"In many ways
it's worse for kids now," says Tamara Sterling, Simeon's principal.
"The violence is the same, but kids now deal with issues that didn't exist
before, like homelessness. We have kids who live on the streets, who don't have
"When we were looking at high schools for Derrick, we looked at how many
gang areas he'd have to go through to get to school. We looked at the
neighborhoods around the school. We talked about how many friends he would have
there who would look out for him." That they chose Simeon--the same school
Ben Wilson had attended--wasn't a surprise. It has long been a bastion for
Chicago's children. Industrial buildings around the school provide a buffer
from the rough neighborhoods nearby. And an unwritten policy ensures that only
in rare cases will children from nearby homes be admitted. "That way if
something happens at school, a kid can't just call his brother or some friends
who are a few blocks away," says Robert Smith, the basketball coach and
dean of discipline for boys.
Kids feel safe at
Simeon, especially since 2003, when the students moved into a new facility as
polished as any suburban school. Last year more than 5,000 kids from all over
the city applied for the 400 spots in the freshman class. Simeon's 94%
attendance rate is 15 points higher than the average for Chicago public high
schools. "Our kids have pride," says Sterling. "It's one reason you
will rarely see a fight at Simeon."
and Allan trust Simeon to keep Derrick safe, but in basketball matters they
still demand a lot of control. People pushed for Derrick to play varsity as a
freshman, but the brothers insisted he play with his class. "We didn't want
to single him out from the other freshmen," Reggie says. Derrick was also
not allowed to speak to the media until the end of last season. "Kids start
reading about themselves too much and get an ego," Reggie explains. The
brothers let it be known that they weren't happy that longtime coach Bob
Hambric insisted on controlling the college recruitment of his players. For
instance, he wouldn't let players commit to a school until after their senior
season. In a convenient stroke of fortune, Hambric retired after the 2003--04
season and was replaced by Smith, who is close to the Roses. "I don't know
that Derrick would still be at Simeon if that hadn't happened," Reggie says
of the coaching change. Ten of Simeon's 14 varsity players (including Nick
Anderson's son) will play for Reggie in the summer, so the team seems as much
his as Smith's.
Which is fine
with Smith, who says, "The reality is that when you have a player like
Derrick, you have to work with his family."
Working with the
Roses has it benefits. When the shoe companies vied to get Derrick to their
June camps, Reggie and Derrick used that interest as leverage to get five of
Derrick's teammates invited as well. "That caused a lot of controversy.
People were saying I got money to send Derrick to [Reebok's] ABCD camp,"
Reggie says. "What I got was more exposure for his friends." And when
Derrick announced his decision to attend Memphis, he held a joint press
conference with two teammates signing with Wisconsin- Milwaukee. "They
deserve a press conference too," Derrick says.
Simeon has been good for Derrick, and Derrick has been good for Simeon,"
brothers' perspective, it has helped that Simeon preaches the cautionary tale
of Ben Wilson to every student. Derrick was told the story as a freshman and
was asked to draw a lesson from it. What he came up with ("Don't get in no
trouble") was generic and the kind of answer most students give. But since
he wears Wilson's number 25 jersey and plays in a gym named after the slain
star--and now that he finds himself at the same moment in his career that
Wilson was when he was murdered--his answer is much more knowing. "When you
are that good, people come after you," Derrick says. "To deal with all
that, you need help."