Simeon set the bar for Chicago when it hosted 40 college coaches, including a number with NCAA title rings, for an open gym last week.
Former NBA player Sonny Parker, whose son Jabari was the reason most of the coaches were in attendance, compared the open gym to the scene in the movie “Blue Chips” where college coaches filled the balcony of an old gym to watch Butch McRae (Anfernee Hardaway) play.
Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter has heard all about Simeon’s turnout. No disrespect to Simeon and its talent, but he thinks a year from now his gym will be an even more popular place to be seen.
“When we look at where we are in relation to sophomores and juniors, in a year what you’re going to have is a deeper, more feverish pitch,” Slaughter said on Wednesday.
While Simeon has Parker, the top-ranked junior in the country by ESPN, and a handful of other Division I recruits, Whitney Young possesses 6-foot-8 center Tommy Hamilton, who is ranked No. 22 in the Class of 2013, 6-7 forward Paul White, who is No. 14 in the Class of 2014, and 6-11 center Jahlil Okafor, who is ranked No. 3 in the Class of 2014.
Okafor has been the player who has drawn the most interest at Whitney Young. Nearly every top college program is recruiting him.
Slaughter is confident Okafor can become the best big man ever to come out of Illinois.
“There’s a myriad of reasons that make me believe that,” Slaughter said. “First and foremost, his commitment to get better. He’s always training and trying to improve. He also has a passion for the game. It’s not about the fame and the fortune for him. He enjoys playing. His involvement in the USA program also has had a profound impact on him. He’s able to see and measure himself against his age class in the country and the world, and he’s had great success there.”
Slaughter couldn’t remember any one of the state’s premier post players, which have included Eddy Curry and Rashard Griffith, having as much of an offensive game as Okafor. Although not an Illinois product, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger is one player Okafor has been compared to most often.
“I actually talked to someone who knew Jared at the same age, and he thought Jahlil was ahead of him at the same period,” Slaughter said. “I think you look at an athletic standpoint, and Jahlil is more athletic than he is.
“I’m reminded when I spoke to the Chicago Sun-Times about Derrick Rose three years ago. I told someone then we never talk about the pros, but you knew he had it. When you look at Jahlil, you know he has it.”
Slaughter doesn’t believe White is too far behind Okafor. White has offers from Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, among others, but had a quiet recruiting summer after suffering a hand injury and sitting out July.
“If you look at him, he had a slippage in the rankings,” Slaughter said. “Obviously, if he’s on the floor, there’s not going to be that slippage in his stock. A lot of people talk about other players in the class, but when the dust settles I think he and Jahlil are going to be No. 1 and No. 2. His skill set is so incredible, the things he can do with his size.”
Hamilton was Whitney Young’s main attraction before the youngsters arrived, and he suffered a variety of injuries. Hamilton is healthy now, has lost nearly 20 pounds and is in the best shape he’s ever been, according to Slaughter.
“People are starting to notice he’s back,” Slaughter said. “I don’t know if he fell off the radar. I think people had an opportunity to put him on the backburner because he wasn’t playing. He didn’t play in July, and people had to redirect their attention. They now have an opportunity to kick the tires again.”
Hamilton recently visited Arizona. Illinois, Louisville and Michigan State are also among the teams recruiting him. Slaughter said he and Illini coach Bruce Weber recently had a talk about Hamilton, and Weber is apparently still after bringing Hamilton and Parker to Champaign.
“I just had a conversation with Coach Weber, and there was nothing to suggest that there had been any cooling off of their interest in Tommy,” Slaughter said. “It’s quite the opposite.”
All of the state’s high-majors have been strongly recruiting Whitney Young, according to Slaughter. Illinois has made Slaughter’s program a priority for a while, and DePaul coach Oliver Purnell and Northwestern associate head coach Tavaras Hardy have continued to improve their programs’ relationships with Slaughter.
“Since coach Purnell has come to Chicago, his clear message is Whitney Young is important to him and what he’s trying to do,” Slaughter said. “That’s all I ask.
“At Northwestern, Tavaras is working extremely hard to have a relationship. They have not taken a kid of ours, but they offered a couple. He’s working. I give him credit.”
The team’s schedule includes trips to Florida, Kentucky, New Jersey North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia. Slaughter and Simeon coach Robert Smith are also in the works of setting up a game potentially at UIC. Simeon and Whitney Young are expected to be nationally ranked.
“I know we’re dismissed often times,” Slaughter said. “Simeon is clearly a phenomenal basketball program. Rob has an outstanding program with that team. We feel we have equally talented players if not more. Our objective is to win and win a state championship. At the end of the day, I think that’s where we’re going to be.”