THE BLOG
01/07/2014 12:39 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2014

Christmas in a Gym: Welcome to the Red South

Thinly covered in snow and deserted, Morgan Park High School's grounds look like they should on Christmas Day.

I'm early.

I sit in my car and listen to Christmas music, trying to think of something poetic and meaningful to write about a deserted school on the far south side of Chicago, thinly covered in snow on Christmas Day. I don't particularly enjoy Christmas music.

Kids trickle past my idling car as two o'clock approaches, tall kids carrying Nike bags over winter coats.

Behind the gym door propped open with a trashcan, practice waits. Tomorrow, the historic Proviso West Holiday Tournament continues and Morgan Park, the defending champions, can't take days off. Nick Irvin won't allow it.

His team got lucky on Thanksgiving, when Nick cancelled practice at the last minute.

There's Nick now, lounging on the bleachers. Last time I saw him, he wasn't this relaxed. That was six days ago and he was strutting around a crowded basketball court with his arms raised above his head in triumph. That was after the Simeon game, when five years' work instantly came to fruition. Nick looks satisfied, content.

In the Chicago Public League, there are Red, Blue, Green and White divisions. Divisions are broken into conferences: Central, West, North, South. Red division houses the best competition. Jabari Parker played Red South ball at Simeon. Chicago's current premier talents, Curies's Cliff Alexander and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, play Red Central and Red West, respectively. Morgan Park is Red South.

Until this year, the Simeon-Morgan Park rivalry revolved around two nationally-recruited stars: Jabari, current All-Everything freshman at Duke, and Wayne Blackshear, a junior starter for defending National Champion Louisville.

This year's game, played at Simeon on December 19, showcased teams in transition.

But more on that later. Back to Wayne.

You may not know about Wayne, same as you may not know about Morgan Park, if you casually follow Chicago basketball.

Heading into his senior year, Wayne was the man.

Wayne averaged 29.2 points and 14.2 rebounds his junior year. Wayne hit the game-winning shot in the City Championship. Wayne was a shoo-in for McDonald's All-American.

Wayne, Wayne, Wayne...

Anthony Davis?

Wayne was nationally ranked in the top-20 by Scout.com. But who was this Davis kid? This charter school player out of the Blue Division ranked number one, according to ESPN, Scout, and Rivals?

2010 was set-up for Wayne.

Then Antony Davis had a growth spurt.

Once a 6-foot-freshman running point for Perspectives Charter, Anthony Davis, seemingly overnight, turned into a 6-10 center with guard skills.

He snuck up on everybody.

While Wayne was averaging 33 points, 15 rebounds, and six assists in the Red South, Anthony was out in the Blue West averaging 32, 22, and seven blocks.

Both players were chosen for the McDonald's All-American game, but Wayne had to sit out because of a shoulder injury. There was Wayne, in a sling, at his hometown United Center, watching Anthony play local hero.

There was Wayne, a freshman at Louisville, injured for most of the year, watching Anthony play hero. Again.

This time for in-state rival Kentucky, winning National Player of the Year, guiding them to a National Championship, winning Final Four Most Outstanding Player, getting drafted first overall.
That's Wayne.

Then Jabari took over.

Last year, when Morgan Park won their first-ever 3A State Championship, all eyes were on Simeon and Jabari, who took home their fourth-straight 4A title.

Last year, Morgan Park made it to the City Championship. Losing in OT to then-Junior Jahlil and Whitney Young.

That's Morgan Park.

But this year something feels different.

Nick tells his team to run around the gym. It's chilly in here.