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.