Simeon 'moving in the right direction'

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Simeon 'moving in the right direction'

Jabari Parker may be the best player on Simeon's top-ranked team. Or Steve Taylor. Or Kendrick Nunn. But coach Robert Smith wants everybody to know that the Wolverines' indispensable and undisputed leader is 5-foot-10, 160-pound senior point guard Jelani Neely.

When highly rated Jaylon Tate transferred from De La Salle to Simeon last summer, many observers immediately penciled him into the starting lineup. They shook their heads in disbelief when Smith said Tate would be his team's sixth man, that Neely would remain at point guard.

"Jelani came to Simeon because it fit his way of playing," Smith said. "He is a traditional point guard. He controls the game. He is at 85 percent and that's more than most point guards. He runs the team, doesn't score, gets the ball into people's hands and knows what we have to do in situations."

Most of all, Smith said Neely "understands the game the way I want it played. He is in my head all the time, like Derrick (Rose) was here. Talent doesn't always get you the win. He isn't the most talented player but he understands Simeon basketball and no one on the team knows it better than him."

Which is why Simeon's offense struggled early when Neely was sidelined from July to Nov. 25 with a partial ACL tear. At the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, when Simeon barely got past Peoria Manual 48-47 in the semifinals, Smith juggled two guards in a vain attempt to fill Neely's leadership qualities.

Now Neely is back at almost full strength and Smith believes his team is "moving in the right direction, playing real good basketball and playing the Simeon way" as the defending two-time state champion seeks its first Chicago Public League championship since 2007.

They will meet Orr Wednesday in the semifinals at DePaul. In the other semifinal, Marshall will meet Bogan. The two winners will duel for the Public League title on Friday at Chicago State.

"It has a lot to do with Neely back," Smith said. "After our (75-50) loss to (nationally ranked) Findlay Prep on TV, our kids realized we have to go back to playing the way I want them to play. We haven't played badly since. But we still haven't put four quarters together. It would be scary when we do."

No matter how valuable Neely is to Simeon's success, however, he isn't above Smith's disciplinary rules. When he stepped over the line prior to Sunday's quarterfinal game against Marshall, he was forced to sit out with one other starter, Kendrick Nunn, and three reserves.

"Discipline is the big thing," Smith said. "You can't do anything without discipline, on and off the court, at all times, in the classroom, at home. If you are going to be successful in life, not just in basketball, you must have discipline. Doing it their way is what I won't tolerate. We have built a program to do it the Simeon way and that's the only way it will be done."

With the talent and depth at hand, Smith is calling for his players to press and apply even more pressure than in past seasons. He wants to speed up the game at both ends of the floor to take advantage of his team's athleticism. "This is a more up-tempo team than ever before in Simeon history," Smith said.

"I like what we're doing on defense. Sitting in a zone isn't cohesive to what we have. And I like that we're sharing the ball, moving the ball, not doing a lot of dribbling, moving the ball from side to side. Jabari doesn't have to score 30 points for us to win.

"Our kids have finally figured out the way to play. They are having a lot of fun. You can look at practice. They are so much more intense. They value every possession, even in practice.

"They know where we are and where we're trying to get to. If we don't win it all, it won't be a great season. We wouldn't have accomplished all of our goals."

No Bears move yet on CB Deiondre' Hall except maybe to safety

No Bears move yet on CB Deiondre' Hall except maybe to safety

PHOENIX – If the Bears intend to cut ties with Deiondre' Hall after the first-year cornerback become involved in an ugly police incident last weekend, they have not indicated their decision yet. They have, however, begun looking at a possible position change for Hall as they gather information on events of last Saturday night.

Hall was tasered by police in Cedar Falls, Ia., after he and a former Northern Iowa University teammate were allegedly involved in a fight at a bar. Hall was arrested and cited for disorderly conduct, public intoxication and interference. Hall allegedly spit in the officers' faces, according to an affidavit, police saying that an officer used a Taser on Hall's legs in order to get him into a squad car.

GM Ryan Pace confirmed that the team is still gathering information and said, "it's just [that] the circumstances are a little disappointing, to be honest with you. We're aware of it, it's just kind of gathering more facts as we go forward."

Pace has spoken to Hall and said that the team wanted to investigate thoroughly, "but the circumstances surrounding it are obviously disappointing."

In the meantime, the 2016 fourth-round draft choice is slated to be tried at safety when the team convenes for the start of offseason work. Hall played the position in college, and has traits that the Bears value at the safety position.

"One of Deiondre's best traits is his ball skills, his ball clock, the ability to time the pass breakup," Pace said. "He's very natural at playing safety and that's one of the reasons we drafted him, because he has the versatility to do both. That's something we're going to talk about this offseason and he could start taking some reps there in the offseason program."

Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who missed all of last season following arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-August, will stay at cornerback.

Is Addison Russell still on track for Opening Night?

Is Addison Russell still on track for Opening Night?

MESA, Ariz. – Addison Russell believes he will be ready for Opening Night. Right now, Cubs manager Joe Maddon says his All-Star shortstop starting the season on the disabled list is an option that "I'm not considering."

But Russell hasn't played in a Cactus League game since March 22 and the Cubs have only three exhibitions left before facing the St. Louis Cardinals on national TV. The new 10-day disabled list would also allow the Cubs to backdate Russell's injury (stiff back) to March 30 and create a degree of roster flexibility. 

"We're trying to start the season out on a good note and definitely in St. Louis," Russell said Tuesday. "That's kind of the goal, but if the back doesn't feel well until then, maybe that's something that we'll have to do. With the way that I'm feeling, I don't think that's necessary."

The Cubs did get Ben Zobrist (stiff neck) back into the lineup that afternoon against the San Francisco Giants at Sloan Park. Russell estimated he's around "95 percent" and hoped to play Wednesday before the Cubs leave Arizona and fly out for two exhibition games against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.      

"We're not trying to take it too quick," Russell said. "Missing a few games here in the spring is a lot better than a few games in the season. I've talked to Joe and there's no hurry back."

Five days out from what should be an electric atmosphere at Busch Stadium, Maddon said athletic trainer PJ Mainville didn't sound concerned about Russell's back issue.

"PJ felt very strongly that he's going to be fine over the next couple days," Maddon said. "From Addison's perspective, knowing baseball players who've been doing so well, you take a couple days off, you're concerned that you're going to lose it. 

"I'm certain he's going to be fine. Actually, I'm OK with him getting some rest right now. The biggest thing is: Medically, is he going to be fine? Everybody thinks that he is, so I'm not concerned."