Robert Smith has continued the fine tradition of outstanding basketball at Chicago Simeon High School. Replacing legend Bob Hambric, Smith never skipped a beat. He has put together another excellent group of athletes this year.
"Yeah, we're definitely 15 deep. We're strong at every position."
Much of that strength lies in the younger age groups, so they will have their ups and downs this year. But they showed their potential by trouncing Pontiac 71-32 on its home court as part of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament December 26.
One of Smith's most impressive players is a freshman. Jabari Parker is already a Chicago legend from his exploits prior to enrolling at Simeon. The son of former NBA star Sonny Parker is mature beyond his years according to Smith.
"Definitely. Unselfish kid, likes to play basketball and score. He's gonna be good down the stretch for us as he begins to understand what's going on."
Parker dominated at the 14 and Under level of summer AAU ball, enough that he had chances to play with the star-studded 17U Mac Irvin Fire team this past summer. Listed at 6'-5" at that time, Smith confirmed Parker continues to grow.
"Yeah, I asked him the other day what did he get for Christmas, another inch? Yeah, he's still growing. It's a process."
Now 6'-6" and thicker, Parker displays good form on a high-extension jump shot while showing tremendous court awareness. He is not super fast or a great leaper, but his understanding of the game makes up for it.
"His skill level is very high. He has a strong body. He does well for us when he's out there."
Parker is actually listed in the program as a guard/forward/center. It will take him awhile to catch up with all the complexities of the high school game, especially with playing all five positions, but Smith is convinced he can handle it.
"He can definitely play all five positions, so that's one good thing about it. We can set him out on a wing, we can put him in the post. He's probably one of our best post players."
Illinois has already offered Parker a scholarship. Another Simeon player with Illini interest is 5'-9" sophomore point guard Jelani Neely. He is slender and undersized, but he is a pleasure to watch from the point.
"He understands the game," Smith explains. "He controls the game, he understands what I want. He knows when to push the ball, he knows when I want him to run our sets."
A pass-first point, Neely is already masterful at understanding how to set up his teammates.
"That's what he wants to do is get people the ball. Getting guys open. He does a great job too at making his own plays. He's definitely a point guard."
Simeon has long been a good recruiting source for the Illini, sending numerous top players to Champaign-Urbana. That connection still strong. The team stopped by the Ubben Basketball Complex on the Illinois campus for a practice before Christmas.
"We were on our way to Marion (llinois) for a game against East St. Louis," Smith explained. "We stopped there to have practice. It was good for the guys to get on the Illinois campus."
Smith declined permission to interview Parker after his tournament game. He feels it is important to shelter his players from excessive attention at a young age.
"You can interview Jabari after he has crossed across the stage to receive his diploma."