Going, going, gone
Last week, Simeon product Jabari Parker was selected second overall in the NBA draft, joining fellow Chicago Public League greats Derrick Rose (No. 1, 2008) and Anthony Davis (No. 1, 2011) as players from that league to be selected in the top three of the draft in the last seven years.
If you include Chicago’s Evan Turner (No. 2, 2010), a product of Catholic League power Westchester St. Joseph, that makes four players from Chicago selected in the top three of the NBA draft.
None of them, however, played their college ball in Illinois. Rose played at Memphis, Davis at Kentucky, Turner at Ohio State and Parker at Duke.
The basketball being played in Chicago and across the state in recent years is on par with the great teams and players from the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Simeon coach Robert Smith said. He believes it’s time that the players started giving Illinois and the other state schools a harder look.
“We have to change our mindsets a little bit so kids can see that we have some great institutions here as well — academically and athletically,” said Smith, who has led Simeon to six state championships during his 10 years at the Public League power. “Once guys start to understand that our institutions are just as good as any of the others, I think kids should be looking at the state schools like the University of Illinois and not just the Kansases and Dukes.”
The Chicago pipeline to the NBA is likely to continue next year when big men Jahlil Okafor (Duke) and Cliff Alexander (Kansas) finish their freshman years. Okafor, The News-Gazette’s All-State Player of the Year from Whitney Young and Alexander, an All-State pick from Curie, are projected to be picked in the top three of the 2015 NBA draft should they declare.
“The sky’s the limit for guys from Chicago, next year is another great opportunity to show that,” Smith said. “I think people are starting to really see basketball here in the Public League. I’m for the whole state when it comes down to it. I want everybody in the state to do well.
“But I really root for them all when they get to college because it makes our state, our city look good.”
Smith maintains that the decision on where to play college basketball is ultimately left up to the players and their families, but in his role as an adviser, he makes an effort to push schools in the state. Two Simeon players, Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn are currently on the Illinois roster and another one, D.J. Williams, is on the way in 2015.
According to Smith, John Groce and his staff have done their part in reaching out to the state’s top prospects and closing the gap in making Illinois an attractive destination.
“I think they’ve done an unbelievable job. I think Coach (Bruce) Weber and his staff did a great job, too. We just have to change the way we think in the city,” Smith said. “It’s always sweeter if you could win at home, in your state and bring a national championship back to your hometown.”