SPORTS | December 10, 2021
Over ten years ago, Simeon basketball coach Rob Smith was sitting in his hotel room ahead of a tournament in West Virginia. His phone wasn’t working. He shot a text to his friend across the hallway: rival Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter. It bounced back.
“We were in there with no service, and we’re like, ‘Why are we in West Virginia having a tournament? Why don’t we just do this in Chicago?’” Smith said. “There’s no better city to play basketball in than Chicago.”
The Chicago Elite Classic celebrated its 10th anniversary this weekend, ten years since Smith and Slaughter — in what some might call an unlikely truce — came together to build Chicago’s top high school tournament.
Almost 7,000 people filled the Credit Union 1 Arena to watch Chicago’s powerhouse high school programs test their talent against schools from around the country in a two-day tournament. Saturday’s slate of games featured a “who’s who” of college coaches checking out Chicago Public Schools’ brightest basketball players.
Illinois head coach Brad Underwood stopped by, and it was a homecoming for former Loyola coach Porter Moser, now with Oklahoma. Whitney Young standout Jahlil Okafor and the new Dancing with the Stars champion and Oak Park native Iman Shumpert sat courtside and cheered on their former and local schools.
Under the bright lights of the Classic, the young athletes took center stage.
“That’s just how Chicago is,” Smith said. “There’s a goal for the student-athletes. And they see so much negativity about our city, we wanted to bring something that’s positive.”
The Chicago crowd provided the oohs and ahhs as Kenwood Academy High School senior guard Trey Pettigrew took off “down the runway” for a dunk past three Evangel Christian School (KY) defenders in an 80-38 win.
“I do it a lot,” Pettigrew, a Nevada commit, said. “Just trying to be dominant. And not step on anybody’s toes. We got something to prove this year.”
First-year Kenwood coach Mike Irvin says Pettigrew can fly. The Broncos looked in tip-top form as they cruised to victory.
Pettigrew hopes the Classic lets Chicago know that this could be Kenwood’s most talented team ever, “no doubt.” College scouts at the game say the Hyde Park school has on its roster six or more players with Division 1 potential.
It’s Irvin’s first year on the job, and he’s ready to put Kenwood on the city’s basketball map. A member of Chicago basketball’s first family, Irvin has brought along four players from their heralded AAU program, Mac Irvin Fire.
Irvin says he always wanted to coach high school basketball, and with a laugh said he picked Kenwood because, “It’s right down the street from my house.” He likes the principal, the top academics, and the challenge to start from the ground up.
“I didn’t want to walk into a powerhouse. I rather walk into something that I could build,” Irvin said. “We got guys who got confidence. To be on the big stage, they’re already relaxed, they’re comfortable.”
Kenwood junior guard Darrin “Dai Dai” Ames led all scorers with 28 points. A top-ranked player in his class, Ames controlled the pace of the game and showed the city he could be “That Guy” in the absence of former Kenwood star JJ Taylor, who transferred to Donda Academy in California before the season. Ames ignited Kenwood’s run-and-gun offense and got his teammates involved. His coach calls it “showtime.”
“We can shoot so whoever’s open we just keep feeding him. We play as a team and have that type of chemistry,” Ames said. “All I got to say is that Chicago got the best players. Ain’t nothing like Chicago, baby.”
Simeon kept the city pride going with a 64-50 win over Mater Dei (CA). Coach Smith rocked a Dior belt on the sidelines as his team showed they’re once again real contenders. In a year they’re not favored to win the city championship, Simeon calls it their “chip on your shoulder” season.
Senior captain and point guard Avyion “Action” Morris says he’s about 5-foot-7 (and a half), and always welcomes the opportunity to be underestimated.
“I love being the underdog. People not knowing who I am. I just like to be humble, stay low key,” Morris said. “This was definitely great energy, a great event. I didn’t get rattled or anything. I just came and tuned the crowd out and played my game.”
Morris got the Wolverines out to a hot start with a pair of early threes, but Mater Dei stuck around behind 25 points and 10 rebounds from Zack Davidson. Simeon’s Miles and Wes Rubin, 6-foot-7 junior twins, took over in the third quarter.
On the fast break, Wes Rubin threw a behind-the-back pass to his brother Miles, who dunked it as the crowd rose to their feet. The Rubin twins seem to have an intuition for each other on the floor, and off it, as they also help each other with their math homework.
“Me and my brother have a lot of chemistry. So I see him cut to the basket, and I wanted to get the crowd into the game a little bit,” Wes Rubin said. “That was the exclamation point for sure.”
The Rubin twins put up a twin 17 points. The two transferred to Simeon this year from Homewood-Flossmoor, and say they their brotherly connection is unmatched throughout the city.
“Wes throws a lot of good passes. In the backyard too,” Miles Rubin said. “We’re trying to prove we’re the best team in the state.”
Slaughter’s Whitney Young team came into the Classic as Chicago’s top-ranked team, but in their nightcap game against Gonzaga (DC), they shook off the rust and fell 64-50. NIU recruit Xavier Amos put up 28 points in the Dolphin’s season-opener.
An earlier game Saturday featured a face-off between Illinois commits Ty Rodgers and Morez Johnson, playing for Thornton and St. Rita, respectively. Thornton pulled out a 60-51 win.
Chicago boys basketball may be without its brightest star in Taylor, but Smith says the city’s talent this year can stack up with anyone.
The Classic is always the stage to let it be known.
“10 years went kind of fast. But this is what we expected. And we expect bigger and better things over time,” Smith said. “The best basketball in the world comes right here, right out of Chicago.”