Jabari Parker’s surprise return to the court after recovering from a foot fracture was the big news Saturday night at the Chicago Elite Classic, but teammate Jaylon Tate was the one who played with the energy to start Simeon Academy’s quest for their 4th straight state championship off right.
Illinois coach John Groce had a front-row seat at UIC Pavilion to watch his future player Tate get seven first-half assists in the No. 1 Wolverines’ 56-35 victory over Milton (1-4). Milton is no scrub either; they won a Georgia state championship last season.
Tate scored only two points but finished the day with four steals and nine assists, including a couple of fancy ones to another future Illini teammate Kendrick Nunn; he ended up with 11 points and six rebounds.
“(Tate) stepped up to the plate and did what people didn’t think he could really do, which was lead the team,” Simeon coach Robert Smith said. “He just wants to get people open, find them and get easy baskets, things of that nature. … With all the talent we have around him, he’s exactly what we need.”
Parker only played about 10 minutes on the way to 6 points, and though he wasn’t the hugest contributor, the sight of him back on the court has to bring some relief for Coach Smith. He even expressed doubts about how his team would respond when it was initially thought Parker would miss the opener.
“I had a second opinion from last week, and they said to take my time,” said Parker, who is deciding between Michigan State, Duke, BYU, Florida or Stanford. “But I felt good and the most important thing I had was my faith. God just helped me out and everything goes to him today.”
Simeon had a slow stat to the game and didn’t open up a big lead until the 2nd quarter when Tate setup Nunn on a fastbreak to give Simeon their first double digit lead.
“We came out a little dead,” Tate said. “We were a little nervous. We had to get our feet wet. I wanted to bring a spark to the team. Once we got the spark going, the intensity going, we took off from there.”
As Parker returns to last season’s form, he has not been shy about what this team’s goals are this year.
“This is our last time we’re going to play, and we’re trying to go out to win a national championship. So every game is like our last,” he said Saturday.
The Wolverines play Whitney Young and their star center Jahlil Okafor on January 26th; it will be a crucial early season litmus test for both teams as they see which team will be in the State and National title conversation. One things for sure, Simeon will need Parker at full strength by then to keep their national title hopes alive.