Leo High School president Dan McGrath accused defending Illinois Class 4A boys basketball state champions Simeon Career Academy of recruiting two of its student-athletes.
Their parents and Simeon coach Robert Smith denied the allegation.
Seniors Russell Woods and Sean Moore Jr. attended Leo and played for its varsity basketball team for three years. The two students’ parents recently requested their transcripts from Leo, a private school, and enrolled them into Simeon, a public school. The two schools are both on Chicago’s South Side and are about a mile apart.
Woods, a 6-foot-8 forward, is considered one of the state’s top players and a high-major recruit. Moore Jr., a 6-2 guard, also has received Division I interest.
“I definitely feel they were recruited,” said McGrath, who was formerly the Chicago Tribune’s sports editor and is a graduate of Leo. “They’ve been with us three years. Russell is a three-year starter. Sean is a two-year starter. I don’t think they just pick up on their own and go to Simeon. I know the AAU culture exposes them to other schools and other coaches and other situations. We have three years invested in these young men, and they have three years invested in us. I don’t think they on the spur of the moment just pick up and decide to go elsewhere.
“It does bother me. I think they’re making the move for the wrong reasons. (Former Marquette coach) Al McGuire always used to say, ‘Don’t let basketball use you.’ These are two young men I feel are being used by basketball.”
Smith, who has won five state championships in eight years at Simeon, denied recruiting Woods and Moore Jr. Smith is also Simeon’s dean of students.
“We didn’t recruit anybody,” Smith said. “That’s their opinion.”
The Illinois High School Association does not allow student-athletes to be recruited. IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said Thursday Leo must not sign the Principals’ Concurrence form if it has any issues with the students transferring.
“I think I told (Leo athletic director) Ed Adams if that’s how they felt they shouldn’t sign the concurrence form with the transfer,” Hickman said. “In our system, that’s how brakes get put on transfers.”
Smith said Simeon has yet to send Leo a concurrence form.
Because the two students are transferring to a high school in the Chicago Public Schools’ system, CPS sports administration director Calvin Davis would have to rule on the student-athletes’ eligibility. The IHSA decides on all other cases outside of the Chicago Public Schools. A voicemail message left for Davis was not returned on Thursday.
McGrath said he did not receive reasons from the students or their parents for them transferring.
“I don’t know what the problem is,” McGrath said. “I imagine the fact we’re a Catholic school or private school, we have to charge tuition, maybe going somewhere free is a lure, but I think it’s more than that.”
Moore Jr.’s father, Sean Moore Sr., said his son and Woods were not recruited by Simeon. Moore Sr. said their decision to transfer was a financial one.
“There was no recruitment,” Moore Sr. said. “(Leo) hit us up with a $7,100 bill. The first two years Sean had no bills. The first two years we paid the minimum and had some sort of assistance. At the end of (his junior) year, we were hit with a bill.”
McGrath said Moore Jr. still had an outstanding bill, but did not believe it was for $7,100.
“He got financial aid,” McGrath said of Moore Jr. “Ninety percent of our kids get financial aid. It is need-based, not for basketball. In the years I’ve been here, we’ve never demanded $7,100. If Mr. Moore did owe us $7,100, we would sit down and create a payment plan. We still treat everyone on an individual basis.”
Woods’ mother, Vivian Winters, also said she was recently given a bill for $5,000 from Leo and hadn’t had to pay anything the first two years because she receives public aid.
Moore Sr. said he researched the area’s public schools and chose Simeon because of its proximity to Moore Jr.’s grandmother, who Moore Jr. now lives with in Chicago, and its competitive basketball team. Moore Jr. previously lived with his father in Indiana when he attended Leo.
“I wanted to make sure he goes to a school that competes,” Moore Sr. said. “He’s trying to go to college. We’re not talking about a player who doesn’t play. He’s a three-year varsity player. We want him to go to a competitive school and get exposure. Simeon fits that category.”
Winters explained part of her reason for having Woods transfer was she thought Leo hadn’t given her son the proper academic support, and Simeon would provide it.
“Basically, Leo wasn’t helping him,” Winters said. “How can they let him get the grades he was getting just because he’s on the basketball team? He wasn’t getting the education he needed.
“I don’t think (Simeon’s) all about basketball. They want to help kids with their education.”
McGrath had a different opinion.
“He had tutors; he had counselors,” McGrath said of Woods. “He wasn’t at Leo just to play basketball. He was at Leo to graduate, get an education and prepare himself for the next step.”
Winters also said Moore Sr. has been a father figure to Woods, and Moore Sr.’s advice was valuable in the decision to transfer to Simeon.
Simeon has won three consecutive state titles and will be favored to win again next season as it returns Jabari Parker, the nation’s No. 1 senior, and Kendrick Nunn, who is also ranked in the top 100 in the country.