High school basketball: Experienced, deep Simeon edges out nationally-ranked St. Rita for preseason No. 1 spot

Simeon senior Jalen Griffith is a grizzled Public League veteran. He’s been on varsity since he was a freshman, which is fairly rare for the Wolverines these days. It’s a sign of just how much Simeon coach Robert Smith has always trusted the undersized guard.

Over the past three years Griffith teamed with guards Jaylen Drane and Aviyon Morris to win city and holiday tournaments and advance to state.

He’s experienced the ups and downs of several talented teams and likes what he sees so far from this year’s Simeon squad.

“We just have to continue building chemistry,” Griffith said. “We have to keep working on and off the court to come together.”

The Wolverines are the Sun-Times’ preseason No. 1 team, so there won’t be too much time to iron the chemistry. Simeon will be heavy favorites in its first two games of the season against Thornwood and Phillips but then faces No. 2 St. Rita in the Chicago Elite Classic.

Joining Griffith in the backcourt are two transfers: Sam Lewis from Oak Park and Kaiden Space from St. Rita. Lewis signed with Toledo last week, Space with Stony Brook.

“Sam will definitely be a scorer,” Wolverines coach Robert Smith said. “Kaiden brings leadership. He’s the type of kid that takes charges in spring basketball. You usually don’t see that.”

Having three future college guards is the dream scenario for any high school coach, but Simeon is No. 1 for another reason: the 6-9 Rubin twins.

Miles, a Loyola recruit, and Wes, a Northern Iowa recruit, were standouts last season but by all accounts they’ve both taken things to another level as seniors.

“They are just really improved,” Smith said. “Miles is shooting the ball well from the perimeter.”

Griffith agrees.

“You can see how they’ve been working,” Griffith said. “And the chemistry they have is crazy.”

There were several flashes of that chemistry last season. Some of Wes Rubin’s passes in the post to Miles were jaw-droppers.

“This year for me it is about mentality as much as skill,” Wes Rubin said. “Once you gain confidence I don’t think anyone can really stop you. That’s the main thing that has changed and grown for me.”

Simeon’s bench is strong as well. Senior Steve Turner has slimmed down and grown to 6-9. Lorenzo Shields is one of the area’s top sophomores and senior Michael Ratliff is a game-changing hustler.

“We have some juniors that are going to be good too,” Smith said. “It’s a real luxury to have the seniors to hold it down until they are ready for the limelight.”

St. Rita has a higher national profile than Simeon. The Mustangs are listed in several national preseason rankings.

Space believes his old team will be successful, but thinks experience will give his new squad the edge.

“[St. Rita] has a lot of younger guys and will need some time for the new guys to learn their spots and roles,” Space said. “There’s so much maturity here. It’s a lot more intense and competitive in practice. We have all the pieces to be the best team in the state.”

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