Simeon’s Jalen Griffith shoots during a pre-season practice. | Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times
Despite not having a superstar, Robert Smith’s squad is talented
This is not the typical Simeon basketball team. The Wolverines don’t have a superstar and Robert Smith’s squad wasn’t a contender for the top spot in the preseason Super 25.
“I really like this team, maybe because of those reasons,” Smith said. “Everyone is coming in and working hard and respecting each other’s game. I like not being the hunted like we normally are. We can just cruise along and see what happens at the end.”
Superstar or not, underestimating this group would be a mistake. Simeon has three talented, experienced guards. Seniors Jaylen Drane, Avyion Morris and junior Jalen Griffith were key players on the team that won the city title in 2020.
That’s an incredible base for any team to start with. Drane is one of the state’s elite passers. He’s a dependable point guard that can dictate the pace of the game. Morris is a disruptor on defense and Griffith is a scorer.
“Those guys have all played a lot since they were freshmen and they’ve been through the wars,” Smith said.
Senior JayQuan Adams, a 6-5 wing, has been one of the most improved players so far in practice.
The Wolverines have a ton of size. Lance Rodgers, a 6-7 senior and Steve Turner, a 6-8 junior, both return. Twins Miles and Wes Rubin, 6-8 juniors, have transferred in from Homewood-Flossmoor.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement in them,” Smith said. “They still have a ways to go but they have come in and soaked it all up.”
Smith has three sophomores on the varsity right now: David Thomas, Rashaud McKinney and Kenric Mosby. He isn’t sure if they will stay up or not.
“Thomas is a tough kid,” Smith said. “McKinney can really shoot it and Mosby is an athletic wing, he’s 6-7.”
So there might not be a senior signed with a Divison I school yet, but there is plenty of talent on hand.
“We have the same expectations as ever,” Smith said. “We want to win a city and state championship. There are some good teams out there but if we continue to grow and improve I don’t think there is anyone that much better than us.”
The Wolverines will be in Class 3A this season. It’s the first time they have dropped below Class 4A since 2007-08, when they lost to Marshall in the state title game.
“At first I was going to petition to go up but then I thought more about it,” Smith said. “[Young and Simeon] have been knocking each other out for so long. Why keep doing it if we don’t have to?”
Simeon will open the season at King on Nov. 23 and then begin a schedule that takes them to Memphis, South Dakota and Massachusetts.
“There is definitely less pressure on us this year,” Drane said. “That’s been nice. I think it is a good thing. This is going to be a great year for us.
The Wolverines’ final regular season game is against highly-regarded Sierra Canyon, CA on Feb. 5 at the Credit Union 1 Arena. The Trailblazers are the top-ranked team in the country, led by Chicago native Amari Bailey and LeBron James’ son Bronny.
“We have a chance to be one of the best teams in the country,” Morris said. “A lot of people are doubting us, thinking we aren’t as good as we used to be. I think we’re better than a lot of old Simeon teams.”