Springfield Lanphier was ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 3A for much of the 2011-12 season. But many observers insisted that Peoria Manual, with three Division I players in its lineup, was the best team of all.Then Peoria Central stepped in and attempted to sway opinion. Two weeks ago, the Lions defeated Springfield Lanphier 70-59 and claimed the No, 1 ranking. They hoped to seal their standing by sweeping their regular-season series with Peoria Manual last Friday. But Peoria Manual won 55-43.So the debate still persists. Who is No. 1? Peoria Central and Peoria Manual have split their regular-season series six times in the last seven years. In a rivalry that dates to 1912, Manual holds a 52-44 edge since 1972. Both are top-seeded in their regionals and could meet for the sectional title in Peoria.There are other Downstate teams that could contend for the Class 3A title. Washington could upset Peoria Central and Peoria Manual. And East St. Louis, Mount Vernon or Chatham Glenwood could emerge from the Carbondale sectional. Meanwhile, can the Chicago area muster a contender? Orr, Marshall, Farragut, St. Ignatius, Lemont, Hillcrest and North Chicago head the list.At Carbondale, East St. Louis (20-8) has emerged as a favorite in the wake of its overwhelming 103-66 victory over O'Fallon last Friday. Deshawn Munson, a 6-foot-4 junior, scored 27 points and 6'4" senior Brandon Johnson and Johnny McCray each contributed 16."We played very, very well. We came out wanting to make a statement and we did that tonight," East St. Louis coach Ray Coleman told the Belleville News-Democrat. "We feel we have the ballclub that can make some real noise in the postseason, especially if we come out and play like we did tonight."O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson agreed. "The thing about East St. Louis is they're so deep. Most teams can go seven or eight deep before their level goes down. East St. Louis has that starting five but then they bring in the second five who are just as good as starters for a lot of other teams," he said.Mount Vernon (21-6) is led by 5-foot-8 senior Ty'riil Trimble (12 ppg), 6-foot-1 senior Leontae Badger (10 ppg) and 6-foot-2 senior Clay Payne (9 ppg) on offense. But coach Scott Gamber's Rams rely on a packed in man-to-man defense that has allowed fewer than 40 points in 18 of 27 games.Chatham Glenwood (25-4), which has lost twice to Springfield Lanphier, has bounced back from last year's 12-17 finish behind 6-foot-4 sophomore Peyton Allen (17 ppg), point guard Tyler Thurston and 6-foot-5, 210-pound sophomore Daniel Helm (10 ppg, 6 rpg), a transfer from Kaneland.Look for Springfield Lanphier (23-3) and Lincoln (15-15) to meet for the third time in the sectional final at Lincoln. Lanphier won 51-38 last Friday and could regain the No. 1 ranking in Class 3A in the wake of Peoria Central's loss to Peoria Manual.Lanphier, which has split two games with Peoria Central and has beaten Peoria Manual, relies on its quickness, the exceptional guard play of sophomore Larry Austin Jr. and T.J. Davis and the scoring of 6-foot-1 senior Everett Clemons (21 ppg). Austin is one of the most recruited players in the class of 2014 with offers from Illinois, Bradley, Memphis and DePaul."Lincoln doesn't shoot the ball very well and their guards are 5'7". They aren't a very big team. But they are as quick as any team I've seen in a long time," Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said.Despite its record, Alexander believes his Lincoln team can play with Lanphier or anyone else. In December, the Railsplitters lost four games by margins of 2, 1, 1 and 2 points. His ball-press defense is as effective as ever, allowing only 40 points per game. His team recently allowed only 30 points in back-to-back games but lost both of them. The offense is led by 6-foot-4 senior Christian Van Hook and 6-foot-1 senior Jordan Gesner.There will be a lot of fireworks at the Glenbard South sectional, arguably the most competitive in the state in Class 3A. Orr (19-4), which lost to Simeon in the Public League semifinals but has beaten Marshall and Farragut, is the favorite with 6-foot-7 junior Marquise Pryor (17 ppg, 19 rpg), 6-foot-7 sophomore Tyquone Greer (13 ppg) and junior point guard Jamal McDowell.Marshall coach Henry Cotton believes 6-foot-4 senior Milton Doyle is the best player in the state next to Simeon's Jabari Parker and few observers argue with him. Doyle (22 ppg), who will play for Isiah Thomas at Florida International, is complemented by 6-foot-1 senior Korbin McClain (14 ppg).Farragut coach William "Wolf" Nelson rates 6-foot-7 senior Rashaun Stimage (20 ppg, 12 rpg, 4 blocks) among the best players he has produced in 21 years. In fact, he rates Stimage and Simeon's Steve Taylor as the best players in the class of 2012 in Illinois. If the Admirals are to advance, Stimage will need help from 6-foot-5 David Scott and point guard Lavell Boyd.St. Joseph (18-8) has come on strong and coach Gene Pingatore, who has 890 victories in 43 years, is making another run at the state finals with 6-foot-1 Tennessee State-bound guard Reggie Johnson, 6'3" senior Jawaan Toney, 6-foot-5 sophomore Paul Turner and 6-foot-8 junior A.J. Patty.Riverside-Brookfield (22-4), which edged Ridgewood 60-56 last Friday to claim its 11th consecutive conference title, is led by junior point guard Damonta Henry (17 ppg), 6-foot-7 junior Miki Ljuboja (14 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-foot-3 senior Luke Nortier.Two of the most prolific scorers in the state could be matched in the Grayslake Central sectional if North Chicago's Illinois State-bound guard Aaron Simpson (26 ppg) meets Ridgewood's Andy Mazurczak, a 6-foot-1 senior who is averaging 24 points per game. In last Friday's 60-56 loss to Riverside-Brookfield, Mazurczak converted 14-of-14 free throws and scored a career-high 35 points for the Rebels (19-7).St. Ignatius (21-5) figures to dominate its own sectional with 5-foot-10 guard Brian Howard (20 ppg), 6-foot-8 Peter Ryckbosch, point guard Jack Crepeau, 6-foot-4 senior Marty McClure and sophomore shooting guard Lester Larry, who scored 20 in last Friday's 66-39 rout of Mount Carmel.Hillcrest (21-5) and Lemont (24-2) are the 1-2 seeds in the Rich East sectional. But Lemont defeated Hillcrest 58-57 last Friday behind junior Juozas Balciunas (17 ppg), junior Joe Hehir, sophomore Mike Wisz and 6-foot-3 senior Matt Lipowski. Coach Rick Runaas' team hasn't lost since Christmas, the best the school has produced since 1975.Hillcrest, which won the state title in 2010 and reached the sectional semifinal last year before losing to Morgan Park, is led by 6-foot-2 junior Jovan Mooring (18 ppg), 6-foot-6 senior Jalen Loving (14 ppg) and 6-foot-6 senior Jayone Troutman. "We have as much talent as our state championship team," third-year coach Don Houston said.All of which brings us to the Peoria sectional.Peoria Central (21-3) has great size with 6-foot-10 senior Kevin Jordan (13 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6-foot-7 senior Trey Kellem (15 ppg, 8 rpg) but coach Dan Ruffin is concerned about the consistency of his guard play. His floor leader is 5-foot-6 senior Jerrell White.Peoria Manual (20-5), which finished second in state in 2008 and 2010 and lost to Peoria Central in the regional final last year, is making the most of Loyola-bound point guard Jeff White (18 ppg, 4.5 assists), Wright State-bound 6-foot-5 Jacoby Roddy (12 ppg, 12 rpg) and 6-foot-3 junior guard A.J. Riley (12 ppg).In last Friday's duel, White scored 21 points and led all rebounders with 10 to spark Manual's victory. Kellum led Central with 15 points and Jordan had 11 points and nine rebounds. Central was limited to only five field goals in the second half and played without 6-foot-4 senior guard Adonis Foote, whose status for the regional is uncertain.Washington or Morton could be the spoiler. They earned a share of the Mid-Illini Conference title last Friday as Washington (23-5) trounced Canton 69-40 and Morton (22-5) crushed East Peoria 56-34.Washington, which lost a 51-50 decision to Peoria Central, is led by 6-foot-7 junior Alec Peters (17.5 ppg) and 6-foot-5 senior Ben Ryan (18 ppg, 9 rpg), who scored 32 points on 16-of-19 shooting against Canton on Friday. Coach Kevin Brown took Washington to fourth in state in 2008.At Morton, second-year coach Jarrett Brown's team has beaten Peoria Manual and split two games with conference rival Washington. The Potters are led by 6-foot-9 senior Brett Bisping (18 ppg, 9 rpg), who is committed to Siena, and 6-foot-4 senior Will Headean (14 ppg).
The Chicago sunlight followed Jabari Parker as he walked through the East Atrium doors of the United Center, facing Michael Jordan’s statue before meeting with the media, introduced as a Chicago Bull for the first time.
For his sake, the brighter days are ahead instead of to his back as he’ll challenge the perception of being the hometown kid who can’t outrun his own shadow.
Parker re-enters Chicago as the No. 2 pick in the draft that the Milwaukee Bucks allowed to walk without compensation despite holding the cards through restricted free agency, damaged goods on the floor but not giving the Bulls a discount to don that white, red and black jersey he’s always dreamed of wearing.
“There were other teams but as soon as I heard Chicago, I just jumped on it,” Parker said.
It took a two-year, $40 million deal (2019-20 team option) to get Parker home, along with the selling point that he’ll start at small forward—a position that’s tough to envision him playing with on the defensive end considering three of the game’s top six scorers occupy that space.
It was a dream come true for his father, Sonny Parker, and high school coach, Simeon Academy’s Robert Smith, who both couldn’t hide their joy following the first question-and-answer session with the media.
“This is where he wanted to be,” Sonny Parker said. “His family’s happy, the support is there. All I know is the United Center will sell out every game. He can’t wait.”
“Normally guys get drafted here. He signed to come here. He had a couple offers from other teams but he wanted to come here.”
The biggest examples of Chicagoans who arrived with outsized expectations for this franchise had varying results, but Derrick Rose and Eddy Curry both came away with scars of sorts that had many wondering why any hometown product would willingly choose to play for the Bulls.
The risk seems to far outweigh the reward; the emotional toll doesn’t seem worth the fare. And with the roster makeup not being ideal for Parker, no one could blame him for going to a better situation—or at least one more tailored to his skills rather than his heart.
“I think every situation is different. Derrick was excelling,” Bulls executive vice-president John Paxson said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “MVP of the league in his hometown before the injury. Eddy was just a young kid who didn’t have the savvy Derrick had. I think every situation is different. Jabari is such a grounded, solid person that he’s gonna be just fine.”
“You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with him to figure out he’s got it together. He knows who he is. Comfortable in his own skin. A quiet guy. Hopefully he’ll thrive here. The goal is it works great for him and works great for us.”
It seemed like he was bred to be a pro—and not just any pro, but the type Chicago demands of its own when a covenant to play 82 nights a year has been reached. If the constant prodding from his father didn’t break his façade, or older brother Darryl doing everything he could to coax emotion from the most gifted of the Parker clan couldn’t do it, two ACL surgeries on his left knee may pale in comparison.
The numbers from Parker’s recent stint with the Bucks don’t bear it out, but Smith sees a player who’s back on track to being what his talent has always dictated he should become.
“Even watching him work out lately, it’s like whoa,” Smith said. “But of course, everything with Chicago period you have to be cautious. With his family and the support system he has, this thing is about winning basketball games and giving back to the community.”
“He’s had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon, coming behind Derrick and being one of the top five players as a freshman and No. 1 player as a junior. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it can help him a little bit. If he has those moments if something doesn’t go right, he has someone to help him.”
Parker is more known for his restarts than his unique skill set in his young career, but even at 23 years old speaks with a sage of someone 20 years his senior, unwilling to tab this portion of his journey as a fresh start.
After all, it would be easy to envision his career beginning from the moment he left Simeon as a phenom followed by his one season at Duke—having two games where he totaled just 24 minutes with just two points to start the Bucks’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics isn’t typical of a star’s story if he sees himself that way.
“I don’t. I don’t want to forget all the hard work I had,” Parker said. “To forget I hurt myself and came back is to discredit my success. That in of itself is something outside the norm. I want to always remember the setbacks and failures I’ve had in my career so far. I want to use that as a sense of motivation.”
Bringing up his awkward pro beginnings in Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascension to an unexpected strata mirrored thoughts he might’ve had of himself before his injuries, didn’t cause him to growl.
“I’ve never got jealous a day in my life. That’s why it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t jealous,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “My journey is my journey. I gotta be proud of that and be patient. I took that and I move forward.”
The mention of his defense didn’t make him defensive, either, as he definitively pointed out the truth as he saw it, that today’s game is far more offensive-minded than the bruise-fests of the previous decades. Telling by his words in subsequent interviews, the best defense is a great offense and when he’s right, there aren’t many who can get a bucket as easily and with as much diversity as himself.
The only time Parker broke serve was at the notion he’d be following in the footsteps of Rose’s perceived failures, the setbacks Rose suffered when his knees began to fail after reaching inspiring heights players like Parker wanted to emulate.
At the podium for all to see, he corrected a question formed around Rose’s “rise and fall”, a sound byte copied and pasted by a couple Chicago-bred NBA players on social media in support of Parker’s words and feelings.
“Derrick had no lows. He didn’t. He still maintained. Derrick’s a legend, no matter what…no rise and falls. Injuries are part of life. Derrick is one of the best icons in Chicago. He accomplished his duty already.”
And later, he wanted to set the record straight again, drawing a line from how the media has presented Rose compared to how the people of Chicago see him, and vice-versa.
“We didn’t turn on Derrick, the media (did),” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We’re hometown. I speak for everybody, we love our hometown.”
The love of Chicago meant more than the prospect of not being able to live up to a glorious prep past, even though he should be well aware wanderlust can turn to villainy in a heartbeat—or the wrong step.
“There’s no pressure for me,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m just happy I get to play with some young guys, and I don’t harp on the negative. Anybody and everybody is gonna have an opinion. I value more my dreams than their opinions.”
And the dreamer steps forward, with a confident gait, eyes wide open and a city hoping it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of its past.
“There’s no fear,” Parker said. “I haven’t faced any other pressure than bouncing back. I’m back on my feet and moving on.”
“When you struggle more, you succeed more.”
David Haugh, Patrick Finley and KC Johnson join Kap on the panel. Jabari Parker is officially a Chicago Bull. So does that make the Bulls a playoff team? And who will play defense for Fred Hoiberg’s young team? Vincent Goodwill and Mark Schanowski drop by to discuss.
Plus with Manny Machado now a Dodger, are the Cubs no longer the best team in the NL?
Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: