Simeon coach Robert Smith had a number of frustrating moments last season, none bigger than during the city playoffs, when the Wolverines narrowly survived an upset bid from Lane.
“I don’t think these guys have pride in wearing that Simeon jersey,” Smith said after the game. “They just have it on.”
The season was far from a disaster. The Wolverines finished 22-5, losing a hard fought sectional semifinal game to eventual state champions Young. For any other team in the state, that’s a remarkable season. But Simeon has much higher expectations. Wolverines senior DJ Williams summed them up last week on Signing Day.
“We want to go undefeated,” said Williams. “Jabari Parker’s group wanted to win four sate titles, that was how they made their mark. The best way for us to leave a legacy will be to go undefeated.”
That’s a difficult task for any team in any sport, for a high school basketball team with Simeon’s rugged schedule it’s virtually impossible.
“If that’s what they want to reach for that’s fine,” said Smith. “I’ve had great teams and we’ve never been undefeated. I just need to make sure that if they do lose they are able to pick themselves back up quickly.”
Simeon is loaded with talent, probably at least a dozen players that will go on to play college basketball. The Wolverines have three seniors signed with Big Ten schools: Williams with Illinois, Edward Morrow with Nebraska and Isaiah Moss with Iowa.
So why are they ranked No. 2?
It comes down to chemistry. Last year’s squad just wasn’t able to get it done when it really mattered. The loss to Stevenson last season looms large. Both teams are virtually the same, so why will the outcome be different this season?
“We had a couple kids last year, some seniors, that had some distractions,” said Smith. “Now we have this team that really likes one another. The whole mentality is different.”
Smith thinks Morrow and Williams are ready to step up as the team leaders, and says that sophomore Evan Gilyard and highly-regarded freshman Marquis “Kezo” Brown are both vocal leaders in practice.
Morrow is as impressive a speaker as you’ll meet on a high school basketball team. Last week at Simeon’s Signing Day ceremony he stepped up to the microphone like a seasoned politician, thanking his family, coaches and teammates for helping him reach his goals.
Williams has handled a tremendous amount of pressure and attention with poise and dignity for the past three seasons. He hasn’t always lived up to the hype or even his own lofty expectations, but it seems likely that this is the year it all comes together.
“Guys in our program get slighted a little bit because they don’t have to get 20 points every night for us to win,” said Smith.
That’s a direct reference to Williams, who missed out on most postseason accolades last season after averaging nine points a game.
“Points and recognition doesn’t matter at all for these guys, they just want to win,” said Smith. “These guys are in it for each other. This is the time for them to leave their legacies at Simeon.”
If that’s true, and Simeon’s talented group plays with that mindset, look out. It’s likely the Wolverines could become a mirror image of the deep, talented Kentucky squad that hammered Kansas on Tuesday.
“I watched that game,” said Smith. “I’m going to have to give Coach Calipari a call. He watched us do that five in, five out substitution pattern when he was recruiting Jabari. It’s possible we could do that again.”