- Scott Powers, Reporter
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Simeon forward and Duke recruit Jabari Parker, the nation's No. 2 senior, will play in the Pontiac (Ill.) Holiday Tournament, which opens Thursday night, after missing the Wolverines' last three games to improve his conditioning, according to Simeon coach Robert Smith.
Parker fractured a bone in his right foot while playing with Team USA in July. He didn't practice after the injury was diagnosed, but he nonetheless decided to play in Simeon's season opener on Dec. 1. He also played in the Wolverines' next two games before deciding to sit out last week's games to work on his conditioning. He averaged five points and was noticeably fatigued in the three games.
"His foot is fine, it was just his conditioning," Smith said Wednesday. "I just wanted to see how far he was and what he could and what he couldn't do (in the first three games.) He'll play at Pontiac. We look at him at about 45-50 percent now. I could see him back to (100 percent) in the middle of January, maybe when we come back from Christmas break. Today, he looked good in practice. He shot the ball well and got up and down."
Simeon suffered its first loss of the season on Dec. 13 when it fell to DeSoto (Tex.) on ESPN. The Wolverines also struggled at times during a 55-44 win over Arlington in Texas.
The Wolverines' performances dropped them out of the ESPN's Top 10 national power rankings.
"We're fine," said Smith, whose team has won three consecutive state titles. "We're interested in winning another state title in March. Everyone else is interested in beating us in the regular season and those types of things. We start playing our best basketball in mid-January to March. That's where our focus is.
"We still haven't played as a full team healthy yet. Kendrick (Nunn) was a little banged up with a foot injury. We had to go through suspensions with the kids. We still haven't had a full team on the floor 100 percent. No excuses. We only lost one game. We didn't look really good as a team. With more practices and guys getting healthy, we look a lot better."
Smith also believes the Wolverines can still end up No. 1 in the country despite the one loss.
"A lot of those teams have lost," Smith said. "We just have to go out and beat some of those teams. We can definitely be national champions if we win out from here. We play (top-ranked) Montverde. We play Whitney Young. We play Oak Hill. We have more opportunities to win it because we still play nationally ranked teams."
Simeon opens the Pontiac tournament against East Moline United Township at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. The Wolverines have won the past two tournament titles.
Jabari Parker is ready to return to action in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.