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Hoops tourney to showcase city, kids

SimeHigh School basketball star Jabari Parker.  |  Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Simeon High School basketball star Jabari Parker. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 26, 2012 7:25AM

Last weekend, I introduced my 12-year-old grandson to city basketball.

He’s been blessed to attend top-notch schools in the suburbs, where he excels in the classroom as well as on the basketball court and soccer field.

I wanted to see how he would do when he came up against basketball players who run up and down the courts until their gym shoes fall apart.

After a couple of hours on the court at the Salvation Army’s Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, he had enough.

Chicago has given birth to some of the best basketball players in the country — Derrick Rose, Isiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade — and that tradition hasn’t changed.

Now two Chicago Public High Schools and local business leaders have teamed up to bring top-rated players across the country to create a holiday tournament for outstanding high school players.

The Chicago Elite Classic will feature five of the best high school basketball teams from the metro Chicago area against five nationally ranked high school basketball teams from California, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio and Utah.

“Chicago has a long history of great basketball players from the city of Chicago and I want people around the city to see we not only do well on the court, but in the classroom and in the community,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said after a breakfast meeting with the coaches and local business leaders that was hosted by Ariel Investments.

There is a lot of distance between having a good idea and actually making that idea a reality. The mayor’s role was to make sure everyone present understood how to close that gap.

“I took off my jacket and made a United Jewish Appeal,” Emanuel told me. “Everybody had to put in something. It was all done over breakfast.”

Don Jackson, chairman and founder of Central City Productions, and co-founder and past chairman of the Alliance of Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs, noted that black business leaders stepped up first with seed money.

The alliance partnered with the Business Leadership Council, a group led by Frank Clark, the recently retired chairman and CEO of ComEd; John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Capital, and Jim Reynolds, CEO of Loop Capital.

“There hasn’t been a tournament since the Tech Tournament that took place in the old stock yards,” said Jackson who played on Marshall’s 1960 state championship team.

Black business leaders “came up with the first $75,000 to make sure the tournament happens. It’s about time Chicago steps up to the plate,” he said.

Other sponsors include Harris Bank, Nike and Com Ed.

The Chicago Elite Classic will be held on Dec. 1 at the University of Illinois Pavilion.

Emanuel is a huge high school basketball fan. In January, he was on hand to present Simeon’s Jabari Parker with USA Basketball’s Male Athlete of the Year Award.

Jabari, the No. 1-rated high school senior in the country, was at Wednesday’s meeting, along with Whitney Young’s Jahlil Okafor, also considered one of the top players in the country.

But the mayor thinks the classic will be good for all of the city’s schoolkids.

“I want to bring this event to the city for our kids so they will get the exposure they should get,” Emanuel said. “I want the country to see our kids are complete both educationally and athletically.”

Charlotte, N.C., has the Jordan Brand Classic; Carol Springs, Fla., has the Kreul Classic. Springfield College in Massachusetts, known as the birthplace of basketball, has its own classic.

It doesn’t make sense that Chicago — the city where basketball has saved some at-risk youths from the chaos of the streets — let other cities run with this ball.

The tournament is also one more way of showcasing Chicago.

“For those of you that are visiting, our iconic skyline and incredible lakefront invite you to explore all Chicago has to offer,” the mayor said in a letter that will welcome visitors.

I’m excited because this is the kind of effort that could make a difference for young people at risk. Highlighting our young people’s achievements — on the court and in the classroom — will help them identify with the winners rather than the losers who often end up getting the attention.

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