a spark, particularly on the offensive end, and has the ability to do so with Kingsley's perimeter shooting, Smith's versatility and Langston's length and athleticism. If Simeon does play its zone defense, Kingsley and Smith become bigger keys on the perimeter.
Simeon Starting Lineup
• Reggie Norris, 5-10, Sr.
He doesn't have the big name but the Simeon staff knows what it will get from Norris and trusts this senior guard.
• Kendrick Nunn, 6-1, Jr.
A game-changer who can alter the momentum of a game with his superb athleticism, shooting and scoring ability. When Nunn is rolling, Simeon is scary good.
• Steve Taylor, 6-7, Sr.
There aren't many players in the state who can do what Taylor can as far as stretching a defense with his shooting and getting a little done around the rim. If Okafor does guard Taylor, Simeon will be able to bring Okafor away from the basket on the defensive end.
• Jabari Parker, 6-8, Jr.
The state's most gifted player regardless of class can do whatever you ask of him and is a matchup nightmare. Plus, he has the individual talent and ability to make others better.
• Kendall Pollard, 6-4, Jr.
The little-known Pollard, who has multiple mid-major offers, has picked it up of late and is a relentless, physical defender who uses his size and strength very well on both ends of the floor.
• Jaylon Tate, 6-2, Jr.
• Jaleni Neely, 5-10, Sr.
• Tyre Washington, 6-5, Jr.
While Simeon may not be extremely deep, the Wolverines are deep enough with a combination like guards Tate and Neely. Tate is one of the better junior prospects in the state, while Neely, who played 12 minutes in Simeon's last game as he bounces back from a knee injury, really makes this team go when healthy.
Hoops Report's four keys to the Simeon-Whitney Young matchup
1) The 3 is the key for Dolphins
Say what? A team that boasts 6-10 behemoth Jahlil Okafor and 6-9 Paul White needs to rely on the three-pointer? No, not exactly. But teams are going to continue to suffocate Okafor inside, much like Orr did a week ago, until Young's perimeter players can knock down shots. The Dolphins, whether it's Snider, Smith, Kingsley or Reynolds, must loosen up a congested defense by hitting a few shots from the perimeter to keep Simeon honest and allow its best player to navigate inside.
2) Quick start
If Whitney Young wants to pull off an upset, coach Tyrone Slaughter's club must get out of the gate quickly, establish a lead or at least keep the game close through three quarters. If there is one team in the city that protects its leads in the fourth quarter, it's Simeon. When the Wolverines have a lead in the fourth quarter it's as if they have Mariano Rivera to turn to in closing out the game. Simeon has the guards and quality skill players with size like Parker and Taylor to comfortably space the floor and close out a game.
3) Defending the big fella
Whitney Young boasts something no other high school team in the state of Illinois has -- a monster, back-to-the-basket, go-to player in the post in the 6-10, 260-pound Okafor. How Simeon, which isn't exactly loaded with size, chooses to defend Okafor could dictate how this game plays out. If Simeon plays primarily zone to protect itself from Okafor dominating, it could play into the hands of Whitney Young and allow the Dolphins to hang around to the end.
4) Defending Mr. Everything
Yes, Whitney Young has the players -- some with size, some with athleticism, some with quickness -- to throw at Simeon superstar Jabari Parker. But what makes Parker special is the ability to dominate an opponent based on what the opponent gives him. He can individually take over a game with his one-on-one ability by posting up smaller defenders or taking bigger players on the perimeter. And just when there is too much attention paid to Parker, the intelligence and basketball I.Q. kicks in and he becomes a weapon in making others around him better.
Hoops Report's Pick
Simeon 54, Whitney Young 45