Bulls

Simeon 'moving in the right direction'

639424.png

Simeon 'moving in the right direction'

Jabari Parker may be the best player on Simeon's top-ranked team. Or Steve Taylor. Or Kendrick Nunn. But coach Robert Smith wants everybody to know that the Wolverines' indispensable and undisputed leader is 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior point guard Jelani Neely.

When highly rated Jaylon Tate transferred from De La Salle to Simeon last summer, many observers immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. They shook their heads in disbelief when Smith said Tate would be his team's sixth man, that Neely would remain at point guard.

"Jelani came to Simeon because it fit his way of playing," Smith said. "He is a traditional point guard. He controls the game. He is at 85 percent and that's more than most point guards. He runs the team, doesn't score, gets the ball into people's hands and knows what we have to do in situations."

Most of all, Smith said Neely "understands the game the way I want it played. He is in my head all the time, like Derrick (Rose) was here. Talent doesn't always get you the win. He isn't the most talented player but he understands Simeon basketball and no one on the team knows it better than him."

Which is why Simeon's offense struggled early when Neely was sidelined from July to Nov. 25 with a partial ACL tear. At the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, when Simeon barely got past Peoria Manual 48-47 in the semifinals, Smith juggled two guards in a vain attempt to fill Neely's leadership qualities.

Now Neely is back at almost full strength and Smith believes his team is "moving in the right direction, playing real good basketball and playing the Simeon way" as the defending two-time state champion seeks its first Chicago Public League championship since 2007.

They will meet Orr Wednesday in the semifinals at DePaul. In the other semifinal, Marshall will meet Bogan. The two winners will duel for the Public League title on Friday at Chicago State.

"It has a lot to do with Neely back," Smith said. "After our (75-50) loss to (nationally ranked) Findlay Prep on TV, our kids realized we have to go back to playing the way I want them to play. We haven't played badly since. But we still haven't put four quarters together. It would be scary when we do."

No matter how valuable Neely is to Simeon's success, however, he isn't above Smith's disciplinary rules. When he stepped over the line prior to Sunday's quarterfinal game against Marshall, he was forced to sit out with one other starter, Kendrick Nunn, and three reserves.

"Discipline is the big thing," Smith said. "You can't do anything without discipline, on and off the court, at all times, in the classroom, at home. If you are going to be successful in life, not just in basketball, you must have discipline. Doing it their way is what I won't tolerate. We have built a program to do it the Simeon way and that's the only way it will be done."

With the talent and depth at hand, Smith is calling for his players to press and apply even more pressure than in past seasons. He wants to speed up the game at both ends of the floor to take advantage of his team's athleticism. "This is a more up-tempo team than ever before in Simeon history," Smith said.

"I like what we're doing on defense. Sitting in a zone isn't cohesive to what we have. And I like that we're sharing the ball, moving the ball, not doing a lot of dribbling, moving the ball from side to side. Jabari doesn't have to score 30 points for us to win.

"Our kids have finally figured out the way to play. They are having a lot of fun. You can look at practice. They are so much more intense. They value every possession, even in practice.

"They know where we are and where we're trying to get to. If we don't win it all, it won't be a great season. We wouldn't have accomplished all of our goals."

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

butler-injury-2.jpg
USA TODAY

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

butler-injury-224.jpg
USA TODAY

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

Jimmy Butler won't be facing the Bulls a second time this season.

Butler suffered a non-contact knee injury on Friday night in Houston. The initial X-ray only revealed he didn't have any broken bones, but the MRI had to wait until Saturday.

The Timberwolves announced that the MRI revealed a meniscus injury in Butler's right knee. There is not yet word on how long the All-Star guard will be out of action, but if it wasn't already assumed that he wouldn't play against the Bulls, it's now certain.

Avoiding the ACL tear means avoiding the worse case scenario, but this is likely still going to cause Butler to miss a significant amount of time with about a quarter of the regular season remaining.

The Bulls take on the Timberwolves on Saturday night. Butler dropped 38 points at the United Center in his return to Chicago exactly two weeks ago, but the Bulls won 114-113.

Butler posted on Instagram a reaction to the injury.

Saturday's game will be the returns of Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to Minnesota after they went the other direction in the Butler trade on draft night last June.