The Neil F. Simeon Academy high school boys basketball team enjoyed another strong season in 2012-2013, and spent much of the year as the top ranked school in the country before losing in the Chicago Public League semifinals to Morgan Park. Despite that team setback the Wolverines still had three players, Kendrick Nunn, Russell Woods and Jabari Parker nominated for the prestigious McDonald’s All American team with Parker making the final roster.

Those three players were honored for their academic and athletic achievements Feb. 27 at the McDonald’s restaurant at 8321 S. Ashland Ave., which is owned and operated by Derrick Taylor. He said he was glad to be a part of the celebration for the local basketball heroes.

“Anytime that McDonald’s can be a part of something positive that’s where we want to be. We’re always about the community and giving back to the community,” said Taylor, who was a standout student-athlete on the 1980 Percy Julian High School city champion football team. He knows firsthand how beneficial sports can be.

“Athletics helped me stay in school. I wasn’t the most academic person in the world but I knew that to stay eligible I had to hit the books. Sports was a motivational tool for me to become a better student,” said Taylor.

Simeon forward Jabari Parker was the star attraction at the event and the 6 foot 4, 240-pound 17-year-old seems to have a special relationship with his young fans. His accomplishments on the basketball court are the stuff of legend and he’s won three state championships and been named “Mr. Basketball” for the state of Illinois. He could be a prima donna, but Simeon head coach Robert Smith said Parker is still a very likable and generous young man.

“It’s his whole demeanor. He’s a great kid and he’s still a kid and that’s what I love about him. The more we can get the Jabari Parkers and the Derrick Roses to come back and be positive role models in our community the better off our kids will be. They need to have someone to look up to and strive to be like,” said Smith.

Each year only 24 players make the roster of the McDonalds All American team so making the squad is a unique accomplishment and Parker said he has dreamed of it since he was a youngster watching on television LeBron James and others play in the game.

“It feels great,” said Parker. “Ever since I was a young kid and watched the games on TV I thought about being a McDonald’s All American. But the main thing is that it motivates you for the future to keep playing to your potential and build on your success.”

Parker also said he was more than happy to interact with his fans at the local fast-food restaurant event and he gave the kids there some short, but strong advice.

“Stay in school because the fast life is just ridiculous,” he said. “I was in the same situation when I was a kid and it’s real easy for them to go off the right path. I want to be a catalyst to help them stay on track.”

Simeon guard Kendrick Nunn wasn’t chosen for a final roster spot on the All American team, but he said he was still honored to be acknowledged.

“It’s a blessing to be known as one of the top players but I still have to get better,” said Nunn, who has committed to the University of Illinois. “I can improve my all-around game, my defense, my ball handling and be more consistent with my jump shot.”

The Wolverines will need all players’ skills fine tuned as the team begins working toward another state title. It will be the fourth consecutive title if they win and Nunn said there’s extra motivation this time because it’s his senior year and also because they lost in the city playoffs.

“Losing in the city playoffs definitely hurt me because I wanted to go out with a bang and win city as a senior. But I think it helped us as a team to get hungrier for the state playoffs,” said Nunn.

Parker is ready to bring another state trophy to Simeon as well. He said he’s always wanted to win four state championships.

“I’m real excited because this is one of the moments I’ve been waiting for. I’ve been fortunate to win three state championships but this will let me reach my goals I set as a freshman and my hard work and drive made it all possible,” he said.

Parker was the only boys basketball player in the state to make the team. He will be a forward on the West Team. For the girls, Whitney Young Magnet High School’s Linnae Harper was named a guard on the All American Girls West Team.

The McDonald’s All American game will be played April 3 at the United Center.

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