Big test for Simeon against No. 1 Montverde on Saturday

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Big test for Simeon against No. 1 Montverde on Saturday

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.

89 Days to Kickoff: Vernon Hills

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89 Days to Kickoff: Vernon Hills

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: Vernon Hills

Head coach: Bill Bellecomo

Assistant coaches: Corey Atwell, Greg Stilling, Tim Dydo, Jason Czarnecki, Avelino Cortez, Brian Palmer, Mike Larsen, Dave Schroetter

How they fared in 2016: 10-4 (3-2 Central Suburban North), lost to Peoria in the IHSA Class 5A state title game.

[MORE: 90 Days to Kickoff - Morris]

2017 regular season schedule:

Aug. 25 – Grayslake North

Sept. 1 – @ Zion-Benton

Sept. 8 – Rolling Meadows

Sept. 15 - @ Hoffman Estates

Sept. 22 - Highland Park

Sept. 28 – @ Deerfield

Oct. 6 - Maine West

Oct. 13 - @ Maine East

Oct. 20 - Glenbrook North

Biggest storyline: Can the Cougars make another deep run in Class 5A?

Names to watch this season: Senior WR/DB Max Lyle, senior OL/DL Danny Lester and senior LB Kyle Fasbinder

Biggest holes to fill: The Cougars will need to reload in particular on the offensive side of the football with just three starters back from a season ago.

EDGY's early take: The Cougars had a great run in 2016 and while several key starters have graduated, Vernon Hills still has some gas left in the tank. Getting off to a strong early start could be a big key in 2017 as the Cougars schedule is tough especially early on in 2017.

90 Days to Kickoff: Morris

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90 Days to Kickoff: Morris

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: Morris

Head coach: Alan Thorson

Assistant coaches: John Courter, Greg Larsen, John Wodziak, Keith Anderson, Derek Johnston, Justin Zink, Matt Seidel, Brian Kasher, Ryan Battersby, Ryan Clauson, Tyler Hartley, Kyle Enervold

How they fared in 2016: 10-3 (3-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 East), lost to Peoria in the IHSA Class 5A semifinals.

[MORE: 91 Days to Kickoff - Ridgewood]

2017 regular season schedule:

Aug. 25 –DuSable

Sept. 1 – @ Washington

Sept. 8 – @ Quincy Notre Dame

Sept. 15 - Rochelle

Sept. 22 - @ Yorkville

Sept. 29 – DeKalb

Oct. 6 - Kaneland

Oct. 13 - @ Sycamore

Oct. 20 - @ Geneseo

Biggest storyline: Can the Redskins once again make a deep postseason run?

Names to watch this season: Senior OL Nathan Korte, Senior OL Nolan Feeney, WR/TE Tyler Spiezio

Biggest holes to fill: Morris will need to find some answers in the offensive skills department.

EDGY's early take: Morris will play its last season in the Northern Illinois Big 12 conference before heading to the Interstate 8 in 2018. If the Redskins can replace some graduated offensive skills players, Morris has a ton of experience, especially on both sides of the line, that could carry them deep into 5A. Also, keep an eye on the Redskins enrollment, which is pushing them closer and closer to Class 4A over the past few years.