There may not have been a city hooper more relieved when the Chicago teacher's strike was over than Simeon's Jaylon Tate. Well, maybe Ricky Norris, Tate's teammate and backup.
Tate, a 6-2 senior point guard, and Norris, a completely unknown 6-3 senior point guard, had plenty to show college coaches. They just didn't have the avenue to show it as the first week of open gyms was wiped out due to the teacher's strike. Last week, however, Tate and Norris got their chance and stood out during the first night of a talent-laden open gym at Simeon.
Now, it's not as if Tate's name wasn't out there. He's not this unknown prospect, hidden under a rock and in desperate need of being found. He opened eyes early in his prep career as a freshman at De La Salle and followed it up with a solid sophomore campaign. Then he transferred to Simeon, where he became a valuable role player for a state championship team last season. But he's always been among the top 20 prospects in the Class of 2013 in Illinois, even among the top five or six prospects in the class early in his career. He's just taken a backseat of late during his transition to Simeon.
After playing a smaller role than he was accustomed to as a junior for Simeon, and then playing off the ball quite a bit for Meanstreets this past summer on the AAU circuit, the recruiting interest was tempered a bit. Tate was anxious to get back to showing just what he is (a true point guard) and what he can do when he's comfortable.
Last year was an adjustment period for Tate, learning a new system and a new way of going about things at Simeon. Now he's carrying a quiet confidence while still possessing the point guard essentials. Although his shooting is still a bit inconsistent and he's not a true, blow-by athlete, he handles it, passes it and plays like an ideal point guard with a little size for the position.
"I'm a lot more comfortable and confident now after spending a year at Simeon," says Tate, who provided a few big moments during Simeon's state title run a year ago. "It takes time to get used to a new system, get used to playing with new players and different coaches. Coach Rob [Smith] is a lot different than what I was used to at De La Salle. Now I'm more familiar with it all. And I'm the lead guard now."
Simeon coach Robert Smith sees the difference and is ready to put the ball in his hands as his starting point guard.
"He knows and understands the system now," says Smith, who last year put his trust in veteran senior point guard Jaleni Neely. "To his credit, he came in last year and took a back seat to some others. Now it's his team. He's running the show at the point guard position."
With a year of experience playing at Simeon and back running a team that is loaded with talent, Tate is poised to showcase all he has to offer. Tate has made a nice jump forward this fall, impressing the Hoops Report to the point where he will certainly inch his way back up the 2013 player rankings.
"I'm just going out and playing my game, help my team win any way I can," says Tate. "Everyone knows me as a point guard, setting up my teammates, running a team. But this past summer, and at the Peach Jam, I was playing off the ball. I showed I can score, come off screens. I wanted to show I was a complete guard, but I am a point guard."
The recruiting interest is picking up, especially as other point guard prospects commit to other schools. A surplus of mid-major programs are chomping at the bit now to try and steal Tate. Western Kentucky and Ohio have visits lined up with Tate. He will head to Ohio this weekend and then visit Western Kentucky Oct. 21, while several schools in the Horizon League and Missouri Valley are trying to get in the mix and get him on campus. If Tate were to play the year out, it wouldn't be a shock to see high-major programs get on board during the late signing period.
As for Norris, here is the classic program-first kid who plays in the shadows of all the big names at Simeon. And it's easy to be in the shadows in this Simeon senior class with the likes of Jabari Parker, Kendrick Nunn, Kendall Pollard, Russell Woods and Jaylon Tate.
When you watched Simeon in a summer league game or at a team camp or in an open gym, Norris was always the player you casually mentioned after talking about Parker, Nunn, Tate, Pollard, state titles, the young talent in the program, the newcomers, what the schedule looks like for next year ...
He's the player you would say to Robert Smith in passing, "Hey, that kid's not bad." And then go back to talking Parker, Nunn, Tate, Pollard, state titles, the young talent in the ... Well, you get the picture.
And Smith would always respond, "I know! I told you he could play!"
It's time to take notice of this big-bodied point guard who has been vastly overlooked by just about everyone. Yes, he's a backup at Simeon. But the kid can play. He shined last week in Simeon's open gym in front of 15-plus college programs. Chicago State extended an offer and others are starting to take an interest. Norris is a player who could see his stock significantly rise over the course of the season and be an intriguing late signing in April.
"He didn't play much at all, waited his turn and didn't jump ship," says Smith of Norris. "We moved him over to point guard and he's been solid there. He gives us a big body in the backcourt. He can rebound, brings some athleticism to the guard position. We can move him around with his size. He gives us another dimension."
Even with all the star power the program features in the likes of Parker and Nunn, Smith is especially comfortable being set at the all-important point guard position. Tate will start and Norris will be a valuable piece off the bench in Smith's two-headed point guard monster.
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