Simeon tops ESPN national ranking

CHICAGO -- Simeon was ranked the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason ESPNHS POWERADE FAB 50 boys basketball rankings on Wednesday.

"It's huge for our program and the state of Illinois," Simeon coach Robert Smith said. "It just shows basketball here is great throughout the country."

Smith has had some special teams in past seasons, including two state title teams led by Derrick Rose, but this year's squad appears to be his most talented.

The Wolverines will be led by junior forward Jabari Parker, who is ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2013 by ESPN. Senior forward Steve Taylor is the state's top Class of 2012 player. He's ranked No. 64 in the country and has committed to Marquette.

Junior guards Jaylon Tate and Kendrick Nunn, who was previously committed to Texas A&M, are being recruited by a number of high-major programs. Junior forward Kendall Pollard is also drawing high-major interest.

Senior point guard Jelani Neely isn't as big of a name as some of his teammates but is considered the team's glue. He suffered a partial ACL tear in the offseason and is expected to return to the team early in the season.

"That's huge," Smith said of Neely's return. "That puts us to where it really solidifies us being really good."

Simeon freshmen Dennis Williams and Brandon Hutton also are expected to contribute this season. Both are considered high-major prospects.

The Wolverines certainly won't be able to coast at No. 1. Their schedule includes a number of other nationally-ranked teams. They'll play No. 2 Miller Grove in Wheeling, W.V. on Jan. 7, No. 8 Findlay Prep in Springfield, Mass. on Jan. 16 and No. 34 Whitney Young at UIC on Dec. 23. They could also play No. 29 Warren in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament in late December.

"Being No. 1, oh yeah, is added pressure," said Smith, who has two consecutive Class 4A state titles. "That's locker room talk for everyone. It already was there with Jabari being the No. 1 player in the country. It just adds incentive to play against us."

Smith was honored for Simeon to be the nation's No. 1 team, but he also understood there was only one way to remain there.

"Talent doesn't always win," Smith said. "If these guys don't play hard all the time, we're not going to be successful. Even when Derrick was here, I told them you have to go out and play hard. You have to leave it all on the floor.

"All the TV, magazines, rankings, are great, but they don't mean a thing. We can talk and say we're good, but until you step on the floor, that's when you prove you're good."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.