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CSN to follow Simeon's quest for three-peat

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CSN to follow Simeon's quest for three-peat

This winter, CSNChicago.com will be providing exclusive coverage of the Simeon Career Academy boys varsity basketball team, ranked No. 1 in the nation by some media outlets.

The Wolverines, back-to-back defending state champions are the flagship program of Chicago high school basketball and have a rich history that includes consecutive state titles in 2006 and 2007, when they were led by point guard Derrick Rose.

This season, they have the No. 1 player in the nation again, junior Jabari Parker, but it's far from a one-man gang. Coach Robert Smith's squad also features Marquette-bound forward Steve Taylor, the top-ranked senior in the state, top-50 nationally-ranked junior guard Kendrick Nunn, junior transfer Jaylon Tate, a point guard ranked among the top 100 players in his class, and senior floor general Jaleni Neely.

While those are the main characters CSNChicago.com will be focusing on, the Simeon "family" is an equal-opportunity group, so such role players as junior starting forward Kendall Pollard, junior reserve point guard Lawrence Neely, backup senior guard Reggie Norris and two freshmen who are quietly touted as the future of the program -- wings Brandon Hutton and Dennis "D.J." Williams, who will play on both the sophomore and varsity teams -- will also receive attention.

Rose (when he pops up at his old school, which is something he's prone to do), the entire coaching staff and parents of the players, including Robert "Sonny" Parker, the father of Jabari and a former NBA player, will share time in the spotlight as well.

For now, however, here's some background on some of the key figures. Simeon opens its season Saturday night, with a game against south suburban power Hillcrest at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

THE SUPERSTAR: JABARI PARKER

Parker is the consensus top-ranked player in the nation in the junior class and arguably the best high school player in the country, regardless of class. Recruited by virtually every top-tier college in the country, he is remarkably humble and plays a team-first style of basketball. Tremendously skilled, he combines superb athleticism, strength down low, unselfish passing, accurate perimeter shooting and explosive slashing ability.

THE SENIOR LEADER: STEVE TAYLOR

Taylor is the only player in Illinois to rank among the top 100 seniors in the country. Signed with Marquette in the fall. A 6-foot-8 forward, he is just as capable of knocking down a deep three as he is to throw down a dunk in traffic, forming a deadly inside-outside duo with Parker.

THE FLOOR GENERAL: JALENI NEELY

Neely is a four-year varsity player who split minutes at his position the past two seasons, only to suffer a devastating ACL injury in the summer. Hoping to return to the linuep by the season opener, Neely is viewed by Coach Smith as one of the team's most indispensable pieces because of his knowledge of the game. A true, pass-first point guard, Neely's modest scoring average is outweighed by his playmaking ability and mistake-free style of play.

THE MICROWAVE: KENDRICK NUNN

Nunn, who committed and de-committed from Texas A&M this fall, wasn't a starter last season, but is viewed as one of the most explosive scorers around. An elite athlete with deep range and a fearless style of play, the southpaw shooting guard is highly coveted by a wide variety of colleges. His penchant for making big plays makes him the most exciting player to watch on the roster, a sentiment privately seconded by his idol, Rose.
THE TRANSFER: JAYLON TATE

Tate left De La Salle, a Catholic league power, to join forces with the Wolverines, but don't accuse him of hopping on the bandwagon for the personal benefits. Already a coveted prospect receiving attention from a long list of college programs, Tate is an athletic and gifted point guard, but must quickly catch on to a new system. Although he wasn't the only star at his previous school, it might be a difficult adjustment for Tate initially.

THE ARCHITECT: ROBERT SMITH

Smith is a low-key coach who blends being a disciplinarian and nurturing his players, a successful approach that has led to four state championships in less than 10 seasons. The Simeon graduate inherited the program from his own former coach, the late, legendary Bob Hambric, and it hasn't missed a beat in his hands. Ably aided by a coaching staff consisting of former players, the Wolverines' program is a well-oiled machine with a family atmosphere.

THE ALUMNI: DERRICK ROSE

The youngest MVP in NBA history. Instead of rehashing Rose's accomplishments -- two state championships, McDonald's All-American, 2007 Mr. Illinois Basketball -- during his time on 81st and Vincennes, here's a quote from the Bulls point guard from after his workout at the school Monday night:

"I've been coming up here a couple of times to work out. You already know they have great talent, a couple of players they already have on their team -- I don't need to mention their name, but the star of the nation; you already know who that is: Jabari -- and I think Rob and everybody, his coaching staff, has been doing a good job with coaching their team."

THE OBSERVER: SONNY PARKER

A former NBA player with the Golden State Warriors, the elder Parker himself is a Chicago high school legend from his exploits at Farragut (also Kevin Garnett's alma mater) on the West Side. Ironically, Parker tutored more than a few of his sons current teammates in his capacity of the head of the Sonny Parker Youth Foundation, a basketball program that includes weekend clinics, AAU competition before high school and competitive summer leagues. Parker and wife, Lola, are a constant, but not overbearing presence at Simeon.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: