Does Jabari Parker belong on all-time Top Five?

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Does Jabari Parker belong on all-time Top Five?

How good is Jabari Parker?

Better than his father?

Better than Derrick Rose?

Good enough to rank among the top five players in Public League history?

Good enough to rank among the top five players in state history?

How good is Simeon's 6-foot-8 junior?

For openers, Simeon coach Robert Smith, who coached Rose and Parker, cast his vote for Parker, claiming he is a better all-around player than Rose, the best he has ever coached.

He almost certainly will be the first junior to be named Mr. Basketball in Illinois since the voting began in 1981.

Longtime recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye, who have observed Rose and Parker and many other elite players over the last 25 years, said Parker "already has sealed his legacy as one of the all-time great players in Chicago Public League history."

"But whether or not he belongs in the top five remains to be seen," Roy Schmidt said. "That is because the final chapter is still unwritten. We need to see what he does between now and the time he is finished playing at Simeon."

At the moment, the Schmidt brothers argue that Parker isn't as good as Isiah Thomas was as a junior. "But, then again, we aren't sure anybody from Chicago since then has been better than Isiah. But that doesn't mean that Jabari isn't a great player," Harv Schmidt said.

"We would also say that as of now Jabari probably ranks just a tad behind Derrick Rose. However it is almost an unfair assessment because it is also based on what Rose has done since leaving Simeon -- at Memphis and now in the NBA."

Is Parker capable of achieving the same level of greatness as Rose and all of the others? "Absolutely. He has continued to develop and improve upon significant facets of his game each and every year. And he has a work ethic that is second to none," the Schmidts said.

"With that in mind, we will be as anxious as anybody to see how Parker progresses over the course of the next year. As long as he continues to go about things in the manner that he has, we think that when it is said and done Parker could make a very strong case for ranking among the top 5 or 10 All-Time great players in Chicago. We would not bet against him."

I have observed high school basketball in Illinois since the 1950s. As of this date, my all-time top five are Marshall's George Wilson (1960), Carver's Cazzie Russell (1962), St. Joseph's Isiah Thomas (1979), Farragut's Kevin Garnett (1995) and Simeon's Derrick Rose (2007).

In good conscience, I dropped my all-time favorite player, Thornridge's Quinn Buckner (1972), from my original list to make room for Rose.

That puts four former Public Leaguers on the all-time list. The fifth member of the all-time Public League team? My choice would be Westinghouse's Mark Aguirre (1978).

So where does Parker rank?

Old-timers might argue that he isn't as good as his father, Robert "Sonny" Parker, who starred at Farragut in the early 1970s, was a two-time All-America at Mineral Area Junior College, led Texas A&M to back-to-back Southwest Conference championships, was named to the Southwest Conference's all-decade team, was the 17th pick in the 1976 NBA draft and played for six years with the Golden State Warriors.

At the moment, it is difficult to find a spot on my all-time first five for Jabari Parker. But he still has another year to get better.

How about the second five?

It would include Aguirre, Buckner, Proviso East's Glenn "Doc" Rivers (1980), Collinsville's Tom Parker (1968) and Centralia's Bobby Joe Mason (1955).

I can hear critics from the Public League hollering: Who is Parker? Who is Mason? They rarely concede that anyone south of Altgeld Gardens or west of Austin or north or Rogers Park can play the game as well as a city kid.

After all, I still haven't mentioned other Public League icons, including Parker's Tom Hawkins and Bo Ellis, Dunbar's Bernie Mills and Ronnie Lester, Simeon's Ben Wilson, Deon Thomas and Nick Anderson, King's Marcus Liberty and Jamie Brandon, Hirsch's Rickey Green, Crane's Tim Robinson and Jerome Freeman, Westinghouse's Hersey Hawkins, Eddie Johnson and Kiwane Garris, Vocational's Juwan Howard and Carver's Tim Hardaway and Terry Cummings.

There are some people who are already touting former Chicago Perspectives star Anthony Davis, now a freshman sensation at Kentucky, for all-time status in the Public League. My argument? Did they feel the same after his senior year, putting up big numbers against woefully weak competition? If an all-timer is evaluated on his high school performance, I don't think Davis rates with Wilson, Russell, Garnett, Rose and Aguirre.

I admit a partiality toward Tom Parker, a 6-foot-6 forward whom I covered while working for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1966-68. He was the best of four All-Americans produced by legendary coach Vergil Fletcher. In his senior year, he averaged 33 points per game. Later, he starred at Kentucky and was the SEC's co-player of the year in 1972.

Mason is one of three basketball players to have his jersey retired at tradition-rich Centralia, following Lowell Spurgeon and Dike Eddleman. He was an All-Stater in 1954 and 1955, was named to Bradley's 15-member All-Century team and played for 12 years with the Harlem Globetrotters.

"He was the best player I ever saw -- until I saw Earl Monroe in the NBA," said legendary coach Duster Thomas of Pinckneyville.

So how good is Jabari Parker?

"Parker is a better high school player at the same stage of their careers," said Simeon coach Robert Smith. "Derrick didn't understand how good he was until his junior and senior years. Jabari knew it as a freshman. He can play all five positions. He is a better all-around player.

"Sure, it is a hard comparison because they play two different positions. But Jabari had a better understanding of the game at an early age, when to score, how to score. Derrick was more of a passer. He didn't become a shooter until last year (in the NBA)."

Smith pointed out that Rose wasn't a dominant scorer in high school. "But he could have been. In his junior year, we had to make a rule for him. If he didn't take at least 10 shots in a game, the other players had to run in practice. Guys on the bench counted his shots. We wanted him to be more of a scorer. They had to run twice that season," he said.

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

WASHINGTON – Cubs president Theo Epstein watched the Washington Nationals run wild on his iPad on Tuesday while visiting the Class-A Myrtle Beach affiliate. As Epstein did some work in his hotel room later that night, he got a text message from general manager Jed Hoyer alerting him to Miguel Montero’s explosive comments.  

Epstein’s management style is to not overreact or worry about the next day’s headlines. He generally believes in second chances, tries to keep an open mind and looks at the problem from every angle, occasionally to the point of paralysis by analysis.

But Epstein said it took “probably 10 seconds” before he realized the Cubs needed to designate Montero for assignment after the veteran catcher pointed the finger at Jake Arrieta – a Cy Young Award-winning, All-Star pitcher – for Washington’s seven stolen bases.    

“It screamed out as something that we should do,” Epstein said.     

As Montero’s rant caught fire on Twitter, Epstein called Hoyer and spoke to Montero on the phone, but he wanted to sleep on it and consult with some players before making Wednesday’s final decision, which could cost approximately $7 million. Epstein could not envision this as a team-building moment after Montero’s mea culpa and clearing the air with Arrieta.

“That was not my read on it, knowing the dynamics, present and past,” Epstein said. “This was not something that we would benefit from – trying to pursue a path of putting it all back together again.”

The Cubs pursued Aroldis Chapman after the New York Yankees closer began last season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. The Cubs cautiously didn’t judge or unconditionally support Addison Russell after a third-party abuse accusation on social media triggered an MLB investigation this month. The Cubs tolerated Tommy La Stella’s refusal to report to Triple-A Iowa last summer, allowing him to chill out at home in New Jersey.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

But Montero doesn’t have a 100-mph fastball. Montero isn’t an All-Star shortstop. Montero isn’t being preserved for one hypothetical pinch-hit at-bat in the playoffs. The Cubs are hovering around .500 now – no longer the World Series favorite – and all those variables become part of the calculus.   

“I just came to the conclusion that now more than ever we really need to be a team,” Epstein said. “This was an example of someone being a bad teammate publicly, and that we’d be better off moving on and not standing for it, because we do hold our players to a higher standard than that.

“In our role as the front office, we can’t always be in the clubhouse and push the right buttons to help everyone come together as a team. But we certainly are in a position – when we see something that could fracture the group – to try to fix the situation and remove that issue.

“Miggy’s not to blame at all for the issues that we have as a team right now. He should not be a scapegoat for what’s going on. This was just an example of someone publicly not being a good teammate and making comments that weren’t accountable and weren’t supportive and weren’t in furtherance of the team concept. And we felt we had to act on it.”

There is a chicken-or-the-egg mystery to clubhouse cohesion. But Montero probably would have had a longer fuse – and the bosses would have had a longer leash – if the Cubs were 24 games above .500 the way they were at this time last year. Montero could also get away with a lot more when he was a two-time All-Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks and playing in a sleepy market. 

“Had we been in a spot where this group had already formed its identity and was clicking on all cylinders,” Epstein said, “and had already overcome adversity together and come together completely as a team and we’re rolling in those respects, maybe it could have been handled differently by the group without sort of action from above.

“But I think you have to factor in where the team is and what the team needs and how close we are to reaching our ideal and how close we are to living up to all the values that we have as an organization.”

The Cubs Way isn’t exactly making it up as they go along. But there are always double standards and rationalizations in a bottom-line business. It sounds like Epstein did his due diligence without giving it a second thought: Montero wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. 

“There aren’t that many opportunities for people out of uniform to positively impact the group or nudge it in the right direction,” Epstein said, “or underscore the importance of team or emphasize the values that we try to embody as a group.

“This was one that made sense, given the history, the group dynamics, all the factors involved.”

Can Leonard Floyd break out in 2017? The Bears like the early signs

Can Leonard Floyd break out in 2017? The Bears like the early signs

The Bears believe Leonard Floyd will make the leap from being a promising rookie to a breakout second-year player, the kind who can be a centerpiece of a defense as soon as this fall.  

The Bears in 2016 totaled 37 sacks —12th in the NFL — despite dealing with a rash of injuries and not having a standout player in terms of getting to the quarterback. Willie Young led the team with 7 1/2 sacks, which tied him for 31st in the league last year, while Floyd and Akiem Hicks each had seven. 

Sixteen players recorded double-digit sacks last year. That’s not the end-all benchmark for Floyd in 2017, but for a former top-10 pick with elite skills and, as his coaches and teammate said, the right mentality, it’s not out of the question. 

“With most players, you go from your freshman year to sophomore or rookie to second year, … it slows down, they understand it, they're not thinking, they're reacting,” coach John Fox said. “And so I'd expect that and I've seen that already even in the off-season.”

Floyd, earlier this month, talked about how much more comfortable he feels after a full year of practicing and playing at the NFL level. 

“Everything was just fast when I got here last year,” Floyd said. “This year’s it’s way slower and I feel like I’m doing pretty good this year.”

There are two issues with Floyd that won’t go away until he proves they’re not problems in the regular season, though: His weight and his concussions. 

The weight issue is one Floyd has heard for a while, joking with reporters during veteran minicamp that he was surprised it wasn’t the first thing he was asked during his session with the media. He said he “definitely gained some weight” without revealing how much he’s put on, only saying he feels like he’s in much better shape now than he was as a rookie.

“It’s like night and day compared to last year,” Floyd said. 

The concessions are a far more serious — and scary — issue given it took Floyd two months to fully recover from the second concussion he suffered in 2016. 

The Bears believe Floyd’s concussion issues are correctable, though, given they were the product of poor tackling form made worse by collisions with Hicks. The crown of Floyd’s helmet was too low, so he and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio worked with tackling dummies and sled machines in an effort to fix that issue. 

The hope is that Floyd can stay healthy and marry his skills with a better knowledge of the game to put together a breakout year in 2017. His teammates sounded confident during the offseason program that everything was falling into place for the former ninth overall pick. 

“He’s a great competitor,” Hicks said. “Great energy, fast, athletic, he’s everything you want in an outside linebacker, right? Nonstop motor — I can give you all the cliche terms, but I just feel like as far as the defensive line or an outside linebacker, another year under his belt is only going to make him better.”

Added linebacker Jerrell Freeman: “That guy is going to be good for a while.”