When the 10th Annual Chicago Elite Classic Basketball Showcase kicks off on Friday, Dec. 3, it’ll be the continuation of a legacy filled with unifying local communities through a national platform for prep hardwood heroics and interpersonal development for high school players.

After canceling last year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Classic will play out at the Credit Union 1 Arena on the University of Illinois Chicago’s campus. During the two-day event, a few of the best girls and boys basketball high school teams from Missouri, New York, Washington, D.C., California and the Chicagoland area will compete in 12 games for bragging rights and a chance to build the team’s resume for state playoff seedings.

Tickets for the Classic are on sale now. All seats are general admission with a $20 price tag before fees.

Simeon Career Academy High School boys’ basketball head coach Robert Smith is one of the co-founders of the Chicago Elite Classic. Together with Whitney Young High School boys’ basketball head coach Tyrone Slaughter, they launched the Classic a decade ago with a mutual vision to unite the city through basketball and community.

Although a friendly rivalry exists between the two Chicago high-school basketball powerhouses, Smith said he and Slaughter are good friends off the court. And they want the best for the city of Chicago.

“When we decided to put this together, it was all about the city of Chicago,” Smith told The TRiiBE on Nov. 16. “It wasn’t about Simeon or Whitney Young, it was solely about bringing the city together. When we are on the sidelines against each other, we are competitors, but in this function we come together as one.” 

Selecting teams to participate in the Classic was a difficult process, Smith said. Together, he and Slaughter made the final decisions on which teams would participate in this year’s games.

When selecting teams, Smith said he and Slaughter lean on the relationships they’ve both forged with opposing coaches their respective teams compete against from across the country, which creates the initial pool of candidates for the Classic. Smith noted, too, that he fields a number of calls from interested teams who would like to compete in the Classic throughout the year.

The 2021-2022 Simeon Career Academy High School varsity boys basketball team is one of several teams from Chicagoland participating in this year's Chicago Elite Classic. Photo by Trig ‘Deshawn’ Adams

“Both of our teams are playing around the country and we get a chance to see different styles of basketball and different teams play and we build relationships with guys outside the city limits to see if they want to come here,” Smith said.

On Feb. 5, the Los Angeles-based Sierra Canyon Trailblazers boys basketball team will make their way to Chicago for the first time to match up against the Simeon Career Academy Wolverines.

Smith explained the Sierra Canyon game was set up by a phone call he received earlier this year to gauge his interest in playing the Trailblazers from a game scheduler due, in part, to the Wolverines’ reputation for playing the best teams in the country anytime, anywhere. He said prior to the call, he had not met nor spoken to Chevalier, Sierra Canyon’s boys head coach. 

“We get a lot of calls about participating and playing people,” Smith said. “One thing that people know is that we don’t have a problem playing anybody. We’ve played Montverde [Academy] [and] Oak Hill [Academy]. We don’t shy away from those games because of the amount of talent they have.” 

The California team secured the number one spot in CBS Sports’ preseason rankings, starring California player of the year senior guard Amari Bailey, a Chicago native, and junior guard Bronny James, son of NBA superstar LeBron James.

Ticket information for Simeon vs. Sierra Canyon game wasn’t available at publishing time. Smith said the venue for the game has yet to be finalized, with the United Center and the Credit Union 1 Arena among the options.

“We have a lot of games to play before we play that game,” Smith said about the Feb. 5 game. “But, I mean, it’s the talk of the town already. You would think the game is next week, the way people are talking and calling and trying to figure out tickets and things of that nature.”

Facing nationally ranked opponents has helped his team discover who they truly were in previous seasons, Smith said. He added that the timing for the Sierra Canyon game is perfect as a measuring stick game for his squad, especially with city and state postseason games following directly afterwards.

“We are not going to see a team like Sierra Canyon in Chicago, so if we can compete with them, it gives us great leeway to say we have a great shot to win the city and state championship,” said Smith. “Of course, we’ve beaten Oak Hill before, we’ve never beat Montverde… we’ve beaten a lot of really good teams before and we’ve competed with them and were right in the ball games and able to win them.”

For the Sierra Canyon match-up, much like playing in the Classic, Smith stressed that high-profile games give his young players the opportunity to potentially be scouted and earn college scholarships on the court and in the classroom. Typically out-of-conference games are played before the regular season begins, which is Nov. 23 this year. In this case, Smith said the non-conference game against Sierra Canyon is being played later in the season.

“You know, it’s great for our program, and it’s great to play against good competition,” Smith said. “We’re not afraid to play anyone. We will play anyone. We will play the number one team in the country. We just want to play. It’ll be really fun for the city. We will be prepared.”

Morgan Park High School faced off against Christian Brothers (MO) in a 2019 Chicago Elite Classic game. Photo by Trig ‘Deshawn’ Adams

For the Classic, which runs from Dec. 3-4, Smith said it was also important to create space for young ladies to hoop on a citywide stage. This year marks the third consecutive year that girls’ basketball teams are invited to play.

“We came together and thought it was a great idea to bring in ladies; they play basketball, too, and they have a great fan base as well,” Smith said. “We wanted to make sure we had our whole city intact and not just the [young] men.” 

In addition to the on-court competition, local teams participating in the Classic will have the opportunity to participate in a series of virtual players-only workshops called “Champions in Life Workshop,” addressing topics such as mental health and financial literacy in the days leading up to the games.

During the Classic, Smith explained, there’s always been an emphasis around holistic development beyond basketball. Although he did not reveal specific names, he said some former Classic participants — including some who are now professional basketball players in the NBA and international leagues — will be guest speakers during the workshops.

“We know you guys know how to [hoop]. We know you’re comfortable with that, but we want to help them do other stuff just in case basketball doesn’t work,” Smith said. “It’s not just basketball. That’s not something that we’re just pushing with this Classic. I think that makes things a little different from some other Classics around the country. We’re not just pushing basketball. We are pushing life lessons and life skills.”

When asked how his Wolverines might fare in the Classic, Smith said he’s taking a “day-by-day” approach with an eye toward preparation for a state title run in February and March.

Smith has led the Wolverines to six Illinois state championships, and seven city championships, in his 19 seasons at Simeon. 

“I just have a motto: ‘You don’t win championships in December and January. You win them in February and March,” Smith said. “We are building up to be a championship team. We will be prepared.”

is a freelance contributor for The Triibe.