CHAMPAIGN — Along with the rest of the country, Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate have watched on television the last couple of weeks as Jabari Parker has taken the college basketball world by storm.
They’re not surprised at what their classmate from Simeon, the Chicago high school basketball power, is doing while posting monster numbers at Duke.
“We’ve always known what kind of player he is; he’s worked extremely hard to get where he is, and the sky’s the limit for Jabari,” said Tate, Illinois’ freshman point guard.
In between practices, games and classes at Illinois, Nunn has had the chance to catch up with Parker.
“He says it’s been good. It takes a lot of work and adapting to get prepared for this experience,” Nunn said. “He seems like he’s really enjoying it, and obviously he’s playing well.”
Everyone’s seen Parker play. Tonight, when Illinois hosts Chicago State (8 p.m., BTN), Nunn and Tate might get their first opportunity to see another high school teammate in action at the collegiate level as 6-foot-9 forward Quron Davis and the Cougars visit State Farm Center.
Davis didn’t play major minutes on the Simeon team that won a fourth straight Class 4A state championship last season, and he’s had a small role through five games with the Cougars this season. But the fact that a non-starter was good enough to earn a Division I scholarship goes a long way in showing what kind of talent Robert Smith has going through his program on the South Side.
“He was a great teammate, a good kid, and he worked real hard,” Tate said of Davis. “It’ll be fun to be able to go up against him.”
In all, seven members of last season’s Simeon team are currently playing college basketball — five at Division I programs and two at junior colleges.
“I think it’s an honor for the guys who are freshmen and were a part of our program to go on and have success after Simeon. It’s great to see that,” Nunn said.
Illinois coach John Groce has noticed the level of talent that continues to come from the school that produced Nick Anderson, Deon Thomas, Bobby Simmons and Derrick Rose. He plucked Nunn and Tate last year, and he’s already got a commitment in the 2015 class from D.J. Williams.
“Rob does a great job of coaching them. You put all that together and that gives those guys an advantage in terms of getting acclimated. My dad always talks about experience being a great teacher. Obviously, it helps prepare you for what’s next,” Groce said. “The fact that those guys have such a large sample size of experiences where they’ve played with and against great players in big-time games in big-time environments, does that help them get acclimated? Sure, absolutely, it’s an advantage for them. Am I surprised that they’ve transitioned well or that kids from that program have transitioned well? No, I’m not surprised.”
The Illinois freshman duo is already doing its part to continue the legacy of quality Simeon players who have contributed to the Illinois program through the years.
Not as highly touted as some other prospects in last year’s recruiting class, Tate has gotten off to a rousing start in his collegiate career, leading the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio entering tonight’s game.
“Jaylon has always played up to his ability, and he’s definitely done well here,” Nunn said. “He was a big part of our program in high school, and he probably didn’t get as much credit as he should have.”
After a slow start to his collegiate career, Nunn put together his best performance of the season Sunday in the win against Bradley, scoring eight points to go along with four rebounds and three assists.
“I feel like I started slow and now I’m adapting and getting the hang of things and picking it up,” Nunn said. “I had to get my confidence back a little bit.”
Nunn has followed in the footsteps of former Simeon stars to wear the No. 25 jersey at Illinois to honor former Wolverines star Ben Wilson, who was gunned down outside the high school in 1984.
He takes pride in wearing that number, and he and Tate take pride every day in representing the high school that prepared them for this level, and they want the legacy to continue long after they’re gone.
“Me and Kendrick have been working hard every day to help the team get better each day,” Tate said. “We want to keep bringing people in from the Chicago area and do whatever we can to help the Illinois program get better each year.”
School of rock
As many as three former Simeon players will see the State Farm Center floor for tonight’s game between the Illini and Chicago State. Here’s a look at the members of the Simeon 2013 graduating class who are currently playing college basketball:
Quron Davis Chicago State
Kendrick Nunn Illinois
Ricky Norris Central Wyoming
Jabari Parker Duke
Kendall Pollard Dayton
Jaylon Tate Illinois
Russell Woods John A. Logan