Simeon has come a long way in a very short time. After opening the season a little over a month ago as the No. 1 high school team in the country, the Wolverines looked like a shell of the squad who won the last three 4A state championships in Illinois.
But since then, the Wolverines have shown much better chemistry and continuity on the court.
After losing their second game of the season and their No. 1 ranking in a nationally televised contest against DeSoto (Texas), Simeon put together a string of seven consecutive victories, including capturing the title last week at the ultra-competitive Pontiac Holiday Tournament.
Much of the Wolverines' improvement can be directly attributed to the overall health of the team and specifically, their All-American, Jabari Parker. Since making his return to the court on Dec. 1 and struggling in the process Parker has improved his conditioning and dropped much of the weight hed picked up since his injured foot kept him sidelined and unable to play since the summer.
While at Pontiac, Parker proved why he is one of the best prep players in the country as he led Simeon to the championship and earned the tournament's MVP award. Coach Robert Smith was pleased with his superstar and his team as a whole, feeling confident that his squad has made great strides in a short amount of time.
I think we played well in Pontiac. I still think we have some room for improvement, but guys were sharing the basketball and we got some wide-open shots as a result. We just looked like we were playing Simeon basketball again, but we still have a long way to go, opined Smith at his teams final practice on Thursday afternoon before departing for West Virginia Friday morning to compete in the Cancer Research Classic.
One of the big issues for Simeon has been their overall health as theyve had key players like Parker and Kendrick Nunn banged up in the early part of the season. But Smith feels those concerns are behind them and now that the team is whole again, they can continue to work on their chemistry and becoming more familiar with each other as a group.
Kendrick is fine now. He was a little banged up going into Pontiac, but those two days we had off after the tournament really helped him, said Smith. And Jabari is getting healthier and healthier, getting more in shape, and as time has gone on weve started to get better as a team.
We saw our rhythm start to come together in Pontiac and we knew thats where it would happen. Our offensive flow has gotten a little bit better, our execution has gotten a little bit better, weve still got to get some guys to understand their roles, but were starting to pick that part up as well.
The improvements the Wolverines have made will be put to the test this weekend as they face another top-ranked high school program in No. 1 Montverde Academy (Fla.), in yet another nationally televised contest on Saturday evening at 5:00 CT on ESPN2.
Simeon will have their hands full with a Montverde team that boasts three players in the top 100 of the 2013 class including point guard Kasey Hill (No. 9) who signed with Florida, 6-10 center Dakari Johnson (No. 12) who is still undecided and 6-0 power forward Devin Williams (No. 85) who will play his college ball at West Virginia next season.
Coach Smith knows hes facing a formidable opponent Montverde knocked off Whitney Young in overtime en route to a championship at the City of Palms Classic in Florida but feels his team is ready for the challenge and has a good chance to win as long as his guys come to play.
To be able to beat Montverde, were going to have to have guys step up and bring their A game, said Smith on the matchup. Its not going to be able to be a B or C game from us if were going to beat those guys. They have some great, talented players some high-major, Division I guys were going to have to really step up and play well to have a chance to win.
Despite their demanding travel schedule, Coach Smith isnt concerned with it affecting his team. In fact, he knows these tough matchups will only help Simeon when the local action here in Chicago becomes much more intense.
These games, where we have to travel, just gets us ready for March and some of the bigger games we have down the line, like the Whitney Young and Morgan Park games, said Smith. The games were playing now against national opponents are a good test to see where we are. If we can compete with these teams, well be able to compete with everybody locally.