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Jabari Parker of Simeon heads to the hoop past Milton's Mo Lewis. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media
Fifteen Simeon players saw action in their much anticipated season debut in the nightcap of the inaugural Chicago Elite Classic Saturday night at UIC.
The most stunning participant was its most familiar name, Jabari Parker.
The 6-foot-8 senior and reigning Mr. Basketball shocked even his own teammates by starting and scoring six points to go along with four rebounds and two assists in the top-ranked Wolverines’ 56-35 victory over Milton (Ga.).
“We didn’t even know he was going to play until tonight,” emerging sophomore D.J. Williams said.
Parker has been recovering from a foot injury he suffered playing with the U.S. select team in July. Until recently he wore a boot on his foot and used a cane for assistance.
A November MRI showed no further damage and Parker received medical clearance. He was ready to go.
“I knew this was a big event, with a lot of people coming, and I wanted to go out there and play,” he said. “Basketball is my passion, and I just wanted to play and help recover my game.
“I had some bumps and bruises, but I thought I got more relaxed as the game progressed.
Parker shot 2-for-5 from the floor and recorded a steal.
Milton has two state titles and two state runner-up finishes the last four years, but the program has been embroiled in controversy. Coach Don Boyd was forced to resign in September after the school self-reported alleged incidents of “undue influence.” The team’s four-best Division I prospects left the team in response.
Simeon (1-0) overwhelmed the Georgia school with its size, speed and versatility as nine Wolverines players scored. Williams scored a team-best 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.
“I know what coach [Robert Smith] wants of me, and I just go in there and play with high intensity,” Williams said.
With Illinois coach John Groce watching the game from courtside, the Wolverines’ two Illini recruits, senior guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, both impressed. Nunn scored seven of his 11 points during a second-quarter blitz that propelled the Wolverines to a 34-20 lead at the break.
Tate scored just two points, but distributed nine assists and recorded four steals. He showed far greater comfort after transferring to Simeon from De La Salle last year.
“I got some things under my belt last year, and now coach Rob has said this is my team to lead,” Tate said. “Kendrick and I have been playing for three years now, we know where the other player is all the time and we’re also good friends off the court.”
Senior forward Kendall Pollard and 6-8 Leo transfer Russell Woods added seven points apiece for the Wolverines. Simeon’s swarming defense forced 17 Milton turnovers and limited them to just 14 field goals without allowing a double-figure scorer.