Chicago Simeon Will Play In IHSA State Finals

Chicago Simeon has won two straight large school basketball championships in Illinois, and it is the odds-on favorite to win two more with superstar Jabari Parker and a strong supporting cast. Coach Robert Smith was considering holding a separate Chicago championship. Speaking from the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, he now says Simeon will play in Peoria if it continues to win.

The Illinois High School Association seeds basketball teams for its state championships based as much on location as power ratings. Its concern is there might be reduced attendance in Peoria for a tourney final featuring three or four Chicago teams. Thus, Chicago teams must play each other to reach Peoria, preventing some outstanding teams from reaching the finals.

Chicago Simeon coach Robert Smith proposed recently an alternative championship for Chicago teams. But he stated last night at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament that Simeon will continue to participate in the IHSA tourney.

,P>"The kids say they want to win state again. It's about the kids, it's not about me. The kids want to win state again, so that's what we're gonna do. If I had my way, we'd be at home."

Smith's concerns are legitimate, but it is questionable whether his public preference will have any influence on future ISHA tournaments.

"The IHSA has got their rules, and we've got to abide by it. That's all we can do. We've got our ideas, they've got their ideas. We've got to abide by their rules. That's all."

Smith should have some leverage. Besides being two-time defending state champs for large schools, Simeon is presently ranked #1 in the country. How is the team responding to the pressure of that lofty ranking?

"We're taking it day by day. We don't think about that any more. We just try to win every ball game, that's all we're trying to do. Being nationally ranked is fine, but at the end of the year, if you lose and don't accomplish anything, then it doesn't matter.

"We're trying to make sure we hold onto what we have, deal with it and get better. We're still in a learning process as well. We're 9-0, but we're still learning out on the floor."

Simeon has long been known for its excellent zone defense, but it played man-to-man the entire game against Bloomington in the first round of the Pontiac tourney.

"That's what we've been doing. The kids want to play man-to-man, so they have to guard. We want to get out in the passing lanes and get steals and easy baskets. In the second half, they scored nine points total. That's something we wanted to do from the beginning, but it didn't work out like that."

Smith says Simeon has plenty to learn offensively as well.

"If we can't execute our offense, we're not gonna be very successful. Talent can only go so far. If somebody is outplaying you or playing harder than you, we're gonna get beat. If we don't learn that fast, we could end up getting beat."

Marquette signee Steve Taylor led Simeon to its 70-31 win over Bloomington with 25 points, several bunnies thanks to sharp passes from junior superstar Jabari Parker. Parker added 17 points without playing his best game. Smith says he continues to improve; the sky is the limit.

"He still has some things he needs to work on, but he's getting better. One thing I love about him is, when he sets his mind to something, he goes out and tries to do it. I told him he only had one rebound at half, and he went out and rebounded the ball real well in the second half.

"He and Steve play so well together. It's ridiculous how well they play together. It's unfortunate they can't go to college together. But if those two played together, it would be scary."

The 6'-8" Parker is so skilled, he can play multiple positions. Smith was asked to estimate Parker's college position.

"A two-three. Or a point. Or a four."

Junior guard Kendrick Nunn also has an Illinois offer. He combines great quickness, athleticism and defensive tenacity with a sweet three point shot. He scored 11 points in the Bloomington game.

"Kendrick is coming along well. He started out slow as well. We definitely need him to get going quicker than what he did today if we're going to be successful. He waited to the second half, and that can't happen. We need his explosiveness and his defense from the beginning of the game."

Junior point guard Jaylon Tate was a starter last year at De La Salle, but he comes off the bench for the Wolverines. The move has required an adjustment, but he's starting to come around.

"He's doing well. He struggled today on his shot, but he did a great job of getting people the basketball. He's fitting in well with the guys."

The Simeon talent pipeline continues. Freshmen D.J. Williams and Brandon Hutton are the next in a long line of stars in the making.

"They were playing in a championship game today that they actually won. We were thinking about bringing them down, but they had their glory, they had their moment. Let them celebrate the things they're doing, and let Jabari and them have their moments.

"D.J.'s game is like Jabari's. He can play all five positions right now. Brandon is a little like Tim Flowers or Steve Taylor. He's a strong kid and can get off the ball. They're two kids that are gonna be great in our program. We can't wait until they get up next year and play with Jabari and feed off of him."

Simeon is playing a national schedule this year, but there was no question it would play its Christmas tourney in Pontiac.

"We had a couple situations where we could have went someplace else. But I'm gonna stay here as long as they have a tournament, and as long as they want us to be here. We play enough national games, enough national people. We love coming down here.

"Coach (Bob) Hambric got us down here, and we don't want to stop any of the things he was doing. The fans really supported us tonight; it was almost like a home game for us. I'll never stop coming down here."

If the full house watching Simeon last night in Pontiac is any indication, perhaps it would attract large crowds to the state championship games regardless of the opponent. As it is, their toughest games might be getting through the regional and sectional leading up to the state finals.

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