Simeon’s terrific 2013 state championship team, a decade later – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

When the final buzzer sounded on March 16, 2013, the entire Simeon team sprinted to half court to celebrate the Chicago public high school’s fourth consecutive Class 4A state basketball championship.

The players pulled each other into a tight group hug, a tangled mass of long arms and teenage laughter. They jumped up and down in unison, confident in themselves and their futures.

In the decade that followed, 14 of the 15 boys on Simeon’s championship roster would play basketball at the collegiate level.

Twelve would compete for NCAA Division I schools.

One would become a first-round NBA draft pick.

Another would play in the NCAA Final Four.

Three would play in the NBA.

At least four would sign contracts in Europe.

Four would explore coaching opportunities.

One would be murdered.

And it would be his death — just as much as the many accolades and accomplishments — that would bind one of the greatest basketball teams in Illinois high school history for years to come.

On a Monday morning this January, the basketball courts at the Chicago Park District’s ComEd Rec Center near UIC were split down the middle with a see-through curtain. On one side, a worker pushed a commercial floor cleaner to shine the hardwood.

On the other, Jabari Parker took feeds from his longtime trainer and shot 3-pointers, first from the top of the key, then from the right side and so on.

Parker was the star of the 2013 Simeon Career Academy team, the nation’s second-ranked college recruit who went on to play at Duke and become the No. 2 overall NBA draft pick. He has played eight seasons in the NBA. But a twisting journey that has included two knee injuries, six NBA teams and millions of dollars, brought him to training in the gym, more than a year since he played in a league game after the Boston Celtics waived him in January 2022.

He trains six days a week, making sure he’s in shape for the next team that calls with the right situation.

“What keeps me motivated is I’ve got a gift,” Parker said. “God gave me an ability, and I’m living my dream. So I don’t get sidetracked by where I am, being at home. I enjoy basketball, and as a kid I dreamed about being the guy I am on the court — being able to make certain moves, being able to shoot from far away, being able to dunk. So this is really a joy for me every day just to work out and to better myself.”

A decade earlier, Parker couldn’t have envisioned the winding path ahead.

Parker’s stardom was a major reason the Tribune devoted a full season of coverage to the 2012-13 basketball team from Simeon, a public high school at 81st Street and Vincennes Avenue in Chicago’s West Chatham neighborhood. But he was far from the only one.

Simeon’s roster was filled with future college players, including starters Kendrick Nunn (Illinois, Oakland), Jaylon Tate (Illinois), Kendall Pollard (Dayton) and Russell Woods (Missouri). The team played against the top high school teams in the country, with trips to Nevada, Texas, West Virginia, Massachusetts and Tennessee twice. And the Wolverines had coach Robert Smith, whose city and state championship success is unmatched and whose ability to attract elite players to Simeon, when high school sports recruiting is prohibited, was sometimes controversial. Simeon had four players transfer in for the 2012-13 season alone, including Woods, but Smith said then he didn’t have to recruit. Simeon’s reputation did that.

Jabari Parker on the cover of Sports Illustrated in May 2012.

And then there was Parker, a 6-foot-8 forward whose skills and compelling story put him on the cover of Sports Illustrated and on the pages of The New York Times even before his senior year. The son of former NBA player Sonny Parker, he had basketball pedigree. A devoted Mormon who attended Scripture study three mornings a week, he was humble and likable. And as the first freshman ever to start for Public League power Simeon, which a half-dozen years earlier produced Derrick Rose, Parker had the wins to back up the hype.

People were drawn to him, so muchben wso that he sometimes asked freshmen teammates to retrieve food from the concession stand to avoid attention.

“It was always, ‘Hey, Josh, could you go get me two slices of pizza and a pop?’ That was his order every day,” said Josh Thomas, one of three freshmen on the championship team. “He really couldn’t go and do it himself. If he did, people would be asking for selfies with him and trying to talk to him. He would have been late for study hall if he went and got it himself. And you had to be at study hall on time, no excuses.”

Parker sat down with the Tribune after his workout session for this story. A day after notching his 500th career win this January, Smith, who will retire from coaching after this season, also spoke with the Tribune. Eleven of Parker’s teammates from that season, as well as some parents and current Simeon players, also spoke in person or on the phone, several in Chicago but others in Washington, Colorado, Washington, D.C., and Romania.

Ask the players what they remember about one of Illinois’ greatest high school basketball teams, and they’ll talk of the winning but also the closeness of the players. Many of them grew up on the court together, and they bonded more deeply on the out-of-state trips. They’ll talk about the hype — both good and bad — that followed the 30-3 team from gym to gym.

“We would go to play a team (that) probably had 20 people in the stands their last three games. We go there, it’s sold out,” Tate said. “We were definitely the villains of high school. They didn’t want to see us win. As much as there was support, there was a lot of hate, for sure. They wanted to see us fail. Our senior year in (the city championship), we lost to Morgan Park, and oh, my God, people were going crazy. ‘I knew they weren’t that good, this and that.’ And I think that was something we needed. We were on our high horse.”

It was one adversity of many that season.

Parker began the year recovering from a fractured foot. In January, three players — Donte Ingram, Sean Moore and Jaycee Hillsman — were declared ineligible because of transfer violations, though Ingram eventually was reinstated. Also in January, Smith and Morgan Park coach Nick Irvin were suspended four games apiece for their roles in a postgame altercation between their teams.

A Morgan Park student was shot and killed outside of that game, prompting the Wolverines to close another game to the public. The shooting brought concerns of gun violence to the forefront of parents’ minds and revived memories of the shooting death of Simeon star forward Ben Wilson in 1984. A loss to Morgan Park, the eventual 3A state champion, in the city final came in February, the only in-state defeat of the year to go along with losses to nationally ranked DeSoto (Texas) and Montverde (Fla.).

But for all of those challenges, the season was also one of rousing successes from a nationally ranked team and a talented group of teenagers.

Beyond Parker, Nunn was Simeon’s second-biggest college recruit in 2013, an athletic guard sitting at No. 61 in ESPN’s rankings. Tate was the steady, thoughtful point guard, Pollard the jokester forward who brought energy and defensive prowess. Woods was the tough 6-7 newcomer.

Everybody had a role, from bench players such as Ed Morrow (Nebraska, Marquette), D.J. Williams (Illinois, George Washington, DePaul) and Ingram (Loyola) to the deep reserves, such as seniors Rickey Norris and Quron Davis, juniors Saieed Ivey and Bobby Harris or freshmen Thomas, Zach Norvell and Ben Coupet.

Together they fueled a dominant march to the 4A championship, which included beating teams by an average of 23 points over the course of the tournament, one of the most important a 69-51 win over Whitney Young and its star Jahlil Okafor in the sectional final in which Parker had 29 points and 13 rebounds.

After Simeon beat Stevenson 58-40 for the title, Parker dealt with a rush of emotions from a yearslong buildup to the moment.

On the basketball court minutes after the buzzer, a TV reporter asked Parker what it meant to join Peoria Manual’s Sergio McClain as the only players in Illinois history to start on four straight state basketball championship teams. Parker couldn’t answer because he was crying.

“That whole run was special,” said Smith, whose teams went 118-15 over Parker’s four seasons. “All of them are special, but that was special. That last hug with Jabari (after winning) was powerful. … Something he set out to do when he came here as a freshman. He said he wanted to win four state championships, and that hug was like, ‘We did it, Coach.’ “

The Simeon gym was crowded on a Tuesday night this January for a game against overmatched Gwendolyn Brooks.

Melvin Nunn, Kendrick’s father, sat in the front row of one of the bleachers, one of Smith’s many former assistants summoned for the occasion. Parker walked in a side entrance and crossed the gym doling out hugs and posing for photos. Tate and Pollard arrived and took their places near Parker in a corner of the gym behind the Simeon bench, watching the latest highly ranked Wolverines team.

Parker has returned occasionally for games or practices over the last year, hoping to help the current players understand the tradition they must uphold.

“I looked at it like this: I was a part of something important,” Parker said. “It’s like playing for the Yankees. You expect to win, and all you want is to be involved in winning. That’s what’s so beautiful about Simeon is those kids that came up behind me, they have the same drive, they have the same mentality, and if they didn’t they wouldn’t be at Simeon.”

Parker’s return on this night had extra meaning.

After Simeon’s 82-36 victory, Smith was given a purple and white lei and coaches distributed white Nike T-shirts that read “Never done winning” on the front and “Coach Rob 500″ on the back.

When Smith took over for legendary coach Bob Hambric in 2004, he and assistant Leonard Thomas set a goal of winning the most city and state championships and reaching 500 wins. Smith has a record six state titles and already had the record for city titles before the Wolverines won their eighth in February. The win over Brooks for 500 completed the trifecta in 19 seasons.

Simeon Career Academy varsity basketball head coach Robert Smith talks to his players during a break in a game against Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy at Simeon, Jan. 24, 2023. Coach Smith got his 500th career win.

Smith’s impending retirement from coaching is in large part because he wants to spend more time with his daughter, a junior in high school, and son, a fifth grader, both of whom play basketball. Just 20 wins from the 500 milestone at the start of the season, it seemed like the right timing.

“When people saw my schedule, some guys were like, ‘Man, you’re playing all those people and you’re trying to win 20 games?’ ” Smith said. “I’m like, ‘I’m not going to play a cupcake schedule just to win 20 games.’ It’s not who I am. I want to still go through this fight the way I’ve been fighting.”

Smith, 51, tried to downplay the milestone leading up to the game, wanting the focus to stay on his players. But all day before tipoff he thought of Hambric and the driving desire to make his late mentor proud.

“I know he was trying to keep his cool,” Tate said. “You know how he is, he’s trying to always be the tough guy. But I know he was happy about that. … He thanked all of us for being a part of that journey with him.”

Smith set the tone for the 2012-13 championship season with his no-nonsense approach.

Off the court, he demanded things as simple as taking a hat off after walking into a building, said D.J. Williams, a sophomore on the team. He tried to make his players understand what living in the public eye meant, sometimes calling Tate to tell him, “I heard you were here. I heard you were doing this.”

“I was like, ‘How’d you find that out?’ ” Tate said. “Us being who we are, there’s always a target on our back and people know us. So we always have to be cautious, and I think that prepared me for college. Because when I got to college, it got to a bigger magnitude. I can’t be out at a bar the night before a game. People are going to take pictures. I can’t go to sleep in class. Even if I’m dead tired, I can’t go to sleep. Because the professor is going to notice one person in that class, Jaylon Tate, out of 100 people.”

Simeon’s academic oversight fell under scrutiny four years earlier when a Chicago Public Schools report stated an unknown employee had changed the grades of four athletes, including one for Rose, from a D to a C in his senior year. Smith said in 2013 he wasn’t involved.

During the Tribune’s coverage of the 2012-13 team, Smith mandated after-school study halls, as well as homework sessions and educational field trips during out-of-state travel. All but one player from the team went to college, far exceeding the post-graduation enrollment rates of both CPS and the state of Illinois.

Harris was the lone player from the 2013 team not to attend college. He struggled academically throughout high school and missed part of the 2013 season because of his grades. His suspension cost him practice time, which meant he didn’t get many playing opportunities.

“For years, I blamed the coaches and was so angry,” he told the Tribune. “I was such a mess after high school because I thought I had been denied my opportunity. It wasn’t until I got a little older and had my son that I took accountability for what happened. Sometimes I cry when I watch basketball now because I let so much slip away. I could have done so much more.”

On the court, Smith directed intense practices, at which dunking, diving for loose balls and rounds and rounds of sprinting were the norm. And he held everyone accountable — “from one to 15,” Norvell said.

Most of the players had grown up in neighborhoods where young ballers emulated Simeon players on the playground the same way kids in other parts of the country pretend to be NBA or college stars. They knew, as early as grade school, that a spot on the Simeon team could lead to something big: city bragging rights, a college scholarship or even a professional contract.

They also were aware that the jersey required a sacrifice and selflessness beyond most teenage boys.

“When you commit to play at Simeon, you know that you are not going to get all the shine,” said Ingram, a junior in 2013 who was a key sub during the championship run and went on to a stellar Division I career. “Coach Rob made sure all of us bought into it, that we respected it.”

Many of them might have been scoring leaders on lesser teams but accepted their roles as the players who were helping the starters improve in practice.

Simeon Career Academy basketball coach Robert Smith holds up a championship belt after his team won the Chicago Public League championship game at Credit Union 1 Arena in Chicago on Feb. 11, 2023. Simeon beat Kenwood Academy 72-64 in overtime.

“There are a lot of guys who come in (to Simeon) who think they’re all-world already, All-American,” said Norvell, who went on to play at Gonzaga. “You come to Simeon with some type of ego. So (Smith) just taught us early, some guys are going to decline. Some guys are going to stay where they are. And guys that work, they’re going to see their careers take off. And I took that to heart. … And just the winning culture. We never really paid too much attention (to) other teams because we always felt like if we brought our game and did what we were supposed to do, we’d be in good hands most times.”

Those expectations came with a pressure, one that most of the players say helped them long after they put on a Simeon uniform as they embarked on their college careers.

“It’s just pressure being here,” Smith said. “Sometimes I hate it for them. It’s win the city or state championship or nothing. And sometimes that’s not fair to them. … But that’s the standard that we built.”

Pollard, for one, said his time at Simeon instilled a sense of self-confidence he couldn’t have found at any other high school. Smith’s belief in him, he said, made it easier to believe in himself.

“I didn’t believe I could ever be one of those kinds of players,” said Pollard, who went on to play in Europe after wrapping up his career at the Dayton. “But once the coaches told me that I could be one of those guys, I started to think that maybe I could be.”

Simeon's Saieed Ivey celebrates in the locker room following the team's  state championship win over Stevenson at Peoria's Carver Arena on March 16, 2013.

If there was a player who embodied the motivation it took to succeed in the program, it was Saieed Ivey, who adopted the motto FINAO.

Failure is not an option.

On a team with high school Goliaths, the 6-2 Ivey operated as David — with a drive, positivity and confidence that lingered with his teammates. Ivey took pride in his role as a practice player, the guy who pushed the starters every day and made them better. Their success, he said, was his success too.

“Just a competitive, uplifting spirit,” Nunn said. “The energy was always high every day, no matter what he was going through. He wanted to continue to get better at basketball. His competitiveness was through the roof. We used to play one-on-one all the time, and you wouldn’t even know I would win every time. He would still talk smack like he won.”

Ivey wanted to go as far as basketball would take him. That wasn’t a high-level Division I program like it was Duke for Parker. It was bettering himself on the court first at Governors State and then at East Los Angeles College.

But three years after Ivey rushed the court at Carver Arena to celebrate the championship and two years after he graduated from Simeon, those dreams were taken from him.

The file sits on Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Detective Gus Carrillo’s desk, a constant reminder of the homicide case he is determined to solve.

The victim is a 20-year-old Chicago native, a former Simeon basketball player who was fatally shot in the parking lot of his apartment complex on June 9, 2016. He had moved to the West Coast just 10 months before he was killed, playing for a junior college team in the hopes of catching a major program’s attention.

Inside the file, records show that on his last night alive, the victim and his former Simeon teammates exchanged a flurry of text messages about the NBA Finals. After the Cleveland Cavaliers crushed the Golden State Warriors by 30 points, the conversation wrapped up with birthday wishes for the victim.

He would be celebrating his 20th birthday the following day, June 9.

The victim told his friends he would be returning home to Chicago on June 10 to help his brother and sister, who are twins, celebrate their 18th birthday. The siblings also were planning to attend the Simeon prom that weekend, and he wanted to see them off.

He wanted to see his old Simeon teammates when he was home too.

“Every message on his phone was so positive,” Carrillo told the Tribune. “The guy didn’t have a single enemy.”

That, by all accounts, is the best way to describe Saieed Ivey.

Ivey had moved to Monterey Park, California, to play ball at East Los Angeles College, the community college featured in the most recent season of Netflix’s “Last Chance U” series. He had played for a season at Governors State after graduating from Simeon but wanted to take his game to the next level.

“He wanted to go as far as it would take him,” his mother, Chareda Carter, said. “He never said he wanted to go to the (NBA). He was never one of those. But he felt like he was good enough to make it. If he put certain things in place and he worked on building his body up and learning the game and working on his skills that he could get to wherever it would take him.”

With Ivey’s grades, intelligence and penchant for debate, his mother always imagined he would make a good basketball agent or players attorney.

“Oh, those would have been perfect jobs for him,” Norris said. “He liked the fight, even when the odds were against him. I could definitely have seen some guy getting a $150 million contract because Saieed was there pushing for it.”

Parker said Ivey was funny and goofy but also had a special drive.

“He always had the right intentions,” Parker said. “And he had the confidence of anybody. He had that confidence you would expect out of the great ones. … He always wanted more out of himself too. We were always proud of him.”

On the eve of his 20th birthday, Ivey, who lived in a gated apartment complex, went out to celebrate with friends. His friends’ parents had expensive cars and the group was seen flashing money at a club, a flaunting posture that Carrillo has chalked up to a youthful desire to seem important rather than anything sinister.

After they returned home, Ivey began texting with a woman and then asked to borrow the keys to a silver Mercedes C-Class sedan that belonged to a friend’s mother. He mentioned he planned to meet up with a girl.

Carrillo said security video from the scene is of poor quality, but it shows Ivey walking out of his apartment building around 4 a.m. on June 9 and getting into the Mercedes. Minutes later, a person walks up to the car, stays there for about five seconds and then sprints back toward the apartments.

A neighbor heard a single gunshot and called the Monterey Park police, which hadn’t seen a homicide in more than a year.

When authorities arrived, they found the Mercedes locked and Ivey dead in the back seat. Investigators believe he was shot through a small opening in the driver-side window and he crawled into the back in an attempt to escape.

A tow truck hauls away the Mercedes-Benz where Saieed Ivey was found slain in the early morning hours of June 9, 2016, in Monterey Park, California.

The bullet had passed through his left biceps and into his chest, suggesting he tried to shield himself from the gunman.

Two thousand miles away in Chicago, Carter woke up to the heart-stopping sound of a 6 a.m. phone call. Ivey’s cousin, who was in Los Angeles to celebrate his birthday, told her that Ivey had died.

“He was screaming through the phone. And I’m like … You are not telling me that Saieed just turned 20 six hours ago, and now he is not here anymore,” she recalled. “Like he transitioned? You cannot be telling me that.”

Carter got on the first plane to Los Angeles, and police were still at the scene when she arrived later that Thursday morning. She spoke to Carrillo, the sheriff’s detective assigned to the homicide.

“My son is not a throwaway case,” she said, looking him straight in the eye. “I need you to know that.”

Chareda Carter, the mother of slain Simeon basketball player Saieed Ivey, at home in Glenwood with a photo of Ivey on Feb. 15, 2023. Ivey played on the 2013 Simeon team and had moved to California to play basketball at East Los Angeles College when he was shot and killed in 2016.

Back home in Chicago, Ivey’s former teammates absorbed the stunning news. Norvell was at Carter’s house with Ivey’s younger brother when Carter received the early morning call. He told the Tribune he would rather not speak about the moment he called “pretty deep.”

Ivey had been well-liked at Simeon, and his twin siblings were part of the senior class, so his death deeply shook the student body. Thomas, who was just days away from graduating, remembers gathering in the auditorium where classmates wept openly and Chicago Public Schools offered grief counseling.

Thomas had lost his best friend to gun violence a few weeks after the 2013 state championship, and now Ivey was gone too. As the school seemed to be swallowed by sorrow, Thomas vowed to move away from the South Side when he got older.

“I didn’t want to live my life constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure I was safe,” said Thomas, who graduated with a communications degree from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and now lives in a trendy east Milwaukee neighborhood. “I don’t have a son, but I wouldn’t want him to live like that. Nobody should.”

Smith was working at a camp and left to return to his room to collect his thoughts upon hearing the news. He, too, questioned the point of it all.

“When you send a kid off to college to go play basketball and he’s killed, it’s like, what are we doing?” Smith said. “We worked so hard to get him to a place to better himself, and then this happened.”

Ingram, who had just finished his sophomore year at Loyola, heard about Ivey’s death on the way to a workout mere hours after the shooting. He immediately turned the car around and headed home, running and rerunning that final group chat with Ivey in his head.

“How could we be talking one minute and then Saieed is gone the next?” he said.

Detectives also were reviewing that conversation and the many others Ivey had stored on his phone. They searched for — and never found — evidence of nefarious behavior or someone with whom he had a serious problem. Instead, Carrillo has cataloged hundreds of positive notes that Ivey wrote, both to himself and his friends. He included his personal mantra: Failure is not an option.

“FINAO is all over his phone. He sent the phrase to everyone,” Carrillo said. “He had so much love for his friends and family. And he had huge dreams for himself.”

In the wake of Ivey’s death, his former Simeon teammates would embrace the FINAO message — and share it on some of basketball’s biggest stages.

Ingram is getting married this summer, as soon as the European basketball season wraps up. Currently playing for Dinamo București, he tries to stay abreast of the wedding plans from his new home in the Romanian capital.

Carter is on the guest list, a reflection of his affection for Ivey’s mother and the unpayable debt he believes he owes his slain friend.

Ingram, then a junior, transferred to Simeon in 2012 from Danville, a small central Illinois town near the Indiana border. His arrival was met with raised eyebrows, as some accused his parents of team shopping and temporarily changing their address to Chicago’s South Side simply so Donte could play basketball at the high school powerhouse.

He was even briefly ruled ineligible because he had been living with someone who was not his formal guardian for several months before his parents permanently moved to Chicago. The very public suggestion that the family was disingenuous about its plans to relocate stung, he said.

Time has proved the Ingram family’s intentions. Public records show his parents have lived on the South Side for a decade and his mother, Doretha, has been a cheer coach and library assistant at Simeon since 2013. His father still works for the railroad.

“I learned you can’t make people believe the truth. You just have to live your life,” Donte Ingram said in a telephone interview from Romania. “All these years later, we’re still a part of the Simeon family — just like we said we would be.”

As Ingram tried to adjust to his new life in a big city, he discovered a fast friend in Ivey, a charismatic junior who saw little in-game action but approached every practice as if he were playing in an NBA Finals.

Ingram and Ivey began spending time together outside of school, often going to a nearby gym to shoot baskets after Simeon practices.

“Saieed may not have had as much talent as some people on the team, but he was never going to be outworked,” Ingram said. “I was just drawn to that energy.”

Ingram’s parents appreciated their son’s newfound friend too. His father, in particular, had worried about Donte’s safety and the threat of getting mixed up with the wrong crowd after the family’s big move. Saieed — talkative, positive, honor roll-making Saieed — put their minds at ease, even as they maintained strict rules and high expectations for Donte.

One night, however, the two friends knowingly blew Donte’s curfew and arrived home an hour late to find Ingram’s father, Donald, sitting anxiously on the front stoop. Terrified something horrible had happened to his child, Donald Ingram yelled at both boys and promised Donte would be punished for his poor decision.

Ivey stepped between the father and son, hoping to smooth things over. The 16-year-old told Donald Ingram that if he was going to punish Donte, he should punish him, too, because he had also broken curfew.

“Saieed always believed he could talk or charm his way out of any situation, but this was different,” said Donte Ingram, still moved by the memory. “My dad was so emotional because he was so scared for me. In the end, they both had tears in their eyes and they hugged each other.”

When the dust settled, Donte Ingram escaped serious punishment. And so did Ivey.

“Saieed would have taken the punishment, though. I know he would have,” Donte said. “He was just a ride-or-die friend. That’s who he was.”

As Ingram grieved his friend’s death, his star continued to rise at Loyola. He helped lead the team to the Missouri Valley Conference final his senior year, giving the Ramblers a chance to punch their ticket to the 2018 NCAA Tournament with a win over Illinois State.

Ingram created a playlist for the bus ride to the arena and timed it so the very last song he heard would be “Drawn Down” by Young Thug. It was Ivey’s favorite.

Inside the locker room, Ingram laced up his prized pair of sneakers, bright, multicolored “Nike Hyperdunk 2017 Low Chicago” shoes with “FINAO” written in graffiti type. Nike created the shoes in honor of Ivey, incorporating both his motto and his jersey number, 2, into the design.

He took a minute to think about his friend before the game. And he cried.

Loyola Ramblers guard Donte Ingram goes up for a rebound in the second half of the Elite 8 game of the NCAA tournament, March 24, 2018, in Atlanta. He's wearing his prized, multicolored Nike shoes with "FINAO" written in graffiti type. Nike created the shoes in honor of Saieed Ivey.

Ingram ended up the game’s high scorer in Loyola’s decisive 65-49 victory over Illinois State. The win secured the Ramblers’ invitation to the dance, where they were only the fourth team to reach the Final Four after being given a No. 11 seed.

When the team reached the Elite Eight, Ingram once again cued up Young Thug and put on his FINAO shoes. The tipoff was scheduled very specifically for 6:09 p.m., which he saw as a sign.

Ivey was born on June 9, the ninth day of the sixth month. He also was killed on that same date.

Ingram thought there might be a sixth player on the court that night.

“There was no way we were going to lose that game,” he said. “I just knew it.”

The Ramblers beat Kansas State that night, becoming only the second team to reach the Final Four in school history.

Many of the Simeon players similarly grappled with grief over Ivey’s death and tried to find ways to honor his memory.

For some, there was frustration. Parker spoke with Ivey hours before he died and still wonders if there was anything he could have said to make him stay home or change the course of his night. Tate considered Ivey to be like a brother and was in California with him about a week before he died. His frustration stemmed from not knowing how or why Ivey was killed.

It was one of the hardest things Tate has experienced, marching on in life — first as a senior at Illinois and then at multiple pro stops in Canada and in Europe — without his friend. He wore No. 2 for a time to honor Ivey. He prays every day. He keeps photos of Ivey all over his house.

“Not a day goes by where I don’t see him or think about him,” Tate said.

He lists FINAO in his Twitter profile, and it has become an adopted mantra for several others.

Not long after Ivey’s death, Norvell left for Gonzaga, a program he picked in part because its winning tradition, NCAA Tournament success and commitment to developing players felt like the next step from Simeon.

“I always tell people if you love basketball and you’re a basketball junkie, Gonzaga is the place for you,” Norvell said. “It’s kind of hard not to love it because it’s everything here.”

Less than a year after Ivey’s death, Norvell watched as a redshirting player as the Zags went to the NCAA championship game. A year later, he was the West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year and helped the Zags to the Sweet 16. And a year after that, he helped drive Gonzaga’s Elite Eight run before declaring for the NBA draft.

Through it all, the memory of how Ivey approached life stayed with him.

“For me, it’s like taking whatever positivity that he left in me and trying to pass that message and that vibe on to everybody else,” Norvell said. “You could never tell if he was having a bad or down day or if he was tired or anything. You just always felt like you could get confidence and laughter and love from him. So that’s something I would say helps me is trying to pass on his message. Failure is not an option. Literally pass that message on. No matter who you are or whatever you do, don’t make it an option. Attack whatever you’re doing and stay confident and positive at all times.”

Like Ingram, many of the former Simeon players keep in touch with Carter, who has felt several emotions emerge through her fog of grief over the last six years.

Hope comes in the form of checking in with Carrillo at every new year, on Ivey’s birthday and at Thanksgiving, Ivey’s favorite holiday, to see if detectives are any closer to bringing her son’s killer to justice. Investigators have not named any suspects in the case, nor have they publicly identified a motive.

“We haven’t ruled anything out,” Carrillo said. “We keep going over and over the evidence to see if we missed anything.”

Carrillo and Carter both believe there is someone out there with information, even a sliver of knowledge, that can break the case open. Neither have given up hope and Carrillo looks forward to the day that he can return Ivey’s phone to his mother so she can read the many uplifting messages.

As Carter waits, she finds purpose in organizing a charity basketball game — set for June this year — that draws in Simeon alumni. She feels concern for her older son, Sondale Conner, who was with Ivey the night of his death and still carries the weight of the shooting.

“I said, ‘Sondale, you know, you didn’t have a gun, and it could have been both of you all, and then (your daughter) would not have a father,’ ” Carter said. “ ‘God received him. There was nothing you could do.’ … As hard as it is, that helps you to accept it some, right? And I said, ‘Guess what, you have something we don’t have. You got to see him the last hours of his birthday.’ ”

And Carter also feels bittersweet joy. When Carter remembers her son’s charisma and promise while he was at Simeon. When she hears the phrase FINAO. When she saw Ingram in those shoes on his way to the Final Four. And when she looked out at Ivey’s funeral and saw a community that loved him.

“Wow,” she said silently to Saieed. “You really touched all of these lives.”

At Pilsen’s P.R.O. Fitness and Sports Academy in early February this year, Tate cycled through training activities using a medicine ball, a resistance band, a stationary bike and more. P.R.O. trainer Derreck Baker has worked with multiple professional athletes over the years, but Tate was not at Baker’s sports performance class to get ready for his next pro stop.

This workout — and most of his recent time on the basketball court — was purely for personal enjoyment.

“A lot of times if I’m going through something or dealing with things mentally or stressed out, the gym always helps me out,” Tate said. “I feel like this is like my release, when I come in here, regardless of if I’m playing or not. Going to the gym is my sanctuary, being able to be myself and just have fun, smile.”

Former Simeon basketball player Jaylon Tate works out at P.R.O. Fitness and Sports Academy in Chicago, Jan. 31, 2023.

Tate’s professional basketball career included stops in Canada, Finland, Latvia, Austria and with the Golden State Warriors’ G League team, among his favorite experiences because of his proximity to great players such as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. He was playing well in Canada last spring before knee swelling sidelined him. Instead of playing again this year, he decided to pursue an opportunity a mentor from Illinois gave to him with marketing firm Epsilon.

It was difficult to let go, but his mother encouraged him to try a new path, and he has found joy in things he missed for so long — mostly spending holidays and birthdays with family and friends.

Smith said he tried to remind players of the inevitability of their basketball playing careers ending.

“We always talked about that even when they were younger, like, that ball is going to stop bouncing,” Smith said. “I don’t care if you played 18 years. Sooner or later, that ball is going to stop bouncing, so what are you going to do after that?”

Pollard and Woods also played overseas, and Pollard has retired from professional basketball. He spent two years playing in Austria, a job that kept him 4,700 miles from his son for months at a time.

“It just wasn’t worth it to me to keep playing,” Pollard said. “Unless you’re in the very top European leagues, it’s almost like a hobby because the pay is so low. If I have to pay to play basketball, I can do that at Lifetime Fitness and still see my son every day.”

Former Simeon basketball player Kendall Pollard spends time with his son, Kyaire, at a gaming arcade in Orland Park on Feb. 3, 2023.

Pollard plans to go into coaching, following a similar path of former teammate Norris, who is an assistant coach at Adams State in Colorado after a couple of years in the high school ranks.

The transition hasn’t always been easy. After struggling to get his high school kids to understand the importance of punctuality and showing up for practice, Norris was at a loss on how to reach them.

From the beginning, he has tried to emulate Smith’s coaching style. But in this case, he couldn’t even guess how Smith would have handled a similar situation.

“No one in my four years ever did it, so I don’t know what he would have done,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t imagine it would be anything good.”

Norris often finds himself reaching out to Smith on Facebook, seeking advice on everything from dealing with parents to establishing a winning culture. Smith has reassured Norris each time, promising him that he has what it takes.

“He tells me not to worry about making mistakes and concentrate on building a tradition of hard work,” Norris said.

Norris also finds himself sharing life lessons with his own players. In particular, he tells them to take nothing — not their teammates, their health, their abilities — for granted.

Ivey’s death taught him that.

“The next level isn’t promised to anyone,” he said. “You don’t know when your last game will be.”

Williams’ last collegiate game was on March 11, 2020, in the Big East Tournament. The next day, before DePaul was set to play Villanova in the quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden, the game was canceled.

“And the next thing you know the world shut down,” Williams said of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I knew at that time I was kind of done with (basketball), but the world being on pause for almost a year, it kind of did have an effect. I wouldn’t necessarily say a negative effect. It made it easier and a smoother transition.”

Williams now is pursuing a career in fashion, designing clothes for his brand Dollar $ign Junkie — a play on his initials D.J. — and providing styling services, even sending some items to Nunn to wear at NBA events. Williams’ mom designed dresses when he was younger, and he teaches himself techniques with videos.

“I’m definitely passionate about it,” Williams said. “Every time I see a garment that I love, I get chills. It gives me an exciting feeling, a refreshing feeling.

“You walk into the room and someone always wants to know, ‘What is that? Who made that?’ That’s a great feeling, (them) not knowing that I’m the guy that made it. People coming up to you and giving you compliments is a wonderful feeling. Not better than winning a state championship though.”

Davis lives in Springfield, Illinois, and also works in business after ACL and MCL tears ended his career following his transfer from Chicago State to Adams State. Davis’ father, Carl Davis, was a professional boxer, and he has picked up recreational boxing to get his competitive fix, though he still thinks wistfully of what might have been.

“I did feel like (my career) kind of got snatched from me because right when I really was figuring it out it was like, bam, ACL pops,” said Davis, who played 16.3 minutes per game at Chicago State in his final season. “And I’m at an age now where I’m starting to have to take care of myself. I’m getting older. I can’t be living with my parents forever. … There’s more to life. Basketball can prepare you for it, but after basketball there’s still life. I still have to survive on this planet.”

Ivey’s last official season began on Oct. 9, 2014, with Governors State’s first-ever men’s basketball game. He and his brother Sondale played for the Jaguars in their inaugural season, sharing both the court and a dorm room on the suburban campus.

The season was an abbreviated one as the fledgling program found its legs. Ivey, in his No. 2 jersey, made history, scoring the first basket in team history: a floater over his Trinity International junior varsity opponent.

“They did extremely well, and he was a leader there, really, really motivated,” Ivey’s mother said. “But I think his dream was just so much bigger than Illinois.”

Freezing rain on a Wednesday night in mid-February likely contributed to a thin crowd at NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates for the Windy City Bulls game against the Raptors 905. The weekend games usually draw a bit better, including a lot of kids, Coupet said.

But there were enough young fans clutching basketballs, hats and jerseys to keep Coupet busy signing autographs for several minutes after he totaled 10 points, two rebounds, an assist, a steal and two turnovers off the bench for the Bulls, Chicago’s G League team. He swished a couple of 3-pointers and put down a big dunk in the first half, and in the autograph line afterward moms pressed him for details about how much he practiced as a kid and how he made it to the G League to use as examples for their basketball-playing children.

Windy City Bulls forward Ben Coupet signs autographs for fans after a game against the Raptors 905 at Now Arena in Hoffman Estates on Feb. 22, 2023.

This season is Coupet’s first professionally. The once highly touted Simeon freshman had a six-year college career that included little playing time over three years at UNLV and then a rejuvenation in his game at Arkansas-Little Rock. He used a sixth year of eligibility granted to athletes because of the COVID-19 season to become Southern Illinois’ third-leading scorer for a season and then this season joined the Windy City Bulls, for whom he averaged 6.8 points over the first 16 games in the G League, the NBA’s minor league.

“I’m having the time of my life,” Coupet said. “I always wanted to play professionally. It’s not the NBA, but it’s the closest thing to it right now. … Being able to wake up and say this is what I do for a living, that makes me feel good every morning.”

Coupet said he and Norvell offer inspiration and motivation to one another. As Coupet found his way in college, Norvell played in the G League with the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors — even playing in five NBA games in 2019-20. Now Coupet tries to encourage Norvell, who is working as a student assistant at Gonzaga as he finishes his degree in sports management and rehabs from surgery to repair cartilage defects in his knee.

Norvell plans to pursue playing again this summer, but for now he’s learning about the management side with the 10th-ranked team in the country, including recruiting, putting together game film, working out players and offering motivating words.

“It’s been kind of natural so far, just feeling like I’ve been a vocal guy my whole career and a leader for most of my teams,” Norvell said.

The third freshman on the 2012-13 team does not believe he has played his last game, either. Thomas has an agent and is working out every day in the hopes of catching on with a professional team in Mexico or overseas.

Ideally he’d like to follow Ingram into the European leagues, where the game is more tactical and team-oriented. Ingram has spent three seasons overseas and said he’s still adjusting to the different style of play. He doesn’t know how much longer he’ll keep grinding it out internationally, but he’s not worried about it.

“Right now I’m still learning and still adapting and still enjoying it” Ingram said. “I’m just taking everything as it comes.”

On a recent Sunday in February, Kendrick Nunn leaned against one basket at the United Center, taking in the beginning of the iconic Chicago Bulls player introductions. Then he sprang up and began stretching, getting himself ready for whenever the Washington Wizards would call his number off the bench.

From the 2013 Simeon team, only Nunn has played this year in the NBA, though he still has had challenges. On Jan. 23, the Los Angeles Lakers traded him to the Wizards. He received the call at about 10 a.m. on the West Coast and had five hours to pack as much as he could before joining the Wizards that night in Dallas.

He looks at the Wizards as a fresh opportunity after missing a year with a bone bruise in his knee and falling in and out of the rotation in L.A. His return to Chicago in front of several family members included four points on 2-for-7 shooting, a steal, an assist and a turnover in about 15 minutes, though the most viral play was when Bulls guard Patrick Beverley blocked Nunn’s pullup jumper out of bounds. Nunn knew Beverley, a Marshall graduate in 2006, first as a Chicago Public League predecessor and then as a Lakers teammate, and he good-naturedly tapped Beverley’s chest after the play.

“You’ve just got to take it as it is, day by day, just keep learning as much as possible,” Nunn said of fitting in with a team midseason. “It’s a slow process, but I’m building on it every day.”

Nunn’s family — including a 5-year-old son and a 4-month-old daughter — has settled in with him in Washington for the rest of the season, his son beginning to offer coaching points after every game.

“I found a new joy,” Nunn said of his children. “Every day gives you a little extra motivation. … My son really keeps me going. Energetic. He’s really starting to pay attention to what’s going on (in basketball).”

Nunn’s path to the NBA took several turns. He played three seasons at Illinois before the team dismissed him in 2016 after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge stemming from a domestic violence arrest. Nunn was accused of hitting a woman, pushing her to the floor and pouring water on her. Nunn told the Tribune in 2018 that he did not hit the woman and only poured water on her and said he regretted angrily confronting the woman about money he said she owed.

He landed at Oakland in Michigan and after sitting out a season averaged 25.9 points per game. He went undrafted and played a year in the G League with the Warriors before he made his NBA debut with the Miami Heat in 2019. He started 111 games over his first two seasons, averaged 15 points per game and played in the NBA Finals.

“Getting waived and playing in the G League gave me an extra edge,” Nunn said. “My whole career I’ve been busting people’s ass. I just kept that mindset and energy.”

He also has kept Ivey in mind

“I knew his dream was to play in the NBA as well, so I’m just living for him,” Nunn said.

As for Parker, his faith was a thread throughout his reflections of his own winding career. He is determined to look at the ups and downs as trials from God, adversity that was designed to make him stronger.

“I’m grateful for where life has taken me because it’s like we take for granted when things are convenient and when things are comfortable,” Parker said. “But when things become a little chaotic, it brings out the best in you. … It fine tuned the traits I already had, but it brought it 10 times out, with my focus, with my confidence, with my dedication. Those all came out when I had the worst of circumstances, and I’m grateful for that.”

Parker played a year at Duke before the Milwaukee Bucks made him the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA draft. His Bucks tenure, which included starting 150 games and averaging a career-high 20.1 points in 2016-17, was derailed when he tore the ACL in his left knee twice in his first three years in the league.

After the second surgery, he signed a two-year, $40 million deal to return to Chicago to play for the Bulls, but he played only 39 games before the Bulls traded him to the Wizards. He called “the business of basketball” — not the knee injuries — the hardest part of the last 10 years, when he didn’t feel as if he was rewarded for his productivity with playing time. That included when the Bulls criticized his defensive effort and benched him for a stretch in his only season in Chicago, which he said “wasn’t anything about basketball.”

“I just didn’t want to have those memories last for me. Because it was a lack of communication on their end,” Parker said. “I felt it was better for me to move on.”

After the Wizards, Parker played for four teams in three years before the Celtics cut him, leaving him waiting for his next opportunity as the outside world asks what happened.

Parker said his next stop could come with a team in the NBA or overseas. He wants a situation in which he has a role and can help a team that wants to win now. And he’s willing to be patient until then, training in the Park District gym, where during a recent session former Whitney Young players Linnae Harper and Ahmad Starks also worked. Starks, who played at Oregon State and Illinois, is a basketball trainer who also has worked with Parker. Harper has played in the WNBA and internationally since graduating from Ohio State.

Parker called the gym “the holding ground for a lot of people who are about to pursue careers.”

”It just so happens I’ve been the one here the longest,” Parker said with a self-deprecating laugh.

Parker also plays pickup games at the East Bank Club. He revels in the normalcy of it, where he’ll focus on his weaknesses by putting limitations on himself — shooting from only one spot or staying in a defensive stance — so he can still improve while playing regular people.

Former Simeon Career Academy basketball stars Jabari Parker, from left, Jaylon Tate and Kendall Pollard attend a game in Chicago as Simeon faces Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy at Simeon on Jan. 24, 2023. Simeon head coach Robert Smith achieved his 500th career win at the game.

Tate, who occasionally plays pickup games with Parker and other Simeon teammates, said Parker is “definitely still the same” on the court and said the way Parker has handled a roller-coaster career “speaks volumes of who he is.”

“I used basketball for a way for me to escape, for a way for me to take the chains off my generational curses — financially, right?” Parker said. “I needed it to give me an education. I needed basketball to show me more out of the situation I was in, living on the South Side. And it provided that. And now it’s more like my passion. Because I have no pressure. I made a lot of money. I did a lot of things with this game. But now it’s just being the best I can and trying to do the best with the gift that God gave me.”

From the time he was in high school, Parker always seemed to have an understanding of another gift — his ability to lead and inspire in the community. He runs free summer camps and is involved in his trainer’s organization, Operation Basketball. He stays connected with many of his former teammates, encouraging them on their journeys, and is both proud and protective when speaking of their careers.

“We were just some kids on the South Side trying to live our dreams,” he said. “We used basketball to get us out of our situations, and we are forever champions outside of basketball. We’re champions in life.”

And Parker understands what it means to show up for Simeon.

At the start of this season’s Public League playoffs on Feb. 1, Parker and Tate again found seats in the Simeon gym for alumni night, watching as Simeon handily beat Catalyst Maria. In some of the Simeon huddles, assistant coach Tim Flowers did the talking, one of several duties Smith has bestowed this year to make sure his future replacement is prepared.

Smith still is going to work as a dean at Simeon next year, but he expects to mostly stay out of the way when it comes to basketball. At some point then he’ll reflect on how he’ll be remembered as a coach.

But he was more worried about getting his current team, which went 26-3 through the city tournament, focused on their upcoming postseason run. Luckily, he had two members of the best team in school history around to offer advice.

Current players Miles and Wes Rubin — twins who will play at Loyola and Northern Iowa next year — gladly accept wisdom from Parker and Tate.

“They tell us to grab the opportunity that we have right now to win city and state,” Miles said. “And like don’t play around or joke around. And work hard.”

Said Wes: “Those are role models for us. Just knowing they came to this school and they were able to win, it shows us what we have to do. It’s right there in front of us. We just have to go grab it.”

Miles Rubin scored 19 points Friday night and Simeon used its size advantage to pull off a 70-47 win over Mount Carmel in a Class 3A sectional final. The Wolverines will play Hillcrest in a supersectional Monday at UIC.

”Their goal is to win the whole thing,” Smith said. “To get in the supersectional, it’s a big thing. But it’s not the goal.”

As Simeon’s old guard gives way to the new, Ivey remains locked in amber. Forever a 20-year-old with big dreams and a high school experience few — with the exception of his 14 teammates — could imagine.

His killer has not been caught. His mother has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and his friends have made conscious efforts to keep his memory and his motto alive.

“I think he would be happy to know that people still use the term ‘FINAO,’ ” Ingram said. “I think he would be glad that his light is still shining.”

Ahead of the 2013 state final, the Simeon players made plans to make a so-called Harlem Shake video when — definitely not “if” — they won. These copycat videos, with their convulsive dancing, jump cuts and hypnotic beats, had become a popular internet meme that winter and the teens were set on contributing to the craze. They even practiced their moves several times before the game so they’d be ready when the moment arrived.

“I remember making that video better than I remember the buzzer going off,” said Norris, who waves his arms widely when it’s his turn to dance for the camera. “We had it all planned out because we knew that we were going to win. There wasn’t any doubt.”

It was a moment of unbridled, adolescent joy from boys who had carried the weight of history and expectation since before they could drive. And it was glorious.

“Looking back, I just remember how happy everyone was,” Thomas said. “It was the kind of happiness that you can’t buy and you can’t reproduce. It just filled the whole room.”

The 57-second video begins with a shot of the championship trophy, a white basketball net draped triumphantly atop it. It cuts to a couple of assistant coaches reading a newspaper with “Simeon Wins 4th Title” stripped across the front page.

Parker soon dances across the screen, a blue-chip recruit doing the robot much to his teammates’ delight.

Then they all take turns performing for the camera.

Thomas walking like a duck. Tate doing the funky chicken. Pollard wearing sunglasses. Nunn sticking out his tongue and waving his arms. Ingram fanning himself with four fingers, one for each consecutive championship the school had won.

Ben, Bobby, Edward, Russell, Rickey, Dennis, Quron, Zach. They’re all dancing.

And so is Saieed.

When the video cuts to him, he pumps his arms to the music and shimmies out of the frame. Wearing his state championship medal, he turns back and gives one last look to the camera.

He offers a satisfied smile.

Failure, for the 2012-13 Simeon basketball team, had never been an option.

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