Klee's Corner: On Jay Simpson, Robert Smith and Chester Frazier

Jay Simpson is on crutches.

That's the bad part. The former Central big man broke a bone in his right foot — the fifth metatarsal bone — while playing in a pickup game at his current school, La Lumiere.

Simpson underwent surgery Thursday.

"It was a fast procedure," he said shortly after leaving the hospital. "Not too bad."

The good part: He's familiar with the rehab process and said he expects to return to the court in six to eight weeks — well before he begins his freshman year at Purdue. Strangely, Simpson suffered the same injury — on his left foot — roughly four years ago.

"I kind of knew what it was about," he said.

Simpson is scheduled to move to West Lafayette in early June to begin summer classes at Purdue. The power forward is one of four freshmen in Purdue's 2012 recruiting class.

In retrospect, Simpson said his decision to leave Central and spend his senior year at La Lumiere — a prep school in LaPorte, Ind. — was the best one for him. Most important, Simpson said he improved his grades, ACT score and "everything else as school goes."

"It was definitely a good idea," Simpson said. "It took me a while to get used to the whole prep school. It's very different there. There's 200 students total. And I came from a public school of 1,600 students. That's very different.

"So for the most part, yeah, I liked it. I felt like it was a good decision by me. I needed a reality check."

But there also seems to be a hint of what could have been if he had stayed home in Champaign.

"It could've been a good year (basketballwise) for Central. I knew we could've had a good season," Simpson said. "I feel like if I had stayed we would've had good chemistry on our team. I think we could've made a good run."

Simpson said he is "6-9 or 6-10" and roughly 255 pounds. His ideal weight is 245, and he hopes to achieve that once his rehab is over and he can focus on workouts at Purdue.

The Boilermakers will travel to Italy for an overseas basketball tour in July — similar to the tour made by his hometown Illini last offseason. Simpson said specialists indicated he would be healthy enough to participate in the overseas tour.

"I'm going to start rehabbing once I get over to Purdue once I get off crutches," he said. "I'm looking forward to that (tour). (He is) looking forward to getting over there and getting to know my teammates better and seeing how the team plays (and) getting my body in better shape.

"He (coach Matt Painter) just wants me to come in and play hard. If I continue to work on my offensive game and my defense he thinks I can be a very good player."

Simpson's role as a freshman at Purdue is yet to be seen. But he will have two seasons competing against another C-U product — former Centennial star Rayvonte Rice. The Drake transfer is expected to be eligible at Illinois for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.

"I'm really close to Rayvonte. We were really good friends," Simpson said. "I talked to him about it. It's going to be fun. It's going to be a big challenge because he's a very good player."

***

Jabari Parker's appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week caused a stir on all levels of the game. The same was true in the Chicago Simeon locker room.

"That's the thing that I love about these kids. They've got their own identities. Jabari is Jabari. Kendrick is Kendrick (Nunn)," Simeon coach Rob Smith said by phone. "When they saw the cover (online Wednesday), all the guys were like 'Whoa,' They all started texting him and calling him and congratulating him. They were really proud of him."

Perhaps his team's selfless approach is one reason Simeon will be favored to win its fourth straight IHSA state championship heading into the 2012-13 season.

"I think that tells you a lot about the kind of kids we have. It's a different breed of kid," Smith said. "And Jabari doesn't care about that stuff. He's really good with it. He's actually tired of it. He just wants to concentrate on finishing up school and playing ball.

"It was like that with Derrick (Rose). Jabari and Derrick are kind of the same people."

It's odd, really. Rose, who won a pair of state titles at Simeon, was built the same way. In the summer before his freshman season at Memphis, for example, he attended an AAU event at Joy of the Game, a basketball facility in Deerfield. With a hood pulled over his head, Rose snuck in the back door and sat alone so he wouldn't be noticed.

"I just want to watch my guys play," Rose said then.

A comparison of Rose and Parker — Simeon megastars separated by a half-decade — shows how quickly the hype game is escalating.

When Rose, the future MVP of the NBA, was coming out of Simeon, he never received the same measure of attention layered on Parker. This is a whole new level.

There is the S.I. cover story, ready with the headline, "The Best High School Basketball Player Since LeBron James is... Jabari Parker."

Smith said Parker also is scheduled to appear on "Good Morning America" early next week.

Rose was a two-time state champion and McDonald's All-American who didn't face this kind of attention until he reached the NBA — for several reasons.

One, he shared the spotlight in a legendary 2007 graduating class that featured future NBA players Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, James Harden, O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley.

Meanwhile, the 6-foot-8 Parker has been regarded as the nation's top 2013 prospect for several years — with few classmates capable of challenging him for that title.

"And social media is so huge now. That's the biggest difference. It was just coming into its own when Derrick was in high school," Smith said in comparing the hype around the two Simeon stars he coached. "Not saying Jabari wouldn't be getting the same attention.

"But I think if social media was the same way when Derrick was coming out, not only Derrick, but some other kids would have gotten it a lot more. It's a lot different now."

And the S.I. cover surely will bring a new audience of casual fans into the Parker watch.

Whether the S.I. headline is accurate — the best since LeBron? — is open for debate.

What isn't: Parker will finish his prep career more well-known than any player in this state's basketball history — if not the nation's.

"This (S.I. cover) is huge for him, for the school, for everybody. This is really a big thing," Smith said. "And if anybody deserved it, it's him."

***

Simeon was one of John Groce's first stops when he hit the road as the coach at Illinois.

"We met for a while. It could've been almost three hours maybe," Smith said. "I thought it looks like he's headed in the right direction. I think he came in (to Chicago) and went to the places he needed to go to. And he doesn't owe us anything.

"I think he did it the right way. He laid down what his goals and plans are for the U of I. And he listened to what our goals and plans are as coaches. I think that's all we can ask of him. Now when it's time for a recruit to (choose a college program) I can say, 'This is what their goals are. This is what they want to do.'"

Parker, a 6-foot-8 forward, and Kendrick Nunn, a 6-2 guard, are two of several prospects in the Simeon pipeline who have interest from Illinois.

Simeon has won three straight state titles — one shy of the state record (Peoria Manual). Smith has won a state-record five state titles at Simeon. But no coach has won four straight. That's next on Smith's list of goals — and the talent is in place to swing it.

"This team could be really, really good," Smith said. "The one thing is I don't see us having a really good inside presence. Our guards will have to go down in there."

And Smith still has interest in making the leap to the college level down the road.

"College is something I want to do. It has to be the right job, though. I'm not just going to take a job to take a job," he said. "Simeon is as good as a lot of college jobs right now, except for the (money), of course. So that's where I'm at.

"If the right job became available and I thought it was something that was intriguing to me, then I'd step up. But I'm very happy here. I really like it here. It would have to be a good step up to leave."

***

Demetri McCamey was busy Thursday night.

He had tickets to the Spurs-Clippers playoff game. After his first season playing overseas in Turkey and Israel, the former Illini guard is back in the United States. McCamey said he's training in San Antonio with former Knicks, Pacers and Spurs coach Bob Hill.

At least one NBA team has guaranteed McCamey a spot on its summer league roster. The summer league is in July.

***

Newly hired Illinois staffer Brandon Miller is no stranger to strong coaching staffs.

Miller was on a Xavier staff with Thad Matta, Sean Miller, John Groce and Alan Majors — now the head coaches at Ohio State, Arizona, Illinois and Charlotte, respectively.

Miller has arrived in C-U to assume the position of assistant to the head coach at Illinois. An official announcement from the university probably will come next week.

***

Illinois is in search of a big man for its 2013 recruiting class.

One problem: The state's stock of big men in that class is woefully limited. Perhaps the top prospect would be Chicago De La Salle forward Gavin Schilling, who figures to have the staff's eyes during the July evaluation period.

Most of the other candidates are out of state. Maverick Morgan, a 6-10 center from Springboro, Ohio, is scheduled for an unofficial visit to Illinois in mid-June. Demetrius Henry, a 6-8 forward from Oakland Park, Fla., is another possibility. NJCAA All-American Jameel McKay, a 6-8 forward who would arrive in 2013 with two seasons of eligibility, lists Illinois among his top choices.

There figure to be more out-of-state possibilities, as well.

***

Bruce Weber always felt Chester Frazier was a coach-in-waiting.

Now the former Illini coach has given the former Illini guard his first coaching job.

Frazier accepted an offer to join Weber's staff at Kansas State. The 26-year-old will join Chris Lowery and Alvin Brooks III as full-time assistants.

It's a super position in which to start a coaching career — at a high-major program with a stocked roster under a head coach he's familiar with. Frazier played four seasons at Illinois before joining the staff as a graduate assistant and video coordinator.

Frazier should help open recruiting doors on the East Coast, particular with prep schools. He grew up in Baltimore and has maintained connections throughout the area. He had been approached by East Coast programs about job openings and has credibility there.

For example, when Weber was considering the K-State job, he asked Frazier to speak with Kansas State guard Rodney McGruder. Weber wanted to make certain the Washington, D.C., product wasn't considering a transfer since Frank Martin was leaving.

Weber also has spoken with former UI associate head coach Wayne McClain about a position at Kansas State. The coaches worked together for eight seasons at Illinois.

***

What to expect when Illinois hosts Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge?

Georgia Tech is in rebuilding mode under second-year coach Brian Gregory. It finished in a tie for ninth place in the ACC. Georgia Tech figures to be projected in a similar spot next season, as well.

Even so, Gregory welcomes a promising recruiting class highlighted by top-50 prospect Robert Carter, a 6-8, 245-pound forward. The roster is relatively young with one senior projected in the starting lineup, said Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Ken Sugiura.

Gregory brought Dayton to the Assembly Hall in the 2010 NIT. It was a forgettable loss for the Illini, who couldn't keep up with the fast-paced Flyers. Don't expect Georgia Tech to push the tempo, however. With a thinner roster he probably can't afford to run.

"I can see Gregory running and pressing more, but I'm not sure he will extensively this season," Sugiura said.

Illinois has a three-game winning streak in the Challenge (at Clemson, North Carolina, at Maryland), and no one on the roster has lost in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Georgia Tech matchup is a break from the Illini's usual pairing. The Challenge has featured a steady diet of North Carolina (four games), Maryland (four), Clemson (two) and Duke (two).

***

Pulling rank

ESPN released the matchups for the 13th ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It says here the Big Ten will win the Commissioner's Cup for the fourth straight year. Ranking the games:

1. North Carolina (14-2 ACC last season) at Indiana (11-7 Big Ten)

But our Big Ten preseason ballot might include Michigan or Michigan State at No. 1

Prediction: Big Ten

2. N.C. State (9-7 ACC) at Michigan (13-5 Big Ten)

How about N.C. State's recruiting? Pack welcomes three McDonald's All-Americans

Prediction: Big Ten

3. Ohio State (13-5 Big Ten) at Duke (13-3 ACC)

UI staffer Brandon Miller worked with Thad Matta for seven of eight seasons in coaching

Prediction: ACC

4. Minnesota (6-12 Big Ten) at Florida State (12-4)

Another prediction: It will be Minnesota or Duke for elite 2014 prospect Tyus Jones

Prediction: Big Ten

5. Michigan State (13-5 Big Ten) at Miami (9-7 ACC)

Every day 2013 guard Demetrius Jackson doesn't commit to MSU, there's hope for UI

Prediction: Big Ten

6. Purdue (10-8 Big Ten) at Clemson (8-8 ACC)

At Purdue, one central Illinoisan graduated (Lewis Jackson), one arrives (Jay Simpson)

Prediction: Big Ten

7. Georgia Tech (4-12 ACC) at Illinois (6-12 Big Ten)

Programs faced similar slides after NCAA title game berths — Tech in '04, Illinois in '05

Prediction: Big Ten

8. Virginia (9-7 ACC) at Wisconsin (12-6 Big Ten)

An insomniac picked this matchup; Hoos, Badgers were 338th, 345th in adjusted tempo

Prediction: Big Ten

9. Iowa (8-10 Big Ten) at Virginia Tech (4-12 ACC)

Why would Ramon Williams leave Illini staff for Hokies? He's from nearby Roanoke

Prediction: Big Ten

10. Maryland (6-10 ACC) at Northwestern (8-10 Big Ten)

NU faces uphill battle after losing Johnny Shurna — program's all-time leading scorer

Prediction: ACC

11. Boston College (4-12 ACC) at Penn State (4-14 Big Ten)

Surprising stat: B.C. owns second-best Challenge win percentage of all teams (5-1, .833)

Prediction: Big Ten

12. Nebraska (4-14 Big Ten) at Wake Forest (4-12 ACC) —

Deacons dominate Challenge (10-2); UI's epic 91-73 win in '04 one of their two losses

Prediction: ACC

Final tally: Big Ten 9, ACC 3

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calvin wrote on May 21, 2012 at 10:05 am

Rose is a cheater...........